| JQR Interview

JQR INTERVIEW – Claude Gagnon

I like to smash social expectations

A beautiful woman is well aware of how people see her: she knows that when she goes somewhere, people are going to stare at her. In my movies, I like to dwell on physical appearance. When I was younger, I played hockey but I was considered an intellectual because I went to the séminaire. But when I was at the séminaire, people thought of me as a “jock” because I was good at sports. I’ ve always been struck by how much the image we project shapes other people’ s perceptions of us. I made one of my first films, Larose, Pierrot et la Luce, with Richard Niquette. I’d known “Ritchie” for years. He was a short fat kid, who wore suspenders, had rounded shoulders, and who at the age of 13 looked 50! while I was the college jock. I was a bit of a wild child, and I think that people were a bit scared of me. Later, while I was on a visit to Quebec from Japan, Richard surprised me by asking, “Would you get mad if I told you I was gay?” He’d always thought that because of the way I looked, I must be a homophobe. We classify people and measure their open-mindedness by the way they look. This realization has had a major impact on my movies. When I cast a part, I put a lot of weight on first impressions, and then I like to smash social expectations.

Japan was perfect for me

It was after I’d finished traveling that I knew I wanted to make movies. I needed to know a bit more about people and not just from books but also from real life–– to meet them and find out about their daily lives. It was then that I decided that Japan was probably the best place for me: an island, mountains… Canada is a new country but Japan is thousands of years old, and being here it really helped me to find myself. I first came here in the seventies. My original plan was to spend six months in Japan, and then to go to Indonesia before heading to Europe. I thought I’d do my little trip like everyone else did in those days. But after six months I still didn’t understand a thing. There were very few foreigners living in Japan in those days, and I remember that if you saw a Westerner in Kyoto, you’d crossed the road to say hi and trade phone numbers. It was the era of “Peace and Love”––euphoric and stimulating.

When I’m not on a movie set, I’m actually quite shy. Even going to buy something at a store makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, so I really liked the shyness of the Japanese. And I’d come face to face with an ancient culture, of which I knew nothing at all. But rather than being frustrated, I found it very stimulating. It made me question my own experiences, find new ways of thinking, and develop new aesthetic sensibilities. Then after Keiko became a hit, I began to feel I was beginning to become bogged down and that I was becoming too comfortable. I had two kids, and my life was settling down to a dull family routine. Professionally, I was suddenly getting a lot of offers, but to make another Keiko––to go back over something in which I was no longer interested. I began to panic and thought about going back to Quebec.