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The short film JiSatsu is divided into three chapters.
In Chapter One: Achlys titre class, we learn that our protagonist has N147 in his account balance and is in debt of N238,232. So, he attempts to drink poison in front of his friend, but indecision creeps in. In Chapter Two: Son of Eris (strife), we learn that this is not his first suicidal attempt. We see this from his friend who notices the cuts on his wrist. He’s in denial, he immediately rephrases when telling his friend about those who invested in a ponzi scheme. He doesn’t want his friend to know he also invested and lost. Chapter Three: Dear Shinigami, Iku, thanatos, osiris and the rest of the fam is the final act. Here, someone dies but not our protagonist. I think this film is what I’d call a thesis-film as it tries to dive into a study of concepts, and find new forms to express it.
The cinematography is intrinsic and the editing is seamless. The dialogue is conversational- almost improvisational and adds to the realism of the film. Jeremiah John, the film’s writer, director and producer, takes us through the entire process from ideation to execution of his film, his attempts at cultural integration, his thoughts on suicide, and finding solutions to Nigeria’s adverse laws on suicide.
“This film is for Nigeria; its citizens and government. I want them to know the only way through suicide is through it, not around, not above.” – J. J
I think this is one of the best Nigerian short films I’ve seen this year and this is because of how significantly detailed it is.
Thank you for the kind words. Sometime in June last year, a friend, Dimeji Ogunranti had just shot his film titled Waiting For Nothing in which I was a cast and crew member. With the amount of work I did on set, he decided to reciprocate and push me till I shot mine too. The question of what story to tell wasn’t tricky. Of all the story ideas in my phone and jotters, only a few were easy to pull off. I was depressed at the time so it kind of dictated the mood at the time. I started asking myself what difference there was between a suicidal person and me. I also considered how awkward things become when I decide to do them. That helped me narrow down the story.
The next problem I faced was writing. For context, JiSatsu is the first script I have ever written. I had no idea or motivation on how to do it, so I reached out to Ebuka Njoku, director of Yahoo+, for pointers and tips on how he wrote. He answered my many questions and kept talking to me and sending me resources about the story and script till I finished writing.
Then it was time to pre-produce. I was shown premium shege here. Being a first-time director and scriptwriter, I had trouble casting. I managed to get some of my friends on board to be cast and crew. As we neared the shooting date, I slated physical and virtual readings and rehearsals. I ran into a lot of scheduling issues, but I was able to make it work. I had to drop two cast members. One went AWOL. The second person I dropped was on the day of the shoot. I realized on set that he was no match for the role, so I let him go. Then I let the initial casting choice have a go at the flatmate character again since he was around and we had no choice, and he was great. The first day of the shoot had its issues. The boom mic stopped working; we eventually had to start hiding my phone in the scenes as the microphone. We shot a couple of scenes (and a scene where I was slapped about fifteen times) and then wrapped for the day.
On day 2, I planned with the cast and crew, and we agreed on our movements but my friend went AWOL again. This time for over two weeks, I cancelled everything we had shot and stepped away from the film. Other cast members had to carry on with their lives. It was a massive blow because everything we had done was wasted. With anger, I rewrote the script to be a “GenZ-GenZ” conversation. I cast friends again and it was perfect. I cast my cousin who was a drama student in the film too. I initially planned for three days of shoot but we had to shoot for two days due to the availability of the cameras. The slap scenes were worse this time; I never thought I could get red cheeks.
Post production was war too. Every part of filmmaking is war. There is always something or someone to fight. I think I understand that now.
Filmmaking is war. How were you able to handle working as an actor and director on the film?
It wasn’t easy because I was monitoring myself, the casts and the crew. It’s like being on a ship as the captain but also working in the engine room. The work to be done becomes manifold. I hope not to do both again, at least not while playing the main character. Acting is very exhausting, especially with the multiple takes. Add the task of keeping track of the scope of the project and it becomes extremely exhausting.
You’ve obviously gone through a lot to make this. What is the ultimate reward for you from this film?
It made me a stronger “warrior” filmmaker. Asides the technicality that goes into making a film, filmmaking also has other moving parts. Keeping these moving parts functional and sticking to your core vision is a serious war. Jisatsu made me a warrior filmmaker now. That in itself, regardless of how the film turns out, is a win for me.
Your short film’s title Jisatsu is the Japanese word for Suicide. Why this choice?
This is mostly because of Japan’s attitude and culture surrounding the concept of suicide. Seppuku is a form of honorable suicide, but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. JiSatsu, as a word, has more depth and is a lot more straight to the point than other titles I considered.
“To Do or Not” and “To-do list”.
Tell me more about Seppuku.
Japan’s Seppuku mandates that you take their life, usually after you’ve messed up. It’s considered honourable and is done in a bid to salvage yourself from whatever mistake you may have made. I found the concept fascinating because over here in Nigeria, most cultures find it abominable. They don’t even allow anyone touch the corpse of suicide victims, unless some rites have been done.
Do you agree with this method? To take your life after you have “messed” up, for the sake of honour?
Maybe. However, the truth is there’s so much more that can be done in life than in death. So I understand the preference for life. But I support assisted suicide and euthanization in the context of the conditions of countries practicing them. Say someone that has been in a coma for a while or has been in insurmountable pain. But as I mentioned earlier, Seppuku wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.
So what I’ve done is just try to bridge the two cultures, Japan’s attitude on suicide and Nigeria’s adverse stance.
In the sense that I borrowed Japan’s openness to suicide to help Nigeria navigate the same phenomenon. That we shrug it away won’t make the problem go away. Sniper has been banned for over three years now but people continue to use it to end their lives. Like most moves made by the government, it only addresses the effects and not the cause. To address the cause, we can learn from Japan and start saving ourselves.
I’d agree. I read in the Japan Times that in 2021, the Japanese government appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as the first Minister of Loneliness to reduce loneliness and social isolation among its citizens. This came after an increase during the July–October period of the country’s suicide rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think of NGOs’ involvement in the matter in Nigeria? Is it enough?
I think NGOs are doing a really great job, especially MANI (Mentally Aware Nigeria). Of course there is room for more. But an NGO shouldn’t be more proactive than the government. If the government can match the efforts of the NGOs, the impact will be a lot more than what it is right now.
Yes. The story is personal to me, my friends, and a lot of Nigerian youths. I listen to my friends talk about their challenges a lot and I fear and feel for them more than I do for myself. Sometimes I provide answers, other times I have no choice but to just listen. JiSatsu was my way of saying I see them.
Have you ever been depressed and attempted suicide?
Depressed? Yes. Suicide? No. I have never gotten past anhedonia before I get help. I start getting depressed when I feel helpless. Nigeria triggers that. Also there’s the personal trauma that I battle and my introversion.
How do you get help?
I get help from my support group which consists of my best friend and another friend. I basically talk to them. They listen or proffer advice and tend to my immediate needs.
That’s great. I’m glad you’re able to seek help that way. Let’s say we’ve just met and you wanted to tell me about this film. How would you sell it to me?
Well, I would tell you that the government incentivized suicide and I have my short film to prove it.
My main character talked about a #100K fine, which is one option. The other is 6 months imprisonment. The last thing a suicidal person would be thinking of is a fine for failed suicide when they are focused on suicide. If anything, it’s fuel. The fine pushed him to try harsher means of committing suicide. An average Nigerian might not know this. I hope those that get to watch this learn that.
A voice in the film’s prologue chants: “Drink sniper & die! You’re frustrated, EFCC is disturbing you. Drink sniper & die. You be ashawo, money no dey come into ashawo business again. Drink sniper and die. You be politician you lose election, no source of income. Drink sniper and die..Original sniper. ” I’d like to know the source and what inspired you to add it? A strong voice like this, especially at a film’s opening, often suggests the filmmaker’s voice.
Nigerians love catching cruise. The “drink sniper and die” was from a viral clip of a man advertising his sniper products, but for suicide. A lot of people found it funny, so adding it was me calling everyone to come and reassess the “fun”, to look at it in a different light. Everything can’t be cruise. What if someone took us seriously? I believe we can be kinder to ourselves.
Writers, artists, often steal from people’s stories to create. Do you ever feel compelled to tell a story from someone’s tragedy?
Yes, but not people close to me.
Is there a line?
No, there is no line so far there is no direct depiction of them. JiSatsu was inspired by the lives of some of my friends. There are a couple of obscure people with tragedies that have inspired me. I once wrote a short story about a friend who was almost killed during her NYSC election duties. Gleaning from the experience of others comes with the craft.