While it may be a while before we get another big theatrical release, the digital home video market continues to stay strong, and one of the latest films to hit VOD platforms is William Olsson’s Lost Girls and Love Hotels, which is an adaptation of Catherine Hanrahan’s acclaimed 2006 novel of the same name.
The film stars Alexandra Daddario (Superman: Man of Tomorrow; We Summon the Darkness), Takehiro Hira (Snake Eyes; Giri/Haji), and Carice van Houten (Game of Thrones; Valkyrie) in the main roles. Daddario plays the leading role of Margaret, who is an expatriate living in Japan, teaching flight attendants at an academy while simultaneously self-destructing in her personal life due to a tragedy.
Ahead of the film’s recent release, we were able to sit down with novelist and screenwriter Catherine Hanrahan to chat about writing her first screenplay, working with Daddario, her real-life experiences living in Japan, the myth vs. reality of the Yakuza, and a whole lot more!
Check out the full interview below:
ROHAN PATEL: Your book is mostly fictional and just loosely based on your experience living in Japan, so how much does the story and film actually capture of your real life experience living in a foreign country?
CATHERINE HANRAHAN: It’s fiction, yeah, but I did live in Japan for five years and I think I took a lot of myself and put it into the character of Margaret, but the story itself is entirely fictional. I mean, if you live in Japan for five years, you’re going to go to a love hotel at one point or another.
ROHAN: What did you find most difficult about adapting your book for the screen?
CATHERINE: It’s kind of a different muscle that you use when writing a script and you can’t get too inside the character’s heads as much. You’re thinking visually all the time when you’re doing a script… I actually had a professor when I did my MFA who really talked about three-act structure a lot in relation to novel writing, so when I wrote the novel, I was thinking in three-act structure, which really helped when I went on to write the script.
ROHAN: This film has been in the works for a little over a decade. How much involvement did you have with production and when did you know it was finally going to happen?
CATHERINE: There were many different people involved with the production, I think it’s been optioned three times. At first, I didn’t really have any involvement at all, someone else wrote a script at one point, and that project kind of died. Then, Lauren Mann and William Olsson approached my agent and I just remember thinking that I wanted to write the script, I want to do it my way, so after that, I had quite a bit of involvement with how it came out. I was able to go into the editing room and was able to be on set and all that kind of stuff.
ROHAN: Was there anything from the book you really wanted to keep but couldn’t find a way to make it work?
CATHERINE: I’d like to think that while I’m writing a script that I’m passionate about what I’m writing, but I’m not precious about it, so if something needed to go to fit the director’s vision, then I would be okay with it. Luckily, William was great to work with and I never really felt tortured about what to keep and what to lose.
ROHAN: It’s a very fish out of water experience I can imagine. Was meeting fellow Americans helpful, or did it send you further down the rabbit hole?
CATHERINE: Yeah, yeah, I think the first year I was over there, I didn’t meet anybody because I was just working all the time, but as time went on, I met a lot of other women like me that were working in Japan and we’re still in touch today. That was 20 years ago, so you do make good friends over there while you’re sort of in this weird situation where you’re in a love/hate relationship with where you’re living.
ROHAN: I’ll admit that I didn’t know what a love hotel was prior to watching the film, and after looking it up, it seems to be quite a booming industry over there. What did you find in regards to how the Japanese people look at these hotels versus how they’d be received over here?.
CATHERINE: The way that the Japanese people looked at love hotels was in a more practical sense. Often people would live in small apartments with three generations of family living in the same apartment and there isn’t a lot of privacy, so sometimes mom and dad might need somewhere to go and the love hotel is there. Then, of course, they are very handy if you’re having an affair or another illicit encounter. They don’t talk about them, like they don’t go on having a conversation with you about love hotels, but they don’t think it’s strange that there’s a love hotel down the street.
ROHAN: Alexandra Daddario was really excellent in this movie. What discussions did you have with her prior to and during filming?
CATHERINE: I didn’t really talk to her a lot, but she’d ask every now and then when it came to a particular scene about what her character’s motivation was and where she should come from. The director did most of the conveying, but she was wonderful. She was tireless, she was in every single scene and she never complained or lost her focus.
ROHAN: There’s a line near the end, I believe, where the man is telling Alex’s character about how people are able to be their true selves in this private hotel versus putting on a sort of facade while out in public. Why do you think that is?
CATHERINE: I think, if I’m just talking about my experience in Japan, it sometimes felt like Japanese people and the Japanese culture were very inscrutable for a foreigner like myself. You really wanted to sort of put on a facade when you’re in public, but I think when you find yourself in a private, intimate setting, people are able to be themselves more and show something more raw. I think that character at the end had more darker intentions, of course, when he said that, but it can be explained in many different ways.
ROHAN: As the movie progresses, you really see how much Alex’s character is lost, but after that final counter, she seems to have a cathartic experience that sends her back home. Was that based on something that happened to you?
CATHERINE: I really grew to love Japan and always felt that I was either going to stay there forever or I was going to leave right when I left. I knew I couldn’t stay there forever because I would constantly be on the outside looking in. It was scary going home, but I think in Margaret’s case, she just found this speck of hope and let it carry her onto the airplane into this uncertain future that she was at least facing with optimism.
ROHAN: Much of what we know about the Yakuza generally comes from movies and television, so what insight were you able to gain into their ongoing presence while living in Japan that a normal person may not be aware of?
CATHERINE: It’s really complicated because they are a part of the underworld and organized crime, but they’re also kind of a community organization, in a very strange way. One of the people we worked with, one of our producers, said that sometimes when they’d need to get a permit to film something, they’d have to ask the police and the community organization, which was the Yakuza.
It’s sort of like love hotels, the Japanese know that the Yakuza exist and that they’re all over the place, but it’s not talked about. I think that there are probably all kinds of different people involved with the Yakuza, from the kinds of criminals you see in films to these more respectable community leaders.
ROHAN: While we know the Yakuza by their reputation, the film does a very interesting thing in that it never actually shows them commiting any sort of crime or violence. Everything is just implied until the end when we get to see Margaret’s reaction to Kazu. Did you consciously want to leave all of the violence out of the story?
CATHERINE: Yeah, I didn’t want it to become a sort of crime thriller. I wanted to keep that foggy and hazy, his whole background and his job.
ROHAN: Now that this film is out, what are you working on next? Another book? Another screenplay?
CATHERINE: I’m working on a horror script, I love horror movies, so that was the first thing I wanted to write after I finished this film and it’s going well. I’m in the COVID bubble like everybody else, so everything’s on hold.
ROHAN: Since we are CBM, I’m obligated to ask, is there any superhero project you’d want to write?
CATHERINE: I’d love to do a female superhero like Wonder Woman. I have two pre-teen sons who absolutely love the Avengers, so that would be their dream if I wrote something like that. They’d bow down to me. *laughs*