Rental Subordinates,” a 2:40 minute vertical short film
At the Cannes International Film Festival, one of the world’s three major film festivals, there has been a lot of talk about Koji Yakusho winning the Best Actor Award for his role as a public restroom cleaner in the film “Perfect Days” and Yuji Sakamoto winning the Best Screenplay Award for his role in Hirokazu Koreeda’s film “Monster”.
And one more thing, did you know that a Japanese person has actually won the Grand Prix for two consecutive years in the #TikTokShortFilm competition, a collaborative project between TikTok and the Cannes International Film Festival, which was first held in ’22?
The blockbuster movie “Don’t Stop the Camera! (’17), the 2:40-minute vertical short film “Rental Subordinates” was created for TikTok by director Shinichiro Ueda. It was the Grand Prix out of 70,000 films from 80 countries and regions around the world.
This is a work that confronts the way people interact with each other in today’s society. It is a social work that has a beginning and end drama in just 2 minutes and 40 seconds, and is imbued with the sadness of people today. When the TikTok video was uploaded to Twitter, it immediately became a hot topic of conversation, with comments such as, “Isn’t there a fee for this?
Why in the world did you make this film?
Why in the world did you make this film? We interviewed the director, Shinichiro Ueda, about the inspiration for the film and how to make a film suitable for TikTok.
I was asked by TikTok to be an ambassador for the #TikTokShortFilm Challenge, a program to promote short films, and I thought I would try my hand at making one. I decided to try my hand at it, and it turned out to be a lot of fun, and one of the films I tried was “Rental Subordinates.
To be honest, I had never really seen TikTok before,” said Ueda, “but after doing some research, I realized that the grammar of how to make a film is completely different from that of a regular movie.
I thought it was a good fit for me. I thought I was suited for it. I had made many 20-minute shorts before “Don’t Stop the Camera!”, so I have always been good at making short, coherent stories.
The film “Rental Subordinates” was shot with a cast of four, a crew of two, and a smartphone, and took one day to shoot and one month to make from conception to production.
The idea was inspired by an online article that actually existed. It was about a middle-aged male office worker without subordinates who rented his subordinates through an agency that rents people, went to karaoke together, took pictures of his rear end, and uploaded them to social networking sites to satisfy his need for approval.
I thought, “That’s very dark,” he said. So I decided to depict people who pay to satisfy their temporary need for approval. I thought that this kind of sadness might be universal.
A decade ago, the need for approval was satisfied by having money, but now, in this age of social networking, the number of followers and likes is what satisfies the most need for approval, which is a worldwide trend, isn’t it? So I think people could relate to it on a deep level.”
What was interesting was that many people responded, “It’s like science fiction.
They were like, ‘I’ve heard that there is a service that rents people in some countries, but it really existed. They were also surprised that I would rent a friend to play the role of a friend at a wedding.
Especially in the West, I don’t think the idea of paying money to communicate with people is very common. I hear that there are not many cabaret clubs or host clubs. If you want to communicate, why don’t you just do it yourself?
TikTok: “Different Grammars of Making
By the way, what exactly is this “difference in the grammar of how to make a film” that director Ueda refers to?
First of all, the tempo and screen size are completely different. Horizontal and vertical screens are definitely different. Basically, in the case of TikTok short films, for example, if a scene is a conversation, it’s like showing people all over the place, cutting back and forth between two people.
People are vertical, so vertical is a good fit. As I found out when I actually did it, with a horizontal film, there is a lot of space when people are in the scene, so it is difficult to find locations for the art and backgrounds to fill the space.
For example, in the case of a “café” setting, you have to actually find a café in a horizontal format, but in a vertical format, you can make it look like a café by placing coffee cups and saucers in an office or in your own room, depending on how you shoot it. In the case of TikTok, it is possible to take pictures of people in a vertical format without spending a lot of money.
Conversely, the vertical format is not suitable for long shots. This is the strength of the vertical type and at the same time its difficulty.
When you start to do pull shots, you lose focus,” he says. The sense of immersion stops. So it’s important to keep the viewer engaged, and to keep the viewer watching until the end.
The tempo of the film is about twice that of a normal film. There is a scenario format, and the standard scenario page conversion is one minute per page, but for TikTok, it’s about one minute for two or three pages.
The game is played in the first two seconds, he says.
In the case of “Rental Subordinates,” I have not been able to go that far, but the key point is that I start the scene with the boss lecturing his subordinate, and I put in a timer shot at 3 or 4 seconds into the scene.
If the scene in which the boss is lecturing his subordinate continues for 15 or 20 seconds, there is a high possibility that the audience will leave the scene at that point. That kind of ingenuity is very important.
In the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of “Rental Subordinates,” the film takes two or three turns and heads in unexpected directions. This is actually the start of one idea, which changed as he wrote it.
At first, the plan was for it to end with the boss reprimanding his subordinate and it being a rental subordinate. But as I was writing, I wanted to write beyond that.
I had no idea what I was going to do with the “It was a rental friend” scene, and I had initially written the conversation scene between the two women as if they were friends, but then I thought, ‘It would be interesting if this was also a rental friend,’ and that was the first time I changed it.
What is the one thing he would like to try in the future, and the medium he is interested in…
Incidentally, one of the strangest reactions to the film was that many people commented that it was like watching a single movie.
He said, “In ’20, I made a short film “Don’t Stop the Camera! Remote Operation” on YouTube in ’20, people’s sense of “having watched a movie” is not based on the media or format, but rather on the content.
The film must have a certain amount of plot development, and depict the growth and change of the characters. I think the fact that the film was made in the “now,” with the atmosphere of the world and the times, was also significant.
The number of short film accounts on TikTok in Japan is increasing. My impression is that most of them are young people’s love stories or horror stories. In the future, I think we will see an increase in shorts with social elements and shorts that are challenging for middle-aged people as well.
This is actually not Ueda’s first time at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2006, he participated in the festival with his VR film “Blue Thermal VR.
Having tried new technologies and media, what are some of the things he would like to try in the future, or what media is he interested in? When we asked him what he would like to try in the future, he answered happily, “I would like to try XR (X-Ray).
In the case of VR, when you put on goggles, everything becomes a virtual space, but XR is a technology that fuses the real world with the virtual world and allows us to perceive things that are not in reality. For example, if you put on a pair of goggles and go to the streets of Shibuya, you will see that 109 in Shibuya has been transformed to look like the future.
I think that XR will come next, and after smartphones, smart glasses, and after that, contacts.
Interview and text by： Wakako Tago
Born in 1973. After working for a publishing company and an advertising production company, became a freelance writer. In addition to interviewing actors for weekly and monthly magazines, she writes columns about dramas for various media. His main publications include "All the Important Things Are Taught by Morning Drama" (Ota Publishing), "KinKi Kids Owarinaki Michi" and "Hey! Say! JUMP 9 no Tobira ga Open Tokimono" (both published by Earl's Publishing).
PHOTO： Ayumi Kagami