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1778 Stories of Me and My Wife
INTRODUCTION STORY PRODUCTION NOTES

What can I possibly do for my wife when she has but a year to live

1778 Stories For Me and My Wife tells an inspirational tale about a man struggling to aid his wife in her battle with a terminal illness that has left her with only a year to live. In a gentle and understanding way, the film asks us to reflect on our own lives, our relationship with loved ones and on the meaning of life in general.

1778 Stories is the crowning jewel in a quartet of life-affirming and inspirational serial dramas that aired on Japanese television. "Me, My Girlfriend and Her Way of Life" delved into re-forged bonds between a man and his daughter, brought on by the destruction of his marriage after years of neglecting his family. "The Way I Live" evoked the pure innocence of humanity and compassion through the earnest efforts and indomitable spirit of a man hampered by disabilities. The "My Life Series", which aired on Tuesday nights on the Fuji Television and Kansai Television networks to high ratings, tugged at the hearts of millions of viewers as it scrutinized the harsh realities of life, each story generating attention for stellar performances by leading actor and singing group talent, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi. 1778 Stories takes the franchise to new heights, departing from serialized television drama to become a major motion picture film. All three previous serial dramas, though different as separate standalone stories, shared similar qualities in their exploration of the basic human condition and how people choose to live their lives. 1778 Stories is a brand new story that carries the same mission.
There are but two lead characters. One is science fiction writer Sakutaro ("Saku") Makimura and his extremely supportive and devoted wife, Setsuko. But the story essentially begins with the arrival of bad news that threatens to destroy the blissful and quiet symbiotic existence the couple has created together. Setsuko has been diagnosed with cancer, and has only a year to live at best. Devastated and in despair, Saku can't bring himself to tell Setsuko the truth. When his doctor alludes to the strength that laughter can bring in bolstering the body's immunities, Saku pours heart and soul into writing one short story a day for his wife in an effort to lighten her spirits.

1778 Stories for Me and My Wife is based on the real life experience of sci-fi novelist Taku Mayumura, known best for his works "Nazo no Tenkosei" (The Enigmatic Transfer Student") and "Nerawareta Gakuen" (The Targeted School"), who lost his wife Etsuko to cancer. Upon hearing of his wife's terminal condition, Mayumura spent the next five years penning short stories for his wife to read every single day. Miraculously, she lived another four years beyond the single year initially projected. Mayumura's stories served as a record of that miracle, eventually inspiring a feature film adaptation.
Playing the part of Saku, a man with a boyish naiveteL and given to great flights of fancy and imagination, is Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, who audiences are sure to remember for his recent, "BALLAD." Reuniting with Kusanagi since pairing up in the hit 2003 movie "Resurrection" is Yuko Takeuchi in the role of Saku's wife, a woman of infinite patience who understands her husband more than anyone.
Taking up the director's megaphone is Mamoru Hoshi, well-known and admired for his long-running hit TV series "Tales of the Unusuals" and the highly-acclaimed movie, "University of Laughs." Hoshi was so impressed by the true story of the Mayumuras when he first read it in 2002 that he turned his creative talents toward stories of love and marriage even as he worked on turning the story of the Mayumuras into a feature length movie. Hoshi relished in depicting some of the short story letters that Saku writes to his wife, as it allowed him to give full play to the unique cinematic style and esthetic look that has become his trademark.
There in Mamoru Hoshi's word, we are asked the question: What is a person to do when faced with the imminent death of a loved one? What is one to think or wish for? And what answers awaited Saku, if any, when he reached his final 1,778th story?
As peaceful and inspirational as it is heartbreaking, this true story of love between a husband and wife elicits greater tears of joy than sadness.

STORY

SF writer Sakutaro - "Saku" - (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) and bank teller Setsuko are high school sweethearts who have spent 16 inseparable years together since their first date one summer as teenagers. Saku consumes his days locked away in a study full of tin robots and model space ships, dreaming of faraway worlds, landscapes and characters. Setsuko looks on with warm patience and maternal pride. She is his biggest fan. Unfortunately, science fiction novels have declined steadily in popularity, and Saku is asked by his publisher Niimi (Tai Kageyama) to write a romance novel instead. One of Saku's peers, Takizawa (Shosuke Tanihara) has in fact become a bestselling author by switching to penning romance novels, and now lives in comfort with his wife, Mina (Michiko Kichise).

When Setsuko doubles over in extreme abdominal pain one day while hanging out the laundry, she goes to a hospital thinking she may be pregnant. She is instead whisked into surgery. Saku arrives at her bedside, the operation over, and is shocked to see his wife confined to a bed and pierced with tubes. Taken aside by her doctor, Matsushita (Ren Ohsugi), Saku is informed that his wife has cancer and has only a year to live.
Saku suppresses the news, forcing a smile as he tells Setsuko that she will get better, even as she begins cancer-fighting treatment. Setsuko is also visited by her mother, Haruko (Jun Fubuki), who provides her daughter with a reassuring presence.
Upon Setsuko's release from the hospital, Saku does his best to lighten her burden by helping around the house with chores, but proves clumsy and woefully ill adept. His attempts at cooking produce nothing but charred cinder blocks. "What can I possibly do for her?" Saku asks himself. And then he remembers the words of Setsuko's doctor. "Enjoy your time together. Laughter has been known to do wonders in strengthening the body's immunities." Fearful of losing Setsuko, Saku decides to write a novel that will make her laugh so much it'll kill off the spreading cancer cells. Every single day, he dashes off at least 3 pages of manuscript telling quirky tales that he is confident will bring a smile to Setsuko's face.
In this way, he begins writing a story a day for an audience of only one. His initial efforts fail to produce the intended result. "Are you writing an essay?" Setsuko blankly asks. Not discouraged, Saku continues writing, determined to make his wife laugh. When he finally succeeds, a boundless happiness rises up inside him to soothe his soul.
Setsuko was only supposed to live a year. But as Saku reaches his 365th story, he is greeted by a surprise celebration given by Setsuko, his colleague Takizawa and wife, and his publisher. Miraculously, another year passes. And then a third. But Setsuko's condition is gradually and inescapably worsening. When Saku is admonished by Takizawa that he's fleeing into his writing to escape reality, Saku begins to be plagued by guilt and doubt. Meanwhile, Setsuko fights on. But what is it that she truly wants for herself and Saku?
Finally, five years and 1,778 stories later, Saku discovers that he has written an ode to love that no romance novel in the world could hope to match.

"Come to think of it, Setsuko was always my biggest fan."

PRODUCTION NOTES

A true story crowning the "My Life Series"

Eight years ago, film director Mamoru Hoshi, came across a piece in the literary journal "Bungei Shunju" that affected him deeply, and it has stayed with him ever since. The piece included memoirs written in 2002 by science fiction novelist, Taku Mayumura, describing his wife's losing battle with cancer.
"In it, Mayumura writes about how he penned one short story a day which he read to his wife in hopes of lifting her spirits" remarks Hoshi. "As a result, what was predicted at the outset as only a one-year fight against cancer ended up lasting nearly five years. The memoirs included the very last story Mayumura wrote for Setsuko - story number 1,778. When I read that, I just couldn't stop the flood of tears." Hoshi then began exploring ways in which he could make a movie about the couple's story, but said he feared diminishing its immense natural beauty.
Meanwhile, Hoshi had been directing Tsuyoshi Kusanagi in a popular TV drama called "The Way I Live", followed by a 3-part "My Life Series" in which a fourth installment was being planned as a feature length movie. The story of the Mayumuras resurfaced in Hoshi's mind as a perfect conclusion and crowning piece to the "My Life Series", which examined the question of how people live their lives to their fullest as its central theme. At once, Hoshi had a fateful feeling that here was both the opportunity to finally adapt the Mayumura story to the silver screen and provide the perfect concluding chapter for the "My Life Series".

A miracle occurring at the far end of the world

Taku Mayumura readily gave his consent to the project, with two requests: "Don't make it too beautiful a story," and "Make it a good movie." Behind the first request lay Maymura's humble belief that he didn't do anything particularly special.
"But I think it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful stories ever," contests director Hoshi.
So after many discussions with screenwriter Noriko Hanzawa, Hoshi decided that what he wanted was a movie that "portrayed five years of a marriage that was happier than just about any other, and not merely a sad account about battling illness."
Says Hoshi: "When the protagonist, Saku, asks himself what he can possibly do, he recalls advice given to him that laughter can strengthen immunities. This in turn leads him back to his roots as a writer and prompts him to write short stories on a daily basis that will bring a smile to Setsuko's face. What husband gives his wife a present of a story per day? Never knowing whether the effort will have any impact at all on Setsuko's health, Saku nevertheless persists day in and day out. There is a foolishly honest stubbornness about Saku that is very endearing, and yet it is that quality that produces a miracle. That is what I wanted to show. It struck me as a wonderfully improbably little fable occurring at the far edge of the world."

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi's "Tranquility" with Yuko Takeuchi's "Beauty"

"We're borrowing 5 years from Mayumura to create a new story." That was the feeling the crew adopted in making a thirty-something husband and wife the story's protagonists. Indeed, the husband's name is "Sakutaro (Saku) Makimura," a conscious resemblance to the real life "Taku Mayumura." Chosen to play the role of Saku was Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, who was coming off a memorable performance in the "My Life Series". Kusanagi has worked with Hoshi many times since their first collaboration in the 1997 TV series "Ii Hito" (Good Guy) where Kusanagi played a naively virtuous country boy in a big city. "The moment Tsuyoshi gets into costume, it's like the role is already there waiting for him," remarks Hoshi. "All I have to do as a director is share with him in the experience of that story's universe."
Saku first appears as a man who retains the innocent boyish wonder and awkwardness only a science fiction writer could have, his gaze always trained on something in the distance. But as the story progresses, he begins to reveal glimpses of adult insecurity and melancholy. As shooting built toward the climactic scene, Hoshi and Kusanagi were increasingly seen steeped in discussion in a far corner of the set. "It was the most talking I had ever done with him in all our work together," muses Hoshi. "What is so wonderful about Tsuyoshi this time is his great 'tranquility'." As his expression transitions from childishness in the first half to the deep conflicted depression of an adult, I want people to notice the weighty tranquility of his performance."
Juxtaposed to Saku is Setsuko, played by Yuko Takeuchi. Although dying of a terminal illness, it is Setsuko who wraps Saku in warmth, support and encouragement, and Takeuchi inhabits the character completely. She is the one with feet rooted firmly to the ground while providing a warm tether to her husband afloat in the ether of fantasy and dreams. The more her illness progresses, the more beautiful she becomes. "The story is essentially told through the eyes and perceptions of Saku. And so whenever he rummages through decades of memories, Setsuko in all her beauty is always there." (Hoshi) In the second half of the film, the bedridden Setsuko appears almost immaculate, shrouded in a crystalline beauty.

The World of 1,778 Holy Tales

Just beyond the real life battle that Saku and Setsuko are waging against death lies a vast and fertile landscape of a science fiction writer's imagination. Director Mamoru Hoshi has selected several stories to depict in the movie from the 1,778 Taku Mayumura wrote for his wife. The first 1,000 stories had been self-published by Mayumura. But story numbers 1,001 to 1,778 had yet to receive any public exposure at all. So one of the producers paid a visit to Mayumura in hopes of making copies of the remainder. The originals had stayed tucked away in Mayumura's home, prohibited from leaving the premises. Fortunately, Mayumura had donated a set of copies to the Osaka University of the Arts where he serves as a guest professor. It took over two days to make copies of them all, and another month for director Hoshi to read them before making his selection for the film. The criteria he used in his selection were how much he liked a story, how amenable it might be to filming and how accessible the story's "punch line" was.
"The spread of cancer is rapid in young patients, so we thought of having the movie span just one year," says Hoshi. "But a total of 365 stories seemed kind of an ordinary feat. The more we explored ideas, the more the actual number of 1,778 took on a sacred, inviolable aura. We found ourselves not wanting to alter the actual term of the illness nor the order in which the stories were written. The result, however, was that we had to cut some stories that didn't flow with the narrative despite their being quite beautiful."
Whether about robots, space, or odd occurrences in daily life, the great variety of stories we could choose from ranged from the humorously silly to the hauntingly melancholic. Among them was one that had a great effect on the real world of Saku and Setsuko. Incidentally, one story that filled Hoshi with great pleasure and joy was story number 1,020 called "The Bill Collector." For it, Hoshi called upon talented character actor and "My Life Series" regular, Fumiyo Kohinata, to play a memorable bit part as a weakly disguised alien.

Saku's Happy Shelter and Blissful Landscape

In choosing a set to serve as Saku and Setsuko's home, Hoshi wanted a traditionally Japanese-style home that expressed the unembellished nature of the couple's lifestyle. "So we selected a home and furnishings you don't see much of anymore in terms of their simplicity." The only room in the house that had to be "a little different" was Saku's study. That space had to be a shrine to Saku's passion, and was filled with science fiction paraphernalia from antique aluminum robot toys and a "Laughing Alien" doll - which figures largely in the film - to posters of space. For Saku, this is his little oasis of bliss.
Meanwhile, the location that the crew was most fastidious about choosing correctly was "the beautiful landscape" that Saku and Setsuko visit in the spring of their fifth year fighting cancer. The script called for a "vista of quintessential beauty", and the location ultimately chosen was a vast green field with a large tree at its center. The motif of a large single tree was employed in the "My Life Series" as well, evoking an image of the protagonist clinging to hope, standing full and tall amid despair. Saku and Setsuko gaze up at a clear blue sky, symbolizing their eternal bond. The sky serves an important role in the film, beginning with Saku staring skyward while writing in the opening scene, and appears often in such a deep blue that one might expect it was computer generated. "It's all real," assures Hoshi. On several occasions the crew arrived at a shooting location where the weather forecast predicted cloudy skies only to see the clouds lift, revealing an azure sea of blue.

Sacred Light and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi's Quietly Mature Performance

The "My Life Series" was made with the aim of creating "serene drama." So too there was a conscious effort in this film to imbue pure and unclouded images with appropriately tempered performances. A notable example was the beautifully soft lighting used once Setsuko is hospitalized. Gradually, the hospital begins to take on a holy aspect with bluish-white hues in Setsuko's room and the hospital halls. "We were in full pursuit of the most beautiful light possible," says Hoshi who is known as a master "visualist."
"Saku continues in his obsession never sure whether his writing is doing his wife any good or not," remarks Hoshi about the hospital scenes. "But by faithfully persisting like he does, an act that seems absurd changes into something sacred. I wanted an image of Saku transforming into something of a sage undergoing ascetic training, with the hospital becoming his monastery." He sits in the corner of a hospital at night scribbling away bathed in moonlight from a window.
Director Hoshi also sought from Kusanagi a consistently tempered performance when depicting the real world, particularly in the scene when Saku is writing his last 1,778th story to Setsuko soon after she has died. When it came time to shoot this stirring climactic scene, Kusanagi is said to have brought the director to tears with a performance that took everyone by complete surprise. Kusanagi, who lived the role of Saku throughout the shoot, has pulled off a masterfully understated and mature performance that is sure to leave audiences profoundly moved. When asked about it during the wrap up of filming, Kusanagi beamed radiantly: "Playing the pure-hearted Saku helped me to mature a bit myself. I'd still like to make a few hundred more films with Director Hoshi."

(C)PONYCANYON