Juliet O’Reilly’s short film Otaku is half part thriller and half part social commentary. It comments on the treatment of those who are viewed as different and inferior in today’s society. It explores themes such as social stigmatism, urban isolation, and how those on the outside view the many forms of counter-cultures that can be found in the United States. After watching Otaku, the viewer will leave changed; their view concerning those who they may have previously considered “weird” due to their obsession with Japanese culture will be greatly shifted. For those film buffs, this film mirrors the depressing nature of films such as Big Fan or The Wrestler.
What’s further interesting about Otaku is how it engages you in its discussion of these social issues and in how it presents its message.
Otaku is not a PSA, meaning that Juliet O’Reilly tells an eventful and thrilling narrative and in no way proceeds to beat you over the head with her message.
The narrative tells the story of a cosplayer who roams the street of New York City at night in search of attention and those willing to take a picture with him. On this eventful night, he runs into two girls, who at first glance regard him as a freak or some sideshow attraction. What happens next will have your heart pumping then it will have your heart sink. The interaction between the girls and the cosplayer is tense and unforgettable.
Concerning its production elements, a thrilling score will leave you in awe and on the edge of your seat. The feeling the score creates cannot be described, the closest measure I can find is the feeling created during the closing scenes of the film KIDS when our protagonist is in a race against time in completing their goal.
Juliet O’Reilly’s short film Otaku is not currently available for your viewing pleasure on the internet, but keep a tab here: https://vimeo.com/julietoreilly for when the film finally does hit the web.
INTERVIEW with Juliet O’Reilly (Director/Writer)
Who is Juliet O'Reilly?
I'm a recent graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where I received a BFA with Honors in Film & Television. I reside in New York City and have a dual UK/USA nationality. My films explore themes of multicultural alienation, social ostracism, paradoxes of urban disconnection, and social violence. I've worked for media organizations as diverse as MTV Networks and BBC Worldwide where I was able to further hone my craft.
How did you get started filmmaking?
I have been a storyteller from an early age. As a child, I tended towards easily accessible, school-friendly artistic mediums such as drawing and painting, as well as writing short fiction and poetry. My interest in writing and the arts grew alongside my interests in anthropology and human geographical studies, which I decided to further explore whilst pursuing my undergraduate degree. After taking screenwriting courses in the first year of my studies at Boston University, I decided that filmmaking was the ultimate outlet for both my artistic expression as well as my explorations of social studies. I decided to transfer to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University as a platform for education and growth of my work, which served as a tool to help jumpstart and hone my filmmaking craft.
What inspired this short?
At the time I wrote this short, I was working in Times Square, NYC. Every day, I would pass character impersonators dressed in elaborate costumes on my way to the office, and I became fascinated by who was beneath each mask and what might drive an individual to choose this as a means of employment. What further piqued my interest, however, was how individuals would engage with the impersonators, and how they perceived the individuals who chose to dress up in the costumes. These questions definitely prompted my development of the foundation of the short.
Another aspect of the inspiration for this short can definitely be attributed to the concept of otaku culture, particularly the social stigma associated with those who participate in it, and its rapidly growing yet still exotic nature in western countries. I opted for Alistair to be an otaku, rather than an impersonator with a more mainstream costume, say a Disney character, as I believed it would create a unique perspective and prompt audience reflection on such ideas as xenophobia, urban isolation, and gender roles and expressions in ways the comfort of a recognizable, mainstream character costume would deflect.
Any interesting behind the scenes stories?
With filmmaking there are always unexpected moments! The most interesting behind the scenes event was definitely the number of people who would wander into shots asking for photos, believing that Alistair (portrayed by Guenzani) was an actual character impersonator, and asking what "show" he was from. This was motivational for the cast, the crew, and myself, as it further emphasized just how socially relevant our story was and how easily society comes to accept casual social degradation and exploitation of others.
What is it like filmmaking now after having made this film? Has your approach changed?
With every film I have worked on there have been lessons to take away once the film is completed. The most important lesson I learned from making Otaku is the importance of thorough pre-production. A lot of last-minute, unforeseeable events and changes happened to the production prior to principal photography, and with an approach of more comprehensive pre-production the impact of these changes could have been eased.
Do you have any projects lined up for the future?
I'm currently in pre-production on a short film which I wrote and plan to direct, with principal photography lined up for summer 2015. While the story is quite different from that of Otaku, thematic similarities can certainly be found between the two.
Any advice to filmmakers?
My advice to filmmakers would be to stay true to your voice and stylistic choices. Individuality and ownership are keys to creating powerful work which will not only resonate with you, but with audiences as well.