“I feel like a guest, but a welcome guest in both this art form and this industry,” declares author Kazuo Ishiguro about earning his first Oscar nomination. The Nobel Prize winning author of such novels as “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go” is nominated this year for Best Adapted Screenplay of “Living.” The film stars Best Actor nominee Bill Nighy as an English bureaucrat who changes the direction of his life after receiving a life-changing diagnosis. Watch the video above for more of Gold Derby’s exclusive video chat with Ishiguro.
“Living” is adapted from the classic film “Ikiru,” directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. For Ishiguro, who was born in Japan but grew up in England, the film satiated a longing to find some exposure to Japanese culture. “It was very difficult to see Japanese movies– or anything Japanese,” he recalls. “So partly I think it was because I was looking at something to do with Japan that wasn’t Samurai. I looked almost like the world I would have lived in had my family not moved.”
“Living” marks a first for Ishiguro. Although some of his novels have been adapted for the screen (including the Oscar nominated Merchant Ivory version of “The Remains of the Day”) he had never before attempted to write an adaptation. As someone whose works come from his own imagination, Ishiguro says he had to develop an alternate personality of sorts in order to get the story right. “I had to really split my personality down the middle,” he explains. While attempting to be faithful to the source material, Ishiguro said it was equally important to “be utterly ruthless and cold” when determining what needs to be changed to serve the new story. “I think it’s a really interesting process to do an adaptation because it’s very hard to balance that kind of reverence on the one hand and that kind of harsh, brutal business mentality on the other.”
One of those changes was to give the film a sense of optimism that Ishiguro says was lacking in the original story. That optimism, he argues, traces back to the impact that everyday individuals have without their knowledge or foresight. “It’s very difficult to figure out how your little contribution that you’re making every day connects to anything. It’s hard to know how it reaches other human beings,” he says. “I think this is a story about somebody who breaks through that to some extent and understands his connection to the world and to human beings.”
While Ishiguro is no stranger to prizes, receiving an Oscar nomination is a special recognition for someone who is known primarily for writing novels. However, the author is quick to point out that it’s all about telling a good story. “It feels kind of weird to me that I wrote the screenplay and I’m going to the Oscars as a nominee,” he says. “But in my defense, I have actually spent decades of my life– almost every single day– thinking about stories and how they work. And I don’t make a huge distinction between stories as they surface in books and stories as they surface in cinema.”
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