courtisane festival 2017 notes on cinema
Of Time and Struggle Four Films by Ogawa Productions Born in Tokyo in 1936, Ogawa Shinsuke served as assistant director at Iwanami Productions from 1960, and participated in the Ao no Kai [Blue Group] film study unit with Higashi Yoichi, Iwasa Hisaya, Kuroki Kazuo, and Tsuchimoto Noriaki. Ogawa went independent in 1964 and made his first films collectively with the Jieiso collective — Sea of Youth (1966), Forest of Oppression (1967) and Report from Haneda (1967). Their films were shown at workplaces and universities throughout Japan in the midst of the Zenkyoto student movement. He founded Ogawa Productions in 1968 and together with a group of filmmakers he went to live in the farming village of Heta while producing the seven films of the Sanrizuka series, which depicted the movement in opposition to the construction of Narita International Airport. Continuing to make films from the viewpoint of farmers, in 1974 Ogawa moved to Magino in Yamagata Prefecture’s Kaminoyama City, where he filmed “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (1982) and Sundial Carved With a Thousand Years of Notches — The Magino Village Story (1986) while growing rice and observing life in farming villages. His dedicated work as an organizing member of the first Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 1989 was instrumental to the festival’s success. He passed away on February 7, 1992.
On Ogawa Productions films of the 1960s and the 1970s. Excerpt from David Desser, Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema, Indiana University Press, 1988.
The protests began in the university over outrage at the admission of unqualified or under-qualified students. Middle- and working-class students were upset by the preferential treatment accorded to the sons of industrial or political leaders. The highly competitive entrance exams to all colleges, and the relatively few high school graduates who attend four-year colleges and universities, make admission to any schools a significant achievement. Thus the understandable outrage at admissions based on political or economic favoritism. The protests blossomed into a nearly full-fledged revolt against the school authorities who, in typical administration shortsightedness, felt a crackdown on students was better than negotiation. The bulk of Forest of Oppression revolves around the radical students’ efforts to form an independent community in the Student Hall. The students inside the dormitory attempt to declare their facility off limits to faculty and administration. The police are eventually called in and many of the students evacuate the hall. But a large group remains inside, behind barricades.
The films of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (for whom Ogawa has acted as producer and mentor) mirror in their development those concerns which define the New Wave: a focus on youth, alienation and the quest for Japanese identity, women, and the problem of prejudice. For Ogawa and Tsuchimoto, the oppressed people are the weak people, people who are pressured by the state and by the culture at large. Ogawa and Tsuchimoto explicitly side with, and feel a part of, the weak. Ogawa’s first film, Seinen no umi (Sea of Youth, 1966), concerns four correspondence students trying to earn a college degree. This inaugurates Ogawa’s concern with youth and with discrimination. The film begins with shots of the students (three men and a woman) picketing and carrying signs. This is intercut with shots of uniformed college students playing football. The crosscutting has the effect of comparing the plight of the correspondence students, who have turned to activism out of necessity, to their classmates who have time for fun and games. Through voice-over narration (a common technique in Ogawa’s films) we learn that there are 60,000 young people who attend Japanese college as correspondence students. Most of their number are working–class kids who hold full–time jobs. These students are, of course, required to have the same number of credit hours for graduation as all other students. The issue at hand is the government’s attempt to enforce a time limit in which those credit hours may be earned. Such a constraint would make earning a degree virtually impossible given the correspondence students’ circumstances. To fight this proposed legislation, these four students have formed a committee to organize a protest campaign. This strategy upsets some of the faculty who discuss abandoning the entire correspondence system, and it alienates many of the full time students who refuse to march in support of their part-time classmates. The correspondence students, despite this hostility, continue the struggle. Sea of Youth overtly supports the correspondence students in their cause and thus gives voice to a near-voiceless, powerless minority.
Ogawa shows the types of pressure brought to bear against these student protestors. Not only does the campus administration try to force them out, but the students’ parents also try to talk them out of their protest. As in Sea of Youth, we also see fellow students reject the central figures. Ogawa attempts to put the protests at Takasaki into the larger context of the burgeoning student movements of the middle ‘60s. Ogawa also shows demonstrations at Sunagawa Air Base against the Japanese Self Defence Force, for instance. Ogawa spent a year making Forest of Oppression and it became, perhaps unsurprisingly, a big hit among Japanese students in the 1960s. Of course, this film, like most of the works of Ogawa and Tsuchimoto, was denied commercial distribution, not out of overt political manoeuvrings necessarily, but within the same industrial context that keeps documentaries out of American theatres. In fact, as we will see later, the distribution / exhibition of Ogawa’s and Tsuchimoto’s films must be taken into consideration in an understanding of the radical nature of their work. After completing Forest of Pressure, Ogawa continued his focus on the student protest movement with Gennin hokokusho: Haneda toso nokiroku (Report from Haneda, 1967). Joan Mellen describes this film as a “news-style documentary dealing with the confrontation between students and riot police on the occasion of then Premier Eisaku Sato’s visit to the United States.” Haneda was the site of a large Anti-Security Treaty Protest in 1960. In November 1967, helmeted students armed with staves and rocks clashed with police as they tried to prevent Sato’s departure for South Vietnam on a trip which would eventually take him to the US. There was one fatality among the protestors, six hundred injuries, and fifty-eight
Ogawa is equally partisan in his next film, Assatsu no mori (Forest of Oppression, 1967). The subject of this film is the massive student protests at Takasaki University. Japan at this time was experiencing waves of student demonstrations across the country, but most of the media attention was given to events at the more prestigious universities, such as Todai (Tokyo University), Kyodai (Kyoto University) and Waseda. Ogawa is thus giving voice to a prop of students not only oppressed by their own administration but also by the media who implicitly relegate these students of a less prestigious college to a second-class status.
arrests. The police and the government tried to blame the protestor’s death on the riot itself, but Ogawa, through footage he had shot, demonstrated convincingly that the police overreacted to the situation. Ogawa’s interest in the student riot at Haneda may be seen as a natural progression to an interest in the burgeoning protest movements against the building of a new airport at Narita. And just as the massive activities against Narita would make the Haneda Incident pale in comparison, so too Ogawa’s film record of the affair would make an exponential leap of scope and commitment.
Out of the protests at Sanrizuka, which still go on into the 1980s to oppose further planned expansion, Ogawa produced an almost unprecedented series of films. From 1968 until 1973, Ogawa and his small crew committed themselves completely to documenting the complex protests, demonstrations, and shifting strategies undertaken by the peasants and their supporters to prevent the building of the airport. What Noël Burch has called “one long ‘work in progress’” is a group of films known collectively as “The Sanrizuka Series.” (...) The films pose numerous problems for non-Japanese viewers, although David Apter’s comment that “it probably won’t appeal to American audiences since there are long mystifying silences and slow periods,” marks a bit too much of reverse cultural elitism. Even Noël Burch, however, is forced to call the first film, at least, “a rather indigestible assemblage... with an over-emphasis on the spectacular student battles with the police.” Ogawa’s strategy of providing little background information in favor of the process of the protests forces one’s attention away from the objective facts and onto what Burch calls the “material” behavior and discourse of the main protagonists. As in his earlier films, Ogawa is unabashedly on the side of his subjects so that he literally allows them to speak for themselves.
Haneda Airport, for years the only air thoroughfare in and out of Tokyo, was proving woefully inadequate for the city’s, and the country’s, needs by the middle of the 1960s. The government determined that the only solution was to build a new airport. For reasons that are still obscure, a site more than an hour’s automobile travel from Tokyo was selected. The area near Narita in the village of Sanrizuka was prime farmland, owned in alleged perpetuity according to land-reform decrees in the immediate postwar period. The attempt by the national government to force the farm families to see their land stuck a raw nerve not only among the peasants themselves, but among a number of ever-increasingly militant groups. Apter and Sawa note that “to one degree or another Sanrizuka became important for all the militant groups who had mobilised for Ampo 1960. In Sanrizuka the state (or its surrogate, the airport) could attack directly and the principle of class struggle against imperialism could be raised. Forming a coalition of workers and peasants against the state became the first objective. This seemingly Marxist-oriented alliance was transcended when the building of the massive airport confined with the anti-pollution and anti-nuclear movements. The government was then further confronted with the Hiroshima Peace Marchers, the Minamata Group, and various factions of the New Left, including the Zenkyoto (Zenkoku kyoto kaigi, the All-Student Going Struggle Conference, which evolved out of the university struggle of 1968-69), and Beheiren (Citizens League for Peace in Vietnam). This last-mentioned group typifies the interrelationship of all the groups in Sanrizuka; how antipollution, anti-nuclear, anti-war, and farming groups see themselves as oppressed by the ruling government. Apter and Sawa note that Beheiren was
In making the Sanrizuka Series, Ogawa began to develop a sense of how revolution in Japan may spring out of traditional roots, which gives him much in common with Imamura, that other poet of the peasants. Through the Sanrizuka protests Ogawa became intimately familiar with the life of rural Japan and came to believe that modern Japan’s essential roots lie in its agricultural areas. Ogawa points out that in the Meiji era most Japanese were farmers; today, less than 20 percent of the population is employed in farm labor. This is only one of the changes with which contemporary Japan has had to deal. Ogawa states that in the 1940s and 1950s farmers never would have dreamed that their land could be sold. Yet, by the 1960s, the sale of farmland was a relatively common occurrence. By the time of the Sanrizuka protests, Ogawa felt it was most interesting to learn why some farmers would not sell. The relationship Ogawa discovered between peasant and land means soil, the soil in which things grow. What also grows out of the soil, besides rice (the essence of Japanese farming), is the family and the village. And out of such roots can come revolution, revolution in a Japanese context.
formed out of the “silent majority” groups organized more of less spontaneously at the time of the Ampo Diet demonstrations in 1960, first really asserted itself as an organization independent of all political groups on 1965. Its first demonstration was a protest march over the February bombing of North Vietnam. Among its original members were several figures important in the Ampo demonstrations (including) Shinoda Masahiro. That Ogawa would be attracted to the protest movement at Sanrizuka, combining as it did a variety of groups who opposed oppression, was inevitable.
From a pamphlet by JIEISO [Independent Screening Organization (Jishu Joei Soshiki no Kai)].
From the press book of The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan — Summer in Sanrizuka (1968).
Reproduced in Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Reproduced in Jeune Cinéma, n° 66, November 1972. The day before we started shooting in Sanrizuka, near Narita, where the government was planning to build a new airport, the members of our crew established the following rules:
To all of you fighting at the Takasaki University: This is a movement challenging, through filmmaking, the inhumanity always produced by the domination of power. We [Jieiso] have no status, wealth or power. What we do have is the very, very strong support for, and solidarity with, the students fighting at Takasaki Economic University... committing your struggle to film through our own efforts recaptures the cinema — which has been privatized in the class system — for our side. Furthermore, making this a possibility through filmmaking will, to be sure, mark a breakthrough in today’s movie world. Moreover, the document we affix on film has a profound duality in that it is not unrelated to all the students fighting across Japan.
First: the camera must always take the side of the farmers that are struggling so that if the authorities decide to increase their pressure and the anti-riot forces attack the fighting farmers, the camera will also receive the blow directly. If that happens, the authorities would be attacking the audience directly, through the screen. Second: if things don’t go as planned, we must stop filming without people knowing. This means that we must avoid the use of zoom lenses to film the farmers when they are unaware, and that we should abstain from filming when they are hiding. We should always play fair and make the camera visible, using it to participate in the battle together with the farmers.
Jieiso, a short name for the Independent Screening Organization, was the precursor to Ogawa Productions. It was formed by Ogawa, with Otsu Koshiro and university students. They were divided into various working groups: the screening group, the production group, the investigation group and a theory group. They meant to create “a reciprocal relation between the filmmakers and spectators.” Their political positioning reflected much of the conflicts and discussions existing in the New Left as demonstrated by their films and modes of organization.
Even though these rules seem rather obvious and very vague to establish a plan of action, I should say that it was very difficult for the crew not to have some hesitation. This was also the beginning of our struggle. Of course, the reaction of the farmers towards us started to change during this process and they accepted to be on camera with a single wish: to protect the cameras as if they were a wing of the Opposition League of Sanrizuka — Shibayama, as if we were messengers sent from the frontline of the battleground. The intimate collaboration between us and the farmers developed during the shooting period and became in 1968 a film of one hour and forty minutes called Summer in Sanrizuka.
1. Sanrizuka — Peasants of the Second Fortress (Sanrizuka — Daini toride no hitobito) Ogawa Productions, Japan 1971, 16mm (transferred to digital), b/w, 143’ Production: Nosaka Haruo, Fuseya Hiro, Honma Shusuke, Mikado Sadatoshi, Nara Noriaki, Iizuka Toshio, Tadokoro Naoki, Iwasaki Seiji, Tanizu Hideko (Tohoku Ogawa Productions), Kikuchi Nobuyuki (Sapporo) | Direction: Ogawa Shinsuke | Assistant director: Fukuda Katsuhiko, Yumoto Mareo | Photography: Tamura (Tamra) Masaki | Assistant cameramen: Shimizu Yoshio, Hara Tadashi | Production Manager: Hataya Naoko | Sound editing: Asanuma Yukikazu | Negative cutter: Takahashi Tatsuo | Sound: Mitsuyuki Recording Studio | Laboratory: Toei Kagaku Koyo Kubushikigaisha
From a brochure published by Ogawa Productions.
Ogawa Shinsuke about the concept of mise-en-scène in documentary film.
Reproduced in Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60, Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema, 1972.
Reproduced in Jeune Cinéma, n° 66, November 1972.
“1970 Sanrizuka — Peasants of the Second Fortress
In what concerns me, it is something that does not exist. The team arrives on site with the cameramen, and if anything, I will be here, because this where I am living most of the time. More than mise-en-scène, I am interested, for example, in introducing explosive elements into the discussions and debates. What I find more exciting in working in a collective is that each member of the group has his own personality, which in turn is shaped by past experience. Making a film is to bring together several personalities, it’s very much like putting tiles on a roof, so to say. Even if all these personalities try to adapt to the requirements of group work, something which they will achieve sometimes, this may create clashes, nuances, flaws, and sometimes chasms. Everyone will be able to experience this while they are working. Everyone, by virtue of the role he has been assigned, is able to take the floor and express himself. The cameraman expresses himself through his machine. And everyone is therefore able to be responsible for his own role. It is like a pastel drawing. If this wasn’t about getting an image onto film, the personality of every member of the group would not be relevant. But our type of work is about accumulating, amassing personalities to bring their diversity to the fore, which in itself is a very effective way of expression. I think this applies to all of us. I for one, as a director, have to be incendiary and I am not always sure if I am able to achieve it.
The prefecture of Chiba and the Airport Society proceeded to the forced expropriation of the land of the Opposition League [Hantai Domei] in three weeks starting on the 22nd February. The peasants resisted, digging galleries in the land they wanted to expropriate and building fortresses around them. Inside the fortresses people talk and move as if it were a festive children’s party. “Should we concentrate our efforts in the fortresses or in defending the tunnels?” “Should we arm ourselves with bamboo spears?” “Should we tie ourselves to the trees with chains or barbed wire?” After a long discussion the people start building their own world inside the fortress and reinforce the structure of the tunnel. They carefully pick the best wood to build the galleries, they only use the best. They gather provisions for a prolonged fight. “I feel safe because I am digging this tunnel with the strength of my arms,” says a peasant laughing. They came to destroy our tunnels. They were destroyed by the wickedness and the prepotency of the power machine. And yet, the radio tower is still spreading the message: “In spring the shoots will sprout from the earth. Sanrizuka is still alive.” We return to the tunnels. The young farmers start hoeing the land that was confiscated by the Society. The work continues and becomes more intense, vouching for the intimate determination of the farmers to carry on with their lives.
Excerpt from Noël Burch, To the Distant Observer. Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979
“Towards a Theory of Ogawa Shinsuke’s Filmmaking” by Ueno Koshi. Published in DocBox #19, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, 2002. Translated by Sharon Hayashi.
Four years later, Ogawa and his team produced the third and best-known film in the series. It is also the most important one, since it attempts, like Godard and SLON In France, Kramer and Newsreel in the United States, and the filmmaker’s working under Santiago Alvarez in the Cuban ICAIC, to find “new ways of filming to go with new ideas about the world.” Peasants of the Second Fortress deals with a much briefer period, only a few days or so, at a crucial stage in the resistance; the farmers had built a series of underground tunnels at a last retreat, but were still defending an above-ground area by means of barricades and bamboo staves, and by chaining themselves to the trees that were to be bulldozed. Ogawa’s and his cameraman’s work had now come to fit the rhythms and patterns of the farmers’ speech and behavior. The ten-minute takes in which peasant women set about determining the best way to chain themselves to trees, or in which a farmer repetitiously explains the ventilation arrangements and other problems in digging the underground fortresses, display a remarkable material understanding of the concrete modes of behavior and discourse specific to those who work the land. The film’s truly graphic sensitivity to cultural “otherness” has few precedents. It is not too much to say that the camera (or rather more precisely the editing) of the French master Jean Rouch is “condescending” by comparison.
Memories of Shared Times In 1966, the year Ogawa Shinsuke directed and independently produced his first film, The Sea of Youth (1966), I started to write the current events column for a manga journal called Garo. Although I’m five years younger than Ogawa, we both became active around the same time and lived through the same period. At the time, however, I hadn’t seen The Sea of Youth, and didn’t even know that the film existed. The first Ogawa film I watched, Forest of Oppression (1967), was made the next year. I think I saw it sometime between the first and second struggles over the construction of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on October 8 and November 12, 1967. The venue was probably the Yotsuya Public Hall. This is in the far recesses of my memory but I remember the smell of an old waxed floor and the light peeping through the auditorium window and the black shades. At the time this public hall was often used for screenings of independent films and independent theatrical performances. This was the first of what would later become regular independently organized screenings of Ogawa’s films. When I saw Forest of Oppression, however, I didn’t watch it as a film. To me, it was a record of the student struggle at a small provincial university called the Takasaki City University of Economics. In fact, when I wrote about this film in a column for Garo, I quoted it as material to think about the present state of the student struggle, not as a film in its own right. This was no doubt because I was strongly attracted to the images of the students who appeared in this film. This was not only true of Forest of Oppression but for Report from Haneda (1967) as well. Even when I watched the Sanrizuka series beginning with Summer in Sanrizuka (1968) I watched it as a record of the Sanrizuka struggle rather than as a film. Of course by this time I had heard of Ogawa Shinsuke’s name and knew of the existence of Ogawa Productions but maybe it was because I went to see these films at non-theatrical venues, I never consciously watched each work as a film. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in films at the time. The first film criticism that I wrote was in 1968 but even before then, although I wasn’t what you would call a cinephile, I would duck into a movie theater any time I was free. Despite this interest in film I had very little sense that I was watching a film when I went to see an Ogawa Shinsuke or Ogawa Production film. While quite moved by the films of Suzuki Seijun or Kato Tai, I never placed Ogawa films on the same level.
This must have been because it was the end of the sixties, a time of struggle (the revolution of ’68) and Ogawa films conveyed the atmosphere at the front lines of the struggle. More than anything Ogawa Shinsuke films were cool. Even now that these films have come to be valued as films, Ogawa Shinsuke films are cool. At the time it wasn’t because of the way Ogawa films were made or edited, but because it was footage of the actual struggle. This changed with Sanrizuka — Heta Village (1973). By change I mean the feel of the film was very different from those up until then and for me, the “film” that had been hiding in the background suddenly became part of the foreground. This was certainly related to a change in times. This film was made in 1973, and a year earlier, the Red Army incident had made clear the miserable dead end to which the era of struggle had sunk. Those directly involved in the struggle, sympathizers of the struggle, and those trying to garner something out of the experience could do nothing but put the incident behind them and struggle to find a new direction. The fact that Ogawa Productions moved to Magino Village in Yamagata Prefecture at this time was no coincidence.
Filmmaker’s Footsteps Despite this, if you watch each Ogawa Shinsuke film from the early period on, there is a clear transformation even before Sanrizuka — Heta Village. For example, narration (narrative voice-over) which is unquestioningly used in The Sea of Youth, continues in restrained form in Forest of Oppression, but is thrown out in Report from Haneda. In documentary films up until that time, it was normal to have narration. So when Ogawa Shinsuke made The Sea of Youth, it was natural for him to use narration. I had forgotten this aspect of his films, but a few years ago, when I was attempting to write a commentary on his entire oeuvre, I re-watched this film and was completely surprised. I had come to think that it was typical for Ogawa films not to have narration. Narration explains what appears in the screen from outside of the screen. It both explains the situation taking place and places it in a context. It explains as well as constructs the context of the film. It constructs at the same time it unifies the whole film. Where does narration, with its great power, come from? Of course it comes from the filmmaker, but narration suppresses the thinking and stance of the filmmaker, and masquerades as one of the audience. In other words it acts like an objective third party that calmly overlooks the events. The audience is led by the voiceover until at some point, the voice-over begins to feel like it comes from within and the audience begins to agree. Narration works on the screen from the outside, unifying and directing the events, which develop within the screen. In this way narration has a great power, an authority that Kamei Fumio used to the fullest in Nihon no higeki (A Japanese Tragedy, 1946). In this film, the postwar values of the narration transform the meaning of wartime images 180 degrees. I am opposed the use of this kind of easy narration. I only came to this conclusion after watching postwar documentaries including Ogawa’s.
The 1960s were a time when political and artistic radicalism competed and formed a loose solidarity, but this happy period ended around 1971-73. In 1973 Oshima Nagisa disbanded his production company, Sozosha, which had been a comrade of film production. Of course, both personal and collective circumstances were involved, but faced with the dead end of sixties radicalism, people were seeking a change of direction. Even in Sanrizuka — Heta Village the period’s change in consciousness is implicit, as it must have been for those watching the film as well. What had been up until then the record of the Sanrizuka struggle became Ogawa Shinsuke films in their own right. This may seem obvious now, but there were times when this wasn’t the case, and we shouldn’t forget the fact that Ogawa Shinsuke made films during this period. Of course, a filmmaker struggles in each film to create a relationship to the subject, thinks about the meaning of documentary film, probes the definition of a film, and hopes the film will be watched properly as a film. But at the same time, the selection of a subject is affected not only by individual will but also largely by the atmosphere of the times. It was at this time that films which highlighted the equation of choosing and being chosen first became possible. Actually when Ogawa Shinsuke and others made Report from Haneda, bringing their cameras to the second Haneda struggle to follow up on Yamazaki Hiroaki’s death during the first Haneda struggle, they intended to make a newsreel, not a film. Now, however, it only exists as a film. When viewed as a film the author is probably dissatisfied, but the audience on the other hand may find it interesting. This however has become so self-evident that it is questionable whether this is really the best incarnation for the film.
In order to make a film, many different powers are at work, but narration in the documentary film is perhaps the greatest of all. Ogawa Shinsuke rejected the power and authority of narration when he became involved in Sanrizuka. In place of the transcendent voice-over, he increasingly layered various noises and voices from the location. The narration that does remain in Forest of Oppression stands out, and is even more obvious in Report from Haneda. The first film of the Sanrizuka series, Summer in Sanrizuka, is rich in multiple layers of sounds from the roars and murmurs of the farmers to the voices heard through microphones and walkie-talkies, and from the beating on drum cans to the crying of patrol car sirens, but at the same time the moments of silence in between the sounds leaves a strong impression. In the moments of silence we see the watermelon and mulberry fields wide open before our eyes. If you were actually looking at the spot on location you wouldn’t be able to approach it in a
disinterested manner. Perhaps this is an experience that can only be achieved by the mediation of film.
Excerpt from Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
And it may be obvious, but this was probably brought about by the experience of filming after moving to and living in Sanrizuka. As long as you look in from the outside, you can only see the subject in terms of events and problems but if you live there it’s inevitable that the framework of events and problems disappears. The people who live there and the place where they live exist prior to the event. That said, it is not enough for a documentary film to approach a problem from the inside. It is necessary to have an outsider’s eye from within the inside. Perhaps in the end this returns to the camera and microphone, but it is important to analyze the nuanced steps on the way there. And so it remains to analyze continuity and discontinuity in Ogawa’s films to figure out why we, the audience, are moved by the way that the films born out of this process seem to begin suddenly, at any time.
And I would add that this same musicality is what Ogawa uses in the Sanrizuka Series to make activists act. The films have a kinaesthetic quality built out of a gestural “language” that is aesthetic and participatory. Through their own brand of sensuous lyricism, the films constituted their audiences through a complex of interactions: cat calls, booing, clapping, flinching, crying (even today spectators will produce the last two). [James] Tobias is interested in musicality for the way it can account for interactivity of various sorts, from the tapping to the graphical user interfaces, and move from individual-oriented modes of being, such as agency, intentionality, and identification to think about creative audiences whose participation in making meaning reproduces gestures in the film. In the Sanrizuka Series, this means moving audiences beyond a personalized sympathetic identification with the taisho (lit., “object”), to constitute collectives ready to act once brought into relation with raw state power. (...) The musicality of Ogawa’s films is not restricted to the action scenes. The interview and discussion scenes have their own kind of lyricism, and at a macro level the constant alternation between these static scenes and the dynamic protest sequences are like the movements of a musical score. There is a rhythmic shifting back and forth that evokes Eisenstein’s vertical montage, a “seismographic curve of anxious expectation giving way to the release of a pent-up sigh.” It is as natural as breathing.
2. Sanrizuka — Heta Village (Sanrizuka — Heta Buraku) Ogawa Productions, Japan 1973, 16mm, b/w, 146’ Production staff: Iizuka Toshio, Tadokoro Naoki, Nosaka Haruo, Fuseya Hiro (Hiroo), Honma Shusuke, Mikado Sadatoshi | Photography staff: Ogawa Shinsuke, Fukuda Katsuhiko, Yumoto Mareo, Iwasaki Seiji, Shiraishi Yoko, Nakano Chihiro | Photograph: Tamura (Tamra) Masaki | Assistant Cameramen: Kawakami Koichi, Hara Tadashi | Sound: Kubota Yukio | Sound editing: Asanuma Yukikazu | Negative cutter: Takahashi Tatsuo | Sound studio: Nihon Host Rokuon Kyokai | Laboratory: Movie Center | Support: Kagaku Eiga Seisakujo [To emphasise the collaborative production method, the film lists only the production staff, with no specified roles.]
Excerpt from Joan Mellen, The Waves at Genji’s Door: Japan through its Cinema, New York: Pantheon Books, 1976.
manifest and which has become part of Ogawa’s technique as well as his theme. The women are proud to have sought action instead of crying over the fate of their sons. It is an indirect comment from within Japanese life on the kind of political cinema offered by Imai or Kinoshita, in which injustice is responded to by a flood of tears, among both the characters and the audience.
A deeper, more personal look at the peasants is provided by Heta Village. The farmers, protecting their hamlet, are shown to be doing so in quite specific keeping with the ancient rituals and traditions they maintain. The film brings Ogawa close to Imamura, for whom he had earlier worked as an assistant.
Undermining the communal effort to keep the village intact was the sale of the land and adjacent cemetery of one of the residents by his heirs after his death. The man’s son, having been compelled by financial necessity, is bitterly sorry for this betrayal, as he bows his head to the camera in shame. Ogawa is sympathetic. “You couldn’t help it?” he asks. “That’s right” is the response. The man had then asked the villagers to help him retrieve the family tomb from the sold cemetery and in cinéma vérité style we watch as they debate whether or not to aid him. The issue is complicated because the man who died, whose name was Meiji Ogawa, had himself been a strong supporter of the struggle; it was his survivors who sold out. Should then Meiji-san’s household be removed from the alliance?
In Heta Village Ogawa proposes to answer the question of how it was possible for the peasants to sustain their struggle for so long. In their oldest customs and in the very cultural patterns passed down through generations, which had heretofore sustained the status quo, he discovers the source of the revolutionary energy of the residents of Heta Village. It is a measure of the power of a revolutionary process that when it is ripe, all the experiences and ingrained ways of people become mobilized on behalf of their opposites. If, in the past, these people were slow to challenge authority, they are now slow to yield to it. Their stubborn will is now in the service of a new perception.
Many of the young men of the village are now in prison. The villagers wish to encourage them, since these youths had fought so hard to keep this cemetery, now lost. Generously, the peasants assert that the spirit of the struggle was represented by the dead Meiji Ogawa. They decide to move his tomb so that it will not rest on government land.
At the base of their movement is the revitalization of the concept of the ko, or group meeting, a theme that lies at the heart of Heta Village. The ko began as a Buddhist prayer meeting and later developed many forms, including that of the town meeting. And obisha ko is a women’s meeting. There are also old people’s ko and youth ko. The ko is a historical means among Japanese peasants of uniting people horizontally, rather than vertically by rank. Ogawa shows how this ancient communal tradition provides the backbone to the Sanrizuka movement, sustaining it by drawing on established, familiar, and revered patterns of social organization. Heta Village refutes through historical fact Chie Nakane’s narrow, schematic dicta on the vertical hierarchical society, a structure which, in her view, renders revolutionary struggle among the Japanese people psychologically and socially impossible.
The women participate most effectively in this film. One confronts the police, declaring, “You look like human beings, but you don’t have the hearts of human beings... you are like gangsters.” A policeman taps nervously on his shield. None can meet the eyes of the people, let alone the fierce women with their strong language. Ogawa also photographs “Women’s Day” rituals, a New Year celebration. A women carves a horseradish into the shape of a phallus to bring to the local shrine to pray for safe births and healthy children. For testicles, potatoes are added to the horseradish with toothpicks, and grass becomes pubic hair. The women compete to make the most original lifelike replica. “Without testicles,” one confides to Ogawa, “it won’t work”.
In the face of adversity Heta Village functions as a commune, helping the people to be impervious to police lies. The camera at these ko meetings generally focuses on the group as a whole rather than on individual speakers, reinforcing the revolutionary solidarity which the peasants
New arrests occur and more meeting are held at which the people consider how to respond. Families from which
the young people have been taken much be helped in their work. Someone remarks that too much enryo, or selfrestraint, will crack the solidarity of the village. The people must not be afraid to impose on each other. Thus, not all traditional responses are of use in the struggle, only those that foster cooperation and communal effort. The peasants decide to bring food to the prison, if only to demonstrate to the police their continuing solidarity with the young people. Ogawa ends Heta Village, one of the most moving and effective of these new documentary films, with a question printed on the screen as a title: Are they going to destroy this buraku [village]? Who could fail to respect or to declare deeply felt solidarity with Ogawa’s Sanrizuka peasants? Who could not admire the warfare they have waged so tenaciously against an oppressive corporation out to destroy them through the force of an even more oppressive institution, the Japanese state, which it, with other corporations essentially controls?
Excerpt from Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
speeches of thanks at the end of the film. The relationship between filmmaker and taisho approaches unification.
3. “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura)
Ogawa Pro successfully reconfigures subject-object relations to an unprecedented degree in Heta Village. The conventional documentary filmmaker’s relationship to his or her “subject” is essentially that of the historian’s relationship with the evidence, a distant and lifeless past. (...) Although the documentary filmmaker’s entire project is premised on an interaction, in the West this is disavowed through the rhetorical moves of the filmmaker in capture and editing. The autobiographical strain of documentary Michael Renov calls essayistic rarely escapes this logic. It may be premises on filmmaker-taisho interaction, but is firmly anchored in the subjectivity of the director / essayistic. Renov’s theorisation reflects the positioning of these directors, who are mainly Euro-American or diasporic subjects living in the West.
Ogawa Productions, Japan 1982, 16mm, color, 210’
In contrast, Ogawa and his collective created a film that built the subjectivity of the taisho into its very fabric. Significantly, their audience knew what they were up to. Although I quoted this particular article earlier in this chapter, it is worth looking at a little more of the passage as this is from a newspaper review, not an academic journal: It is safe to say that as a methodology, this film represents a monumental achievement in the Japanese documentary. There is the powerfully grim synch sound that even captured the sight of an old man at the village meeting. There are its long takes, with only 97 shots in its two and a half hours (there couldn’t be more than 30 live actions shots in the film). Put in affective words, it is the visualization of time. In documentary film, the camera faces the polar limits of assimilation and dissimilation. To deepen this methodology, this film indicates the outer limits of assimilation. In a sense, the camera becomes one of the players.
In contrast, Heta Village is, as Chakrabarty might put it, about “other ways of worlding.” Through his unique deployment of the long take, Ogawa discovered a route to cinematically embrace the heterotemporality of the village. This is something the filmmakers were highly conscious of during the photography and editing process. For example, at one point in his production diary, Yumoto [Mareo] writes: During the village meeting the discussion did not develop along logical lines. But it’s not that it was pointless or lacking direction. Rather, even in silence it’s as if it is a time for communion, for deeply receiving another person’s thoughts. That space is what the eye of the camera was able to wholly embrace and photograph. That kind of silent space deeply conveys the image of the living reality of human beings.
Heta Village represents a climax to the Sanrizuka Series and a keystone to Ogawa’s career because the director finally perfected the documentary aesthetic he had been searching for. Before this, he conducted his search — his practical experiments with all their theoretical implications — while necessarily tending to the practical and on-the-ground politics of the struggle. Only by staying with his taisho for so many years, by following their struggle and living with them as neighbours, did Ogawa reach the point where he could shuttle the spectacle and details of the political struggle to offscreen spaces without committing an unforgivable ethical compromises. Those years of living and filmmaking enabled the collective to see beyond the urgent contingencies of the confrontation with power and reach for a more profound undemanding of the conflict that continued in the filed of Sanrizuka and the jails of Narita. As filmmakers, they built this new understanding into their cinema. Sanrizuka — Heta Village is ultimately about — and literally embodies — the diverse ways of being human.
The filmmakers always referred to what they called the tashika no jikan. Difficult to translate, it might be rendered as “real time.” It indicates the compelling need for long takes that let events and conversations play out in whole and at their own pace, relatively untouched by editing. Tashika no jikan implies accuracy, authenticity, and sensibility — all temporalized. It is both present and imminent. It is on this basis that Ogawa Pro shifts the coordinates of the documentary from bimodal transmission between filmmaker and viewer, and reorients the film and filmmaker into an orbit around the taisho (lit., “object”). Spectatorial and directorial desire and logic are bracketed, the interventional power of editing respectfully deferred. Ogawa Pro members sit amongst the silent listeners of the ko (a traditional form of village collective) and are included in the
Produced by Ogawa Productions | Direction: Ogawa Shinsuke | Production: Fuseya Hiro (Hiroo) | Photography: Tamura Masaki | Location sound: Kikuchi Noboyuki | Assistant directors: Iizuka Toshio, Mikado Sadatoshi | Camera Assistant: Nosaka Haruo, Hayashi Tetsuji | Location logistics: Shiraishi Yoko, Hatanaka Hiroko | Assistant editors: Mikado Sadatoshi, Hirose Satomi | Sound editing: Asanuma Yukikazu | Poem: Kimura Michio | Music: Seki Ichiro | Illustration: Fujimori Reiko | Titles: Shoji Takashi | Charcoal technical advisor: Sato Nikichi |Negative cutter: Takahashi Tatsuo | Sound Recording: Ogawa Pro Studio | Support: Uchiyama Naoki, Urushiyama Teruhiko, Ogata Masao, Kanai Toshio, Kimura Hatsu, Kiyono Kazuki,Takahashi Masaaki, Tatsumi Shiro, Tomita Tetsunosuke, Naito Masatoshi, Namiki Kikuo, Hoshikawa Seishin, Honda Tsutomu, Mimuro Kiyofumi, Miyada Kiyoshi, Yamane Ichiro, Wada Hidetoku
Story told by a woman in Furuyashiki Village.
What was your main motivation, cinema or politics?
Reproduced in Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
I can say that I have discovered politics through cinema.
Well, it’s, you know, a story I heard from m’grandmother. ‘Bout one hundred years back, or 200 years back, don’t exactly know. When she came back to the mountains to become a bride, my family’s gramma. The feudal lord took taxes, so they say she came up from her hometown, from the valleys, to where life was comfortable. Back at her hometown taxes were high. Life’s miserable because they’d take one bottle of sake per window. But then, if she came up to the mountains, there’re no taxes. No taxin’. Go to the mountains as a bride, there’s no tax ‘n you could live comfortably, so she left. So she came, but the peppers didn’t turn red’s...she’d grow peppers, but they wouldn’t turn red. ‘A place’re peppers don’t turn red’s nowhere to live,” they [her parents] said. But she tried comin’ as a bride anyhow. Gradually, more people came, I think, lots, the number of people grew, and for some reason it got warmer. Maybe ‘cause they’re cuttin’ the trees. An’ the peppers got red. Everybody started livin’ well. That’s that.
In the 1950s I participated in the struggles against the American-Japanese treaty; I was in Tokyo — it’s like what Oshima is referring to in Night and Fog in Japan , which takes place in Kyoto.
Were you part of the student movement?
How did you select these eight farmers that you show in the film? There were only ten farmers, two of which belonged to a religious cult that forbids them from being filmed; they rejected me, not the opposite. How did you manage to bring life to the whole village through individual testimonies? The village is composed by every farmer and his neighbors. I decided to show them separately one after the other. Together they make a portrait of the village. It is an old method; nowadays, sociologists are trying to understand the village as a single entity. Me, I think we must understand every farmer separately as a person. In order to do it we have to understand the circumstances they live in, their work, the climate of the land, the water, the soil; that is why we have decided to show the problem with the rice.
Interview by Andrée Tournés with Ogawa Shinsuke about Furuyashiki Village made at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984. Published in Jeune Cinéma, n° 159, June 1984.
All the narratives filmed in still shots are extraordinary rich. Did you edit them, cut, regrouped them?
I made my first film The Sea of Youth in 1966, but we were not able to show it at any cinema, so we felt the need to form an organization and we founded Ogawa Productions, which was really important, not so much for the filming, but in order to distribute the films. Was it already a political film?
Every farmer told us a certain number of stories; we have reproduced a few, but always in its entirety; when there was something to cut I would show the farmers everything we had filmed. They sat close to the screen, watched the rushes with us, discussed them and then would say, “This is good, we will keep it.”
Yes, but not like the ones that followed, because in 1966 there weren’t yet any student movements as it happened later; it was somewhat a premonitory film; the big movement started in 1967-1968.
There are very intense moments where everything emerges emotionally, like the moment when the trumpet player who has just finished to play is taken by memory and emotion. How did you reach this perfection?
I don’t like direct takes, the words of the farmers are always very different, they repeat their first narratives in a slightly different way, it is their history and that is important.
“Village of Spearheads, Village of Shells”, a poem by Kimura Michio. Reproduced in Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
What type of material did you have at your disposal to film the fire inside of the kiln, filmed from the inside?
Enveloping all without limit
plants and other blatant examples, the residents protested. They united and presented a unified opposition. They brought in outsiders to help.
A hidden existence in-between Together with the flying birds Humans pierce through
Oshima: People unite when exterior forces threaten?
Boars Bears Blue boars Ogawa — Yes, but examples such as this village (Furuyashiki), are found all through northern Japan. Like candles sputtering, thousands are dying. I can name many in this immediate area. Many have already died.
The White Souther
We had four cameras: a French one, a Bolex, a Bell & Howell and a small 16mm. It was so warm inside the oven that the objective got ruined and lost focus.
The day our village was created The hill overlooking the red riverbed An earthenware shard with Jomon designs
How do you work as a team?
Shattered by a spearhead
I do the camera and sometimes sound. We are a team of twelve working together for over twenty years, we don’t need to discuss anymore. What is important is living together, drinking and eating, and I am a great cook.
Came from the barren field
Did you get in touch with the farmers one by one or as a group?
It was a flint spearhead
Sparks fall in the dirt I stopped plowing Placed on my palm My sister and I Cried in surprise
First as a group, then one by one, they are people. The first I got in touch with was my neighbor, he wasn’t filmed, but he wrote the final poem [Kimura Michio]. We became regulars at their houses and even helped them finding a new way to cultivate rice. Several of them started writing poems.
I slipped it in my sleeve soaked with sweat My sister blushed With hands covered with dirt She brushed her breast Back then, I was just a boy From a charcoal kiln
And the women, did you find any particular problems?
A shell fossil came
When a stranger arrives in the village, the first people we meet are the children, then the old people, women or men, then the wives and finally the husbands. They are all old in the village, we didn’t have any problems.
In my village No one made charcoal In the villages near the mountains Charcoal was a way of life
In the future will you stick to your method of seizing the real through the individuals or will you go for a more synthetical approach?
Is fresh in our memory The day the White Souther cleared
Oshima: Eight years of watching them fade.
People plowed the land Burned trees
Ogawa — Yes, many just die. And all seems natural. But it shouldn’t be like that. As a documentary filmmaker, it’s my duty to record the final throes of these communities. That’s even stronger now than when I first arrived. I have always asked myself why did I come here after documenting the anti-airport struggles? I could never give a suitable answer. Recently, I realized that it is a desire to make a contrast between the natural decline of a community and the survival of a vibrant one wiped out by the “need” to put an airport on their land. Such contrast is at the heart of the documentary.
Hoed with stone spaces Sowed chestnuts, barley, wheat They nourished life Carrying quivers And drawing arrows They also entered the mountains They lived with the beasts Lives intertwined and overlapped Blood Flowed thickly Through the village It ran
Oshima: All this while growing your rice?
Ogawa: Yes, definitely. As I often say, we used a great deal of film shooting Sanrizuka. At least one quarter of that footage was about farming. But I couldn’t use a single frame of it. I really couldn’t. I knew the people and how they felt about the official confiscation of their land. But we knew nothing about farming. Not even how to walk a field correctly. The very basics were completely alien to us. So what we shot was a mere token of farming. I knew that and it really frustrated me. Naturally, we were there to film the protests, not document the agricultural aspects. Many criticised us. And I had to agree with much of the criticism.
Beasts become human Beasts live Humans become beasts Like the mountain face The skin of the villagers endured the cold winds Humans speak the language of beasts
The shells turned to stone Must have lived back 20,000,000 years 30,000,000 years
For me there is no difference between following a single farmer or embracing the totality of the problems in Japan. If I follow someone with some degree of depth, I can show the whole problems of Japan. I will not change my style — through every individual I give a synthetical view.
No, much older Shells on the sea floor Near a deep trench Surrounded by forests of seaweed Okhotsk’s seasonal current
Are there new Ogawa’s flourishing?
Cold water flowing south from far, far away Never dreaming of dying out
In our own productions, there are young people with 25 or 30 years old that will continue.
It survived Flowing down the mountain valley Once the deep sea trench The White Souther
Excerpt from a conversation between Oshima Nagisa and Ogawa Shinsuke.
Oshima: It wasn’t just protest.
Taken from the documentary film A Visit to Ogawa Productions (Ogawa Puro homonki, 1981), directed by Oshige Jun’ichiro.
Ogawa: Their lives led them to their struggle.
Ogawa: Now the village is unfortunately falling apart. So the question is — was life here ever as good as portrayed? As for me, I say a resounding yes. We filmed elderly folk, grandparents too. When you see that footage, it’s obvious that there was once a vibrant community here. The camera revealed that element of their lives.
Oshima: So you needed to depict that?
[A Visit to Ogawa Productions is a record of Oshima Nagisa’s visit to the collective during the filming of “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village. The film consists mostly of discussions. Oshima picked an opportune time to visit Ogawa Productions in Yamagata, as they were looking to the future in the wake of Narita Airport’s completion and the demise of the student movement. ]
Oshima: So you also show the problems they face?
Like wind But not wind Not cloud, nor fog In silence, ridges disappear
Ogawa — In the very near future the village will surely turn into a ghost town. It’s a sad fact. And I have to capture that reality. In my Sanrizuka films and in others showing various social injustices, such as pollution, nuclear power
Excerpt from a conversation between filmmaker Kanai Katsu and cinematographer and filmmaker Tamura Masaki.
Kanai: It was really interesting the way you used dry ice for the experiments. Also, you know I was born as a farmer and raised rice since I was little, so I was surprised at the eroticism of the fertilization scene that was filmed with a microscope. When we went there, Ogawa said that if it was filmed indoors it wouldn’t be natural. He said it would have to be filmed in the rice paddies. You used quite a bit of frame-by-frame photography in the rice paddies, I imagine.
Published in Docbox #8, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, 1993. Translated by Sharon Hayashi. Kanai: Then there’s Furuyashiki Village, which I really like. What was it like making a documentary after such a long time?
Tamura: The most important stage for rice is flowering and pollination. That’s the case for any plant. The first time we shot it, it wasn’t frame-by-frame but just slow speed. For a blossoming flower, slow speed seemed like common sense but when we looked at the take it was completely uninteresting: there was motion but no life in the rice. Subtle reactions in the rice to changes in weather, temperature, and the condition of the soil became apparent after several years of repeated filming. Maybe this is exaggerating a bit, but these conditions affected each grain of rice and individual traits of each grain of rice become noticeable. This is why Ogawa was attached to real rice fields. In order to capture that feeling in the end, frame-byframe photography was more suitable.
Tamura: What was it like? For a film released by Ogawa, it was a long time, but it didn’t feel that way. First, I don’t really make such a distinction between documentaries and feature films. I’m not really sure why. And actually, in that time, I had been going to Magino in Yamagata every year to shoot. I mainly shot scenes of rice cultivation. Otherwise, I shot really concrete things like climate and mountain trees and water. If you made a mistake one year you had to wait for the next: that’s what it’s like filming nature. We did that for about seven or eight years. And of course we filmed the villager’s stories, which was something we weren’t able to do in Sanrizuka. That was Ogawa’s idea. In that time, the sensibility I gained was put to work in other films.
Kanai: In the second half of the film when it turns to the village stories, links to the Pacific War come up.
Kanai: When you made your own rice paddy, soil was a big factor. The same paddy is really different from place to place depending on the soil.
Tamura: We got into Furuyashiki through interest in the “white south” that I mentioned before. If you film the cold air and the physiology of the rice, the relationship between these people and Nature became clear. We then noticed there’s a mountain village, but one where everyone is elderly.
Tamura: It’s extremely variable because the large paddies are made of smaller ones put together.
Kanai: It’s depopulated.
Kanai: After that kind of research, you built a machine to do experiments with fog currents. What was the fog called?
Tamura: Talk about the mountain and charcoal making was really interesting but as soon as we entered a long discussion, talk about the past would inevitably reveal discontent about the present. It was because all the young and middle-aged people lived in the city.
Tamura: In Furuyashiki, it’s called shirominami or “white south.” Furuyashiki is a mountain village and cold air always comes over the mountain at the beginning of the summer. It always comes over the same mountain to the south.
4. The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches — The Magino Village Story (Sennen kizami no hidokei — Magino-mura monogatari) Ogawa Productions, Japan 1986, 16mm, color, 222’, Japanese with English subtitles. Production: Fuseya Hiro (Hiroo) | Direction: Ogawa Shinsuke | Photography: Tamura Masaki | Camera assistant: Hayashi Tetsuji, Nosaka Haruo, Mitsumori Yoko | Assistant director: Iizuka Toshio | Sound: Kubota Yukio, Kikuchi Nobuyuki | Production assistants: Hires Satomi, Mikado Sadatoshi, Shiraki Yoshihiro | Logistics: Shiraishi Yoko, Hatanaka Hiroko | Lighting: Sato Yuzuru | Music: Togashi Masahiko | Art direction: Tatsumi Shiro, Mikado Sadatoshi | Titles: Ibaraki Shunsuke | Still Photographer: Naito Masatoshi | Props/sets: Tsuchiya Kozo | Sun photography: Yamazaki Hiroshi, Murakami Shinji | Crane: Ta Masayuki, Mitsui Teruhiko, Yamamoto Naruhito, Music Editing: Asahi Sound Studio | Negative cutter: Takahashi Tatsuo Horikiri Kannon Story | Cast: Hijikata Tatsumi, Miyashita Junko, Kikuchi Masao, Kimura Chiu | Assistant directors: Sato Makoto, Ishiwatari Tetsuya, Zeze Takahisa, Ogawa Izuru | Camera assistant: Tanaka Kazamasa Birth of Itsutsudomoe Shrine Story | Cast: Tamura Takahiro, Kawarazaki Choichiro, Ishibashi Renji, Shimada Shogo, Igarashi Ikuo, Inoue Kichizaemon, Kimura Masayaoshi, Igarashi Masao, Takahashi Toshiro, Suzuki Toru, Inoue Mitsuru, Kimura Masuo, Sato Akihiro, Kuganuma Norio, Takahashi Toshio, Yoshida Hideaki | Uprising masses: The people of Magino, Haraguchi, and Kaminoyama | Camera assistant: Kasamatsu Norimichi
The documentary we have been shooting for the last seven or eight years hopes to recreate the natural features — rice, earth, water — and recreate the stories sleeping in the hearts of the villagers. Itsutsudomoe Jinja Daihokai is, in this film, what could be called a (as if it were a) film within a film. I use the word “theater,” but on this stage where everyone participates and there is not a single spectator, we consider it a vivid ceremony that exceeds the framework of simple drama. (Ogawa Shinsuke)
The rising of Itsutsudomoe happened 240 or 250 years away. The leaders of the uprising were from Magino, where we were living. That’s why the Shintoist temple over there is called Shintoist Temple of Itsutsudomoe, because that is where they worship the victims of the uprising. It was a revolt that aimed at achieving a few fair claims made by the peasants. In any case and in order to achieve them, even if only partially and not immediately, the leaders of the revolt had to die. According to the law of the time, which did not allow for any sort of provocation or uprising, the leaders were beheaded and their heads exposed to the public. This incident was not uncommon for the time and would happen all over Japan. In the case of this Shintoist temple, on the day of the celebration a Buddhist priest reads from the sacred book of Buddhism. When the villagers come to pray we listen to two sounds: the drums and the tinkling. Shintoism and Buddhism are two simultaneously different influences.
Excerpt from a conversation with photographer Naito Masatoshi. Published in El Cine de Los Mil Años. Una aproximación histórica y estética al cine documental japonés 1945-2005. Colección Punto de Vista, Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de Navarra, Gobierno de Navarra, 2005.
Naito: Yes. In a Shintoist temple the remains and the Buddhist mortuary tabs are worshiped as divinities and the peasants pray in front of them.
Naito: The mechanism of the film seems more complicated than in your previous film, Furuyashiki Village (1982). It has a broader vision. Maybe it would be a good idea to screen both films together because their narrative methods are completely different. Both try to say something about what it means to be human through the cultivation of rice, but this last film tries to capture in great detail the ancestral structure of the village. In your former film, Furuyashiki Village, the protagonists were mostly women and the individual and family stories seemed to be more important — we can even say that the film was based on the description of the horizontal time of the village. Conversely, your last film is submerged in the structure of the village and in the vertical time of the village.
Ogawa: According to the people of the village, after death a regular person becomes a dead Buddhist, but a great person becomes a god. (Laughs) This why they say that Tarouemon and his comrades that rebelled were great people. I suspect that if they had triumphed in their uprising, the villagers would not be worshiping them in the temple as they do now and they wouldn’t have kept their figures as gods. What is clear is that most of the peasants have survived the uprising: their descendants are still living here. Only the leaders lost their lives and their families’ lands were expropriated and they were forced to leave. If those who had joined the uprising and defended their cause with enthusiasm wanted to survive, they would have to abandon the movement half-way through. I think that feeling is still lingering. I believe that the farmers still despise their ancestors after one hundred years, because they may have betrayed the peasant leaders by backing out.
Ogawa: The villagers that appear in the scenes in Itsutsu domoe complained about how difficult it was to memorize their roles and they have all put lots of effort into learning them. They would even do it when they were out working in the fields, encouraged by their wives. (laughs) Everyone gave the best they could.
Naito: The Temple of Itsutsudomoe was build as a Shintoist temple, not during the Edo period (1603 –1867), but in the Meiji period (1868–1912), when they got a permission from the authorities. Until then people would hide their feelings deep in their hearts with resignation. If we think about it, it must have been a terrible thing to do.
Naito: The temple was build where the house used to be? Ogawa: People tell lots of stories. They also tell that the farmer who cut the head of the Jizo, kept the head and the decapitated body and called him the Beheaded Jizo. We can’t know if this is categorically true or not. But I don’t care about the historical fact, only the real fact.
Ogawa: Yes. The question is that everything is dependent on the depth of that feeling. Tarouemon died together with his two sons as a sacrifice to the people. It was a way to sacrifice himself for the people. I don’t know if it is true or not, but people say that nobody was ever able to live again in his house. Tradition says that awful things happened there, things as the ones we can find in the novels of Izumi Kyoka: severed heads spinning around, flying pillows, etc. All these elements are an evidence of this deep feeling.
Naito: That scene was shot in a very peculiar way by Mr. Tamura, the cinematographer, using a fast motion camera and a mirror. When the head of the Jizo falls, the mirror breaks in a thousand pieces. Ogawa: I can’t be certain, because the story stems from an oral tradition, but people say that in the Edo Era lots of people secretly worshiped that Jizo in their backyards and
prayed... That’s another supposition... People also say that in those times Tarouemon was richer and possessed many rich fields and vegetable gardens. Naturally, after his death the landlord confiscated his lands. Authorities did not want to leave this land uncultivated, because it would be a source of income to the landlord. So they tried to divide the lands by the villagers. Farmers usually want more land. However, authorities had to face an unexpected problem, because nobody wanted the fields and vegetable gardens of Tarouemon, and they were huge. I imagine that the authorities forced them to take those lands. What did they do? They got together and split the land equally amongst all of them. I think it was a way of sharing their guilt equally. That’s deep! Even today, when the villagers owe a small piece of land in an area that is distant to their own fields, they refer to it as the “garden of Tarouemon.”
celebrated farmer-poets and a resident of Magino, lent the production crew an old house, and the filmmakers found a field to grow rice in — their new studio! They would save money by living communally and growing their own food. They turned out to be good farmers but discovered that the demanding work left little time for filmmaking. They were only able to make shorts in the first several years, and finally completed the three-and-a-half hour Furuyashi Village in 1982. They still had to find their own spaces for screenings and a member of Ogawa Pro would accompany the film whenever possible. What helped the film’s distribution more than anything was winning the critics’ prize at the Berlin Film Festival, followed by taking third place in the annual top-ten list in Kinema Junpo, Japan’s film journal. (It was one of the few documentaries ever to make the list at all.) Up to this point, Ogawa’s films had fed off the student movement for subject matter, fundraising, and viewers. That energy had dissipated, leaving him dependent upon institutional recognition to create momentum and audience curiosity.
These three ideas were behind the Itsutsudomoe scene in the film. I am speaking about these things as if they were obvious, as if we got there quickly, but it wasn’t so. It took us ten years to get there. It was a really slow process of understanding, putting together the broken sentences of many people. In the beginning we didn’t know about Tarouemon and we really did not want to shoot anything about him.
Even as Ogawa Productions became dependent on the traditional exhibition route, the Japanese film industry’s infrastructure was deteriorating rapidly through massive, systemic problems. As Japanese land prices sky-rocketed throughout the 1980s, the number of movie theaters dropped precipitously. The year Ogawa began his filmmaking career, 1960 — the same year Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo smashed all the Japanese box office records — there were over 7,000 theaters in the country. By the late 1980s there were only 2,000. In roughly the same period (1958 to 1985) attendance fell from over one billion persons to about 155 million. Many theaters in Japan are part of chains vertically integrated into the studio system, which do not pick up documentaries for distribution. Only a few small distributors are interested in documentaries and the avant-garde, but they pick up only famous European and American films. This leaves independent filmmakers — documentary and fiction alike — to distribute their own work, as much out of the inertia of tradition as default; they had always done it that way, and couldn’t imagine any alternatives.
Slowly, in the fields, working in the rice and participating in other activities that had nothing to do with filmmaking, I gathered these small pieces and became aware of the story. Naito: I think that is how you make history. It doesn’t have to do with the history we know from chronology or the official city records. If we connect the pieces that are partially transmitted from one person to another, a new, completely different world is revealed.
Excerpt from “The Theater of a Thousand Years” by Markus Nornes. Published in The Journal of the International Institute, Vol 4, Issue 2, Winter 1997.
After the supreme effort necessary to finish a film, the filmmakers themselves must put equal energy into carrying their film around the Japanese countryside. This finally brings us to the Theater of a Thousand Years and Ogawa’s last major film, The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches: The Magino Village Story, which was finished after 13 years in the Yamagata village.
With the dissolution of its audiences, Ogawa Pro also lost its most important means of fundraising. It decided to leave Sanrizuka and took up the invitation of a farming community deep in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture. The farmers in this region had begun their own cultural movement in the face of urban flight and the “hollowing out” of the Japanese countryside. They were trying to rediscover the richness of their own local, rural culture, through traditional arts and the writing of both history and literature. Deeply impressed by the sympathetic portrayals of rural life in the later airport films, they invited Ogawa Pro to relocate to a small village called Magino. Ogawa seized upon the opportunity in the spirit of experimentation. Kimura Michio, one of Japan’s most
(...) The farmers of Yamagata invited Ogawa Pro to Magino Village because they felt the filmmakers didn’t really understand why the Sanrizuka farmers fought so hard for their land. In some sense, this last film is an answer to that
very problem. On the surface, it is a science film about rice, using photo-microscopy, time lapse photography, and a detailed study of irrigation systems, but these are only surface level conventions through which Ogawa tells us the story of rice. Indeed, for most urban Japanese, science could be the only way to approach an understanding of their own staple food. It was also the way the filmmakers found acceptance from the villagers. Not only did they make good rice, but they were able to show the villagers rice from an entirely new perspective through the modern technologies of optics and cinematography.
Years describes the motives behind building a temporary exhibition space for a single film: Welcome to the Theater of a Thousand Years! Considering the freedom of cinema, should not the places cinema is shown have that freedom as well? This is the conception of The Theater of a Thousand Years. From the end of production to the screening of the film, most filmmakers entrust their films to the hands of other people, but here this activity is being handled from the filmmakers’ side.... It’s the romance of cinephiles that a theater could be devoted to a single film. This Theater of a Thousand Years is the first embodiment of what cinephiles have long dreamed of. To be specific, it could be said that this film is utterly wrapped up in the world of Magino Village in Yamagata Prefecture. The space of this theater is surely the same, and the embodiment of that dream entirely sweeps away one’s feelings toward the movie theaters of today.
However, as one can tell from the title, The Sundial Carved by a Thousand Years of Notches, this is far more than a science film. Alongside this intense documentary scrutiny of rice are short, episodic narratives. These are stories that have circulated among the members of this tiny village from one generation to several centuries, and are performed by a mixture of professional and nonprofessional actors. For example, the story about a woman and her crazy brother features the brilliant casting of Hijikata, the dancer who founded Butoh, and Miyashita Junko, Japan’s most famous softcore pornography actress. By way of contrast, the next scene has a villager and his wife reenacting the story of his father and mother digging up an ancient stone god — a large phallus, to be specific — in their orchard; they promptly hide it under the house before the kids see. The filmmakers plunge even deeper into the village’s history by reenacting a peasant revolt from the 17th century (famous New Wave actors play samurai administrators and the villagers play their ancestors). Finally, they uncover the furthest reaches of village history by excavating an ancient archaeological site where they find relics from the Jomon Period, which dates from 1,000 to 10,000 BCE. This massive four-hour documentary is ages from the frenetic immediacy of the student protest films.
This “embodiment” involved an enormous amount of sweat, all volunteered. Through the efforts of Eiga Shinbun’s staff, the filmmakers borrowed an empty construction site in Kyoto. A young architecture student helped plan the building, using traditional designs and methods of construction. Seven hundred logs were used for the framework. Three thousand bundles of grass were brought in from the countryside for the thatched roof, along with 50 tons of mud for the walls. Next door, a famous Butoh dance troupe erected their own temporary theater — one with a modern, industrial design — and held dance performances throughout the run of the film. Ringing the outside of the theater were the tents and tarps of a local matsuri, or fair, featuring plenty of food and trinkets from the countryside. Occasionally, singers and acoustic bands entertained the audience arriving for the screenings. Rows of tall, traditional banners — as used for sumo wrestling and kabuki theater — lined the perimeter. At the theater entrance, spectators could browse through photographs of the production, examine some of the props from the film, and buy fried noodles and home cooking from Yamagata in lieu of popcorn. The theater itself held 140 spectators, all of whom sat on pillows on the floor. Before the large screen was a hole in the ground with the ancient Jômon pottery unearthed in the film placed as though they had come once more to light. The theater was air conditioned, but it seemed as though the cool air was rising from the hole in the ground. With the blessing of a Shinto priest, the screenings were underway.
I can think of few films that complicate the notion of history to such a degree. We see the competing knowledge produced by story and social science, the written records of the village heritage and the oral tales handed down through the generations, as well as fragments of history left from the furthest reaches of human experience. All of this is marked by the cycles of the rice harvest that have governed people’s lives through the ages. What is truly extraordinary about this film is its concept of history — one that may not make much sense in Tokyo or Ann Arbor — as not so much a thing resurrected from the past, but something palpably alive in the present. How could one think of watching a film that is so intimately tied to this place — both its space and its time, its rhythms, sights and its smells — in a dilapidated movie theater or high school gymnasium? This thought crossed the minds of both the filmmakers and their admirers in Osaka, where the readers of Eiga Shinbun (Film Newspaper) had been tracking the film’s progress. Indeed, finding a place to show such a film had become exceedingly problematic. So they built their own theater. A publicity flier for The Theater of a Thousand
A month later there was nothing left but the wind. This is, perhaps, the ultimate instance of independent film distribution. Based upon the stories I’ve heard, it was a smashing success in terms of creating an appropriate space to experience the film. Surrounded by those mud walls and thatched roof, one could actually smell the movie, people said.
Selected Filmography Sea of Youth — Four Correspondence Course Students Seinen no umi: Yonnin no tsushin kyokuseitachi Japan 1966, b/w, 16mm, 56 min.
A Song of the Bottom / Dokkoi! Songs from the Bottom Dokkoi! Ningen bushi — Kotobukicho: Jiyu todosha no machi Japan 1975, 16mm, b/w, 121 min., English subtitles
Forest of Oppression — A Record of the Struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics Assatsu no mori — Takasaki Keizai Daigaku toso no kiroku Japan 1967, b/w, 16mm, 105 min.
Interview at the Clean Center Kuriin Sentaa homonki Japan 1975, color, 16mm, 57 min., English subtitles Sanrizuka — The Skies of May, the Road to the Village Sanrizuka — Satsuki no sora sato no kayoji Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 81 min., English subtitles
Report from Haneda / Eyewitness Report — Chronicle of the Haneda Struggle Gennin hokokusho — Haneda toso nokiroku Japan 1967, b/w, 16mm, 58 min.
The Magino Village Story — Raising Silkworms Magino Monogatari — Yosan-hen: Eiga no tame no eiga Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 112 min., English subtitles
The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan — Summer in Sanrizuka Nihon kaiko sensen — Sanrizuka no natsu Japan 1968, b/w, 16mm, 108 min.
The Magino Village Story — Pass Magino Monogatari sono 2 Toge — Zao to Makabe Jin Japan 1977, color, 16mm, 43 min.
Prehistory of the Partisans Paruchizan Zenshi Directed by Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Tsusumi Masao Japan 1969, b/w, 16mm, 120 min.
“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village Nippon koku — Furuyashiki-mura, Japan 1982, 16mm, color, 210 min., English subtitles
Winter in Sanrizuka Nihon kaiho sensen: Sanrizuka Japan 1970, color, 16mm, 141 min.
Magino Village — A Tale / The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches Sennen kizami no hidokei — Magino-mura monogatari Japan 1986, 16mm, color, 222 min., English subtitles
Sanrizuka — The Three Day War Sanrizuka: daisanji kyosei sokuryo soshi toso Japan 1970, b/w, 16mm, 50 min.
Kyoto Demon Market — The Theater of a Thousand Years Kyoto one ichiba — sennen shiataa Japan 1987, color, 16mm, 18min.
Sanrizuka — Peasants of the Second Fortress Sanrizuka — Daini toride no hitobito Japan 1971, b/w, 16mm, 143 min.
A Movie Capital Eiga no miyako Directed by Iizuka Toshio Japan 1991, color, 16mm, 93 min., English subtitles
Sanrizuka — The Construction of Iwayama Tower Sanrizuka — Iwayama ni tetto ga dekita Japan 1971, b/w, 16mm, 143 min. Sanrizuka — Heta Village Sanrizuka — Heta Buraku Japan 1973, b/w, 16mm, 146 min. Filming and the Way to the Village Eiga-zukuri to mura e no michi Directed by Fukuda Katsuhiko Japan 1973, b/w, 16mm, 50 min.
Compiled by Ricardo Matos Cabo on the occasion of the Courtisane Festival 2017. All translations and adaptations by Ricardo except where indicated.