Ever since his 2016 feature debut THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, I have been captivated by director Nicolas Pesce. Very few directors have the ability to leave such a remarkable impression with their first film that it’s hard to ignore the immense talent that Pesce harbors. Luckily, fans didn’t have to wait too long for his next film, an adaptation (of the same name) of the novel PIERCING from author Ryū Murakami.
I was lucky enough to catch the film when I attended the inaugural North Bend Film Festival last year and it has rarely left my consciousness since. A perfectly fucked up, bloody romance tale, the film incorporates breathtaking set design, superb acting, and a flawed murder plan. For the film’s release, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with director Nicolas Pesce about PIERCING where we chatted about everything from Giallo inspiration to the exquisite production design showcased in the film.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Nicolas, thank you so much for speaking with today! To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about your latest film PIERCING and what interested you in adapting Ryū Murakami’s novel?
Nicolas Pesce: PIERCING is about a guy who, in order to not harm his own newborn child, he decides he’s going to plan the perfect murder; however, his plans go array when his supposed victim has plans of her own.
I discovered Murakami because of Takashi Miike’s film, AUDITION. It’s one of my favorite movies and it’s based on a book by Murakami, so that was kind of my entry point and I really fell in love with the way he wrote. There’s a weird tinge of humor in all his work but it’s also really dark and the books just read like movies. You can tell that he likes movies, and he’s a filmmaker himself, because when you read his work it just feels like a movie. It also felt like an awesome counterpoint to EYES OF MY MOTHER because the one thing that I didn’t get to really showcase in EYES was my weird sense of humor and my ability to be a little bit more playful. PIERCING definitely gave me a venue to explore a lot of the same dark themes but I got to have more fun with it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: One of the aspects that I loved so much about this film was how drastically different it is from EYES, especially in terms of visual execution, set design, and the use of miniatures. What was your experience like making this film as opposed to the EYES OF MY MOTHER?
NP: It was a very conscious choice to make something so distinctly different so that people knew all the different worlds inside my brain. There was something about PIERCING and how built into the book there was a very specific look at a very specific life in Tokyo. I knew that I wanted to make the world, and the Universe of the movie, my own. In reading the story there was something that felt, in a very strange way to me, like a game that you could play with dolls in a dollhouse and we can kind of ran with that idea – that their whole world almost feels artificial. You have the miniatures, which we literally shot in a doll-house, and this allowed us to figure out how to make this City look as though there was something off about it. It’s a City that’s so dense and so packed but there are no people around. All the locations are on sets and we kind of tried to lean into the sort of artificial qualities of a lot of the design and be really bold with it color-wise, but also design-wise.
There’s a lot of Easter Eggs in the movie, whether it’s for the genre fans or art nerds – the art that is on the walls in all of the sets was chosen with great precision and there are a lot of inside jokes if you are into art history or if you like fashion. The movie is so much like a book of references to me and it’s kind of like PIERCING is me exorcising my interest and all the things that I like while putting as much of my taste and personality into there as possible – whether it be from the mood, to the design, to the music, to everything.
Nightmarish Conjurings: A huge reason why the film worked so well is that of the chemistry and interaction between Reed (played by Christopher Abbott) and Jackie (played by Mia Wasikowska). What was the casting process like? Had you already had them in mind?
NP: Chris and I became friends a couple of years before we ever made this movie so as soon as I read the book I was like “Oh, this is a perfect role for Chris.” He always gets cast as these burly blue-collar dudes and they tell him to gain weight and grow a beard, but in real-life, Chris looks like a movie star (laughs). No one ever lets him look like that on screen! There’s this quality that Chris naturally has where he’s really quiet but he’s so smart and you see so much going on in his head. It’s so much of the qualities that we needed Reed to have. This guy doesn’t express a lot, doesn’t say a lot, but so much has to happen behind his eyes.
With Mia, there were a lot of different ideas for how to play this character. It’s such a weird, unique character and Mia has this inherent quality that’s baked into her as an actor that she comes with these quirks that bring such a style and tone to everything she’s in. Whether she’s in a Chan-wook Park movie or Jane Eyre, there’s this quality to her that’s almost otherworldly. There’s something about putting someone like her in a position to play a character who is all over the map. It makes it way easier to sympathize with a person that’s hard to track but she also brings so much reality to it. The movie working is a testament to the two of them. The scenes they are acting in are not the scenes that are taking place and much of the movie, and the drama, takes place in their heads and it’s not external. It’s one thing to do that in a book, but in a movie, to be able to communicate so much of that interior is very impressive.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I was blown away when I noticed the score to TENEBRE playing as that is one of my favorite Giallo films. Why did you decide to use that score, or any of the other music, in this film?
NP: We tried a bunch of different things, musically, and I just kept coming back to all the Giallo stuff. First of all, I feel like nothing makes a Giallo movie feel more like a Giallo movie than the music. You can steal the look, you can steal the stories, but the thing that makes it like “Oh yeah, that’s Giallo” is the music. There’s something about what they were doing back then that isn’t really repeatable anymore. You have these composers coming out of big-band styles that are arranging and getting resources, that only John Williams got to do, for essentially horror movie scores with bizarre instruments, bizarre instrumentation, and it was really amazing. We don’t do weird scores to that scale anymore because it’s just financially difficult to do so.
The music beyond that definitely has a retro feel to it as a whole but we didn’t want to put film grain and dirt and lines and pops – we didn’t want to make it feel like we were trying to make it look like we shot it on film. There’s this quality to the music, that old music, and the way it was recorded and the technology that was available at the time and the wax that they used to press the vinyl, all of the manufacturing processes led to this texture that’s abstract. You can’t quite explain what it does but it makes the music feel a certain way. It’s a thing that you can’t recreate and it immediately puts the movie into a mood and a tone that lets you understand where you are and how you’re supposed to interact with this movie. The music is also just so fucking good (laughs).
Make sure to check out PIERCING when it arrives in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD February 1, 2019.