An awkward silence followed right after director Yasu Tanaka shared that the inspiration for his debut Malaysian film Nota comes from his own marriage. Standing right next to him was his Malaysian producer wife, Bea Tanaka.
You see, Nota is a murder mystery film starring Maya Karin and Hans Isaac as an estranged couple. The rift between the two is caused by the infertility woes faced by Maya’s character Erin.
Erin decides to mend the relationship with a romantic getaway to Bako National Park in Sarawak. However, she soon discovers a bleak note written by Hans’ character Kamal about his thought to end the marriage at the edge of cliff.
The spot with the picturesque view of the South China Sea was where he proposed to her 10 years ago.
“Well, the film is based on the interesting situation (my wife and I) faced when we visited Bako National Park in 2007. To get to the National Park, we had to take a boat. Then, for the longest time, we were stuck on the boat due to low tide,” said Yasu at an interview recently.
He added: “I remember feeling incredibly frustrated. Then I thought about the situation that we were in – both of us were out in the open yet completed isolated from everyone else. That’s when I had this idea for a murder mystery.”
His wife Bea later assured us their situation back then was not in any way similar to the tension faced by Erin and Kamal in the film.
“Yasu has a way of telling a truthful or relatable story, with a little bit of fiction to make it exciting,” she said.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, Yasu came to Malaysia in 2003 as part of the Disney On Ice production. His duty was literally ice-making.
Prior to releasing Nota, Yasu – who is a California State University film degree-holder – has also taught several classes on scriptwriting at events organised by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas).
In fact, it was Yasu’s script and carefully-planned storyboard that attracted both Hans and Maya to the project. The pair who are longtime friends in real life shared that it was their first time acting together.
“Ironically, we have to figure out how not to have any chemistry at all,” said Maya with a laugh.
Hans added: “On set, we try to minimise our contact with each other. We never share any emotions about anything. Once the shoot is over, we go back to our hotel rooms and do our own thing. We needed this gap between us to project our characters more effectively.”
There is minimal dialogue between Kamal and Erin in the film. Much of what Erin wanted to say to her husband is left untold.
Yasu said he was thankful to have actors like Hans and Maya who were able to portray the dissolution of marriage on screen with vivid facial expressions and powerful body language.
The film also stars the late Ramli Hassan as a mysterious and quirky boatman. At the press preview, Yasu held back tears when he talked about Ramli’s influence on the film.
“At the beginning, I asked Ramli if we should base the film in Sabah or Sarawak. He suggested that we shoot it in Sarawak. We studied the location together and he was very dedicated towards helping me bring this film to life.”
Ramli passed away in May.
The director added: “I am glad that Ramli was able to see the film at a screening in Penang last year. Otherwise, I’d never forgive myself. He said he liked it and that made me very happy.”
Nota opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.