HBO’s Folklore Interview: Seiko Matsuda Dishes On Her Ghostly Experience

HBO Asia Original horror anthology series Folklore, which features deeply-rooted superstitions and myths across Asia, ramps up the fear factor with the return of a second season. The new six-episode season premieres on 14 November 2021 at 10pm exclusively on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Channel 411).

A new episode will debut every Sunday at the same time, with a seventh episode from Malaysia airing at a later date, following pandemic-related filming delays.

Folklore Season 2 continues to dive into Asia’s myriad of traditions and beliefs. Set in six different Asian territories – Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, the series examines the human condition when exposed to supernatural phenomena in a mind-bending race against oneself with each story providing a different take and perspective. Each episode is directed by a local director from that territory.

Directors for this season include Shih-Han Liao from Taiwan, Seiko Matsuda from Japan, Sittisiri Mongkolsiri from Thailand, Erik Matti from the Philippines, Billy Christian from Indonesia and Nicole Midori Woodford from Singapore. Singapore’s award-winning filmmaker Eric Khoo returns as the showrunner.

Highlighting female directors from the region, Japanese pop superstar Seiko Matsuda makes her directorial debut, drawing from personal experience to present an original concept featuring a haunted Japanese idol, while Singaporean director Nicole Midori Woodford’s episode speaks to dealing with family trauma.

Courtesy of HBO Asia, we were lucky enough to participate in a roundtable interview with Folklore Season 2 showrunner Eric Khoo and Seiko Matsudo, who directed one of the episodes in Season 2 (check out more details and information on that episode below). This interview has been edited for clarity.

Folklore Season 2 Episode 2: The Day the Wind Blew

Debut date: Sunday, November 21 at 10pm on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411)

Directed by: Seiko Matsuda (Japan)

Cast: Win Morisaki, Haori Takahashi

Here’s a quick synopsis: Mika is a schoolgirl who meets the man of her dreams – Ken, her favourite singer. As she takes her seat at Ken’s concert, nothing could be more perfect. Not only is she witness to a performance that is everything she’s expected and more, it seems he’s actually taken an interest in her.

But something seems amiss. Ever since the day of the concert, a cold wind has stalked the woman’s path as her dream encounter is marred by a bone-chilling presence. What appears to be the beginning of a fairy tale love can only be described as a fable destined for a hellish end.

How did you persuade Seiko Matsuda to direct an episode of Folklore?

Eric Khoo: I was actually in Japan promoting Ramen Teh, the film, and we had dinner. After that, Seiko told me about this personal experience that she had and it concerned something paranormal. It stayed with me for quite a while and a couple of months later, I met her while she was in Singapore and said; Seiko, how would you like to write about your experience and maybe we could make an episode on Folklore?

What can we expect from Folklore Season 2?

Eric Khoo: For me, it’s always a showcase for authors. We wanted every episode to be able to stand alone on its own merits and be very individualistic. I would say, for Season 1, we dealt more with social contemporary issues. For Season 2, it’s more like there’s a high angle of horror and also we dealt deep into things like witchcraft, rituals and scary demonic possessions.

There’s also a lot of emotional content for the characters, which I find important. With most paranormal works, it’s also whether we can identify with the spirit we’re dealing with. Some of them are actually quite heartbreaking stories, so I think we have a very exciting mix of six new episodes.

Hopefully, we can scare a lot of people and we can do a Season 3. That’d be nice, and then I’ll get to work with other film directors from the region that I admire and that’s what I really hope will happen.

Was there any content that you had to leave out of Season 2? What can you tell us about the delayed Malaysian episode? Will it still be part of Season 2?

Eric Khoo: Actually, we targeted six episodes. Then, we got the directors to come on board to work on these specific stories.

It (the Malaysian episode) will be a bonus coming up on the HBO GO format and it’s a very exciting episode. It was quite a challenge with COVID-19 happening.

Why do you love the horror genre?

Eric Khoo: It was my mother when I was two or three years old. She used to bring me to see horror movies. I think I was exposed to horror, at least one horror film per week. My mom was a real cinephile and as I got older and started looking at horror on a more technical scale, I realised that many of these horror films were done on a minuscule budget.

You look at Sam Raimi and you see Evil Dead. He did it on a shoestring budget. I think sometimes when you talk about creativity and cinema, when you go the extra mile and you give so much more on a small and tight budget, you just have to respect that work a lot more. A lot of these filmmakers who started with this genre, they’re gonna go on to do other things.

It’s always been very close to me, all of these sorts of like ghouls, I remember as a kid one of my favourite horror films was Creature From The Black Lagoon. It was so moving and sad. Then, decades later, you have like The Shape Of Water. I feel like there’s so much more that these horror films can communicate.

As a kid, I was also a big fan of The Twilight Zone. In my own way, with Folklore, it’s almost like a homage to that anthology series.

Why did the horror genre appeal to you?

Seiko Matsuda: Actually, I never expected I’d direct a horror movie. It’s very surprising to me too. Everything started from a dinner with Eric. When he came to Japan, we had dinner with him and the producers. We started sharing our scary stories and I told them my story. Then, Eric said he loved my story. I said, okay, good, and the dinner ends. One year after, he called me up and said let’s have lunch together.

Out of nowhere, he said, are you into directing a horror movie? I said, what? He said, I remember you telling me the scary story and I really liked that. He said that he thinks it’s going to be a great story so can you write the basic story? I said, wow, I never expected this but I would love to do it. Then, I started writing the story and share with Eric, and everything started from there.

Why horror? Because we accidentally started talking about horror with the scary stories and Eric liked that. But I think my story is not just horror, and it’s more like a love story, so yeah.

Were you inspired by your own experiences while directing the episode?

Seiko Matsuda: Being an idol or the experience of being an idol did not directly inspire the episode in any way. But I think I had a career in acting so that was probably beneficial in making me understand the feelings of actors on the set, which is really good for me.

Can you tell us more about your own ghostly experience that inspired the episode?

Seiko Matsuda: I used to have an assistant who could see ghosts. One day, she told me that she could see a ghost when I was performing at a concert. I didn’t know what was real because I don’t have the power to see (ghosts). When she said that to me, I grabbed my heart and said, wow. She said that she could see the same person (ghost) at every concert. Why is the ghost there? I don’t know anything but I just couldn’t forget the story that my assistant told me.

That’s the basic story of the episode, which I got from what my assistant told me. I really can’t tell whether she told the truth or not because I can’t see ghosts.

This is your first time directing. What were the biggest challenges and what did you enjoy the most about it?

Seiko Matsuda: The challenge was to create one story with everybody altogether, not only me. I had a wonderful cast and a dream crew. This was my first time creating a story with everybody. When I was a singer, it would usually be just me singing by myself but this is a totally different thing. It was really challenging but at the same time, it was a really wonderful experience for me. Creating the world together and getting closer to finishing it was really fun. I was really excited to see progress every day while shooting.

You wrote the music in this episode. What went into making them and incorporating them into the episode?

Seiko Matsuda: I wrote the storyline and Feng Choon wrote the script. When I read the script, I got hints on which scene should have a beautiful ballad or this scene could have pop dance music. I created the music with the story and the script. Everything in my mind, I could see the view and the vision, and then I got hints from that. Reading the script gave me the hints, and I then created the music for each scene.

What message did you want to convey or express from the episode?

Seiko Matsuda: A hidden message from the episode would be that everything is love. I want to express the love between girls and boys, mothers and daughters. There are so many different types of love in this episode.

What is particularly Japanese about your story?

Seiko Matsuda: I would say that Japanese people are old-fashioned and most of the time, they keep to themselves, but there’s beautiful compassion to it as well. The old-fashioned Japanese ways are what’s special to this episode. The Japanese way to love somebody or care for somebody. We don’t say it out loud but there is the feeling of love inside.

How did you choose the cast for your episode?

Seiko Matsuda: I was talking to Eric, I was talking to producers, we were considering many actors, but we felt that Win Morisaki is perfect for playing Ken. It was just like, we got it, this is the person. I got a feeling, this is the right person. Right, Eric?

Eric Khoo: Yeah, I was in Japan and I met Win Morisaki. He was part of a band and he can sing. A really nice boy and I thought, you know, he’d be really cool to pull on board if he was free. He was one of our first choices and he wanted very much to be part of it. I think it’s great because essentially he’s an actor/singer and Seiko is a singer/actor. It was a very good combo. It was then to find an actress and we wanted a new face, so we went through many different talents and we finally settled on this particular actress (Haori Takahashi).

Haori Takahashi (left), Seiko Matsuda (middle), Win Morisaki (right).

Would you do more films and directing jobs in the future?

Seiko Matsuda: This was a very wonderful experience for me. I’ve learnt a lot, especially from Eric. I’m very interested in doing it, if I have another chance, yes, I want to learn more. I’m very interested in doing it.

Why do you think Folklore has been successful so far?

Eric Khoo: The success of Folklore is because of the diversity. In Asia, we’re very rich in terms of culture and the spirit world, what we perceive. We could have the Pontianak, which is like a vampire, in Malaysia. Then, in Indonesia, we have the Kuntilanak. They’re different versions but mutations. In this part of the world, you really believe in ghosts and spirits. I think that’s one of the reasons why the episodes are pretty international. They can run somewhere else because they offer new exploration and the intensity of the fear factor. I think that’s really rich in Asia.

Seiko Matsuda: Every country has its own folklore and stories. I’m very interested to know that, so that’s the key to the success of the series.

What is the future of Folklore beyond Season 2?

Eric Khoo: We’re just so rich in terms of the different types of ghouls from this part of the world, we could always re-invent something, but I don’t think we should be like An American Horror Story, which is very, very different. With what we have and in terms of specific individuals and stories, I’d still like to go with that approach of The Twilight Zone.

As long as these standalone stories are strong enough, thematically we can hold them together with something but I just hope that Folklore Season 2 will be a success and we’ll get to do a Season 3.

Author: Alleef Ashaari

Aspiring writer. Born in Amsterdam, raised in Malaysia. Comics are my passion. A gamer and science fiction enthusiast. PSN: AlleefAshaari

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