The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki andÂ Ogawa Shinsuke
Ogawa Shinsuke (1935-1992) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (1928-2008) are considered as the two towering figures of Japanese documentary film. Both filmmakers forged parallel trajectories through the tumultuous landscape of postwar Japan, during which they developed extraordinary forms of committed cinema which remain unequalled in their dedication and perseverance. Ogawa and Tsuchimoto were among a number of crucial postwar Japanese filmmakers who emerged from Iwanami Productions, a studio run by the Iwanami publishing house that mostly produced educational and PR films. Heated discussions amongst these filmmakers led to the creation of an informal group they called the “Ao no kai,” or “Blue Group.” When the group dissolved, Ogawa and Tsuchimoto went on to make their first important independent films, which took sides with the student protest movement in Japan in the mid to late 1960s. In the years that followed, their filmmaking approach underwent a profound transformation, which can be described as a movement from “outside” to “inside.” This inward shift which evolved towards a full implication in the struggles of the people they filmed, reached its most refined and profound development in the Minamata and Sanrizuka Series. While Tsuchimoto committed himself to document the disastrous consequences of the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata, Ogawa recorded the struggle by farmers and student protesters to prevent the construction of the Narita International Airport in Sanrizuka. After the waning of the Sanrizuka protests, Ogawa and his colleagues of Ogawa Productions devoted themselves to an equally ambitious project,
relocating to Yamagata Prefecture and beginning a series of films focusing on the rural village of Magino. Living and working with the farmers they filmed, the collective created a unique portrait of a culture and a way of life that are rarely depicted. From his side, Tsuchimoto and his crew continued to painstakingly document the effects of the Minamata tragedy on the life of the local fishing communities, while also redirecting their focus towards the dangers of nuclear power and the “theft of the sea” perpetrated by giant business conglomerates. In hindsight, the films of Ogawa and Tsuchimoto reveal themselves as works in progress which remain open to incessant processes of debate and continuation. The astonishing commitment and time span invested in their work continues to raise timely and pertinent questions about the responsibility and ethics of documentary filmmaking. In that way, their films still accomplish what they were meant to do: to create shared spaces of collective thought and struggle. This publication aims to trace the trajectories of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, whom film critic Shigehiko Hazumi respectively called “the filmmaker of the soil” and “the filmmaker of the sea.” The publication has taken the form of a scrapbook which assembles a network of texts, quotes and interviews that we were able to find and translate, with the help of numerous other “amateurs” who admire and cherish the work of these two filmmakers. Most of these texts are available here for the very first time in English.
Stoffel Debuysere, Courtisane & Gerard-Jan Claes, Sabzian
On the Soil and Sea has been compiled and published on the occasion of the film programmes dedicated to Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Courtisane Festival Gent, 3-7 April 2019) and Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro (CINEMATEK Brussels, 1 April - 5 May 2019). Both programmes would not have been possible without the dedication of Ricardo Matos Cabo.
The Cinema of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke
Ogawa Shinsuke (1935-1992) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (1928-2008) are considered as the two towering pillars of Japanese documentary film. Both film makers forged parallel trajectories through the tumultuous landscape of postwar Japan, during which they developed extraordinary forms of committed cinema which remain unequalled in their dedication and perseverance. Ogawa and Tsuchimoto were among a number of crucial postwar Japanese filmmakers who emerged from Iwanami Productions, a studio run by the Iwanami publishing house that mostly produced educational and PR films. Heated discussions on cinema and politics amongst these filmmakers led to the creation of an informal group they called the “Ao no kai”, or “Blue Group”. When the group dissolved, Ogawa and Tsuchimoto each went on their own way to make their first important independent films, which took sides with the student protest movement in Japan in the mid to late 1960s. In the years that followed, their filmmaking approach underwent a profound transformation, which can be described as a movement from “outside” to “inside”. This inward shift, which evolved towards a full implication in the struggles of the people they filmed, reached its most refined and profound development in the Minamata and Sanrizuka Series. While Tsuchimoto committed himself to document the disastrous consequences of the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata, Ogawa recorded with great diligence the struggle by farmers and student protesters to prevent the construction of the Narita International Airport in Sanrizuka. After the waning of the Sanrizuka protests, Ogawa and his colleagues of Ogawa Productions devoted themselves to an equally ambitious project, relocating to Yamagata Prefecture and beginning a series of films focusing on the rural village of Magino. Living and working with the farmers they filmed, the collective created a unique portrait of a culture
and a way of life that are rarely depicted. From his side, Tsuchimoto – and his crew – continued to painstakingly document the effects of the Minamata tragedy on the life of the local fishing communities, while also redirecting their focus towards the dangers of nuclear power and the “theft of the sea” perpetrated by giant business conglomerates. With the benefit of hindsight, the films of Ogawa and Tsuchimoto reveal themselves as monumental works in progress which remain open to incessant processes of debate and development. They made films that convey a material understanding of the world they document, films not on a subject, but with the subject. The astonishing commitment and persistence invested in their work continues to raise timely and pertinent questions about the responsibility, politics and ethics of documentary filmmaking in the face of injustice and adversity. In that way, their films still accomplish what they were meant to do in the first place: to cultivate shared spaces of collective thought and struggle. This publication aims to trace the trajectories of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, who film critic Hasumi Shigehiko respectively called “the filmmaker of the soil” and “the filmmaker of the sea”. The publication has taken the form of a scrapbook which assembles a patchwork of writings, quotes and interviews that we were able to track down and translate, with the help of numerous other “amateurs” who admire and cherish the work of these two filmmakers. In all its modesty, we dearly hope that this body of texts, most of which are available here for the very first time in English, can serve as a stepping stone to a wider recognition and appreciation of these unique and singular practices of filmmaking which never cease to inspire and actuate. Stoffel Debuysere, Courtisane Elias Grootaers, Sabzian
Of Sea and Soil has been compiled and published on the occasion of the film programmes dedicated to Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro (CINEMATEK Brussels, 1 April - 5 May 2019) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Courtisane Festival Ghent, 3 - 7 April 2019). Both programmes would not have been possible without the dedication of Ricardo Matos Cabo.
OGAWA SHINSUKE AND OGAWA PRO 1. O gawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary — p. 10 Markus Nornes
10. R ice Production, the Village of Furuyashiki and the People in the Film — p. 38 Ogawa Pro, 1981
2. C inematographic and Political Activities of a Committed Filmmaker — p. 16 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1975
11. L iving Like a Peasant Among Peasants. An Interview with Ogawa Shinsuke — p. 41 Andrée Tournès, 1984
3. Statement on The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka — p. 18 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1968
12. T he Relationship Between Seeing and Not Seeing — p. 44 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1986
4. Statement on Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress — p. 19 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1971
13. D ocumentary’s Sense of Reality — p. 47 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1987
5. W hat Kind of Man Is Ogawa Shinsuke ? — p. 20 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1968 6. T ime in a Village Tirelessly Under Surveillance — p. 25 Ogawa Pro, 1972 7. The Struggle Has Not Finished Yet — p. 27 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1972
Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress (1971)
8. A Letter Before Death — p. 33 Sannomiya Fumio, 1971 9. T he Image That Is Captured Is Guided by the Relationship Between the One Who Is Filmed and the One Who Films. An Interview with Yumoto Mareo — p. 34 Kouni Kazuhiko, 1975
14. D ocumenting the Heart and Soul of the People Who Tell Stories — p. 50 Ogawa Shinsuke, 1987 15. T he Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story. An Interview with Ogawa Shinsuke — p. 52 Regula König, 1987 16. T he Documentary Imprinted Into the Body. Fragments from a Conversation Between Ogawa Shinsuke and Photographer Naitō Masatoshi — p. 57 1987 17. W hen Serge Daney Met Ogawa Shinsuke — p. 70 Serge Daney, 1989 18. T he Theater of a Thousand Years — p. 78 Markus Nornes, 1997 19. O tsu Koshiro in Conversation with Katō Takanobu — p. 80 2002
Production still Minamata – The Victims and Their World (Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1971)
1. T suchimoto Noriaki and Environment in Documentary Film — p. 90 Aaron Gerow 2. S howing Is Not Enough. An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki — p. 94 Aaron Gerow and Yasui Yoshio, 1995 3. “ Can I Eat, Die, and Love There ? ” My Private and Cinematic Experiences in a Different Culture — p. 108 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1992 4. S tatement on Minamata – The Victims and Their World — p. 114 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1972 5. O n Minamata. An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki — p. 116 Gérard Langlois, 1972 6. Setting Out for Documentary’s Virgin Territory — p. 119 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1986
7. A n Exchange of Letters — p. 120 Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Claude Lanzmann, 1996
A Letter to Claude Lanzmann — p. 121 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1996
A Letter to Tsuchimoto Noriaki — p. 123 Claude Lanzmann, 1996
8. H and-to-Hand. An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki — p. 125 Éric Vidal, 1999 9. N otes on the Struggle for the Sea. On Umitori – The Stolen Sea at Shimokita Peninsula — p. 127 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1985 10. W hen Movies Are Born — p. 129 Tsuchimoto Motoko, 2019 11. M y Kind of Fire — p. 130 John Gianvito, 2019
Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro
Sanrizuka â€“ Peasants of the Second Fortress (1971)
Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary Markus Nornes
“Sometimes I wonder if this Ogawa Shinsuke really existed.” – Shiraishi Yoko, Ogawa’s wife, 1999 –
Ogawa Shinsuke began his career in high school in the 1950s as the member of a film study group and joined one of the largest PR film companies after graduating from college. As it happened, this company was the breeding ground for some of the finest political filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. Ogawa left it in the early 1960s and electrified the student movement with a series of documentaries made among the students, behind the barricades. When he formed his own production company, he moved to a village outside Tokyo that the central government had designated as the site for Narita International Airport. The farmers there were just starting what would be one of the most traumatic social struggles in modern Japanese history. In the course of eight films shot over nine years, Ogawa and his production company documented what was, for all practical purposes, a smallscale civil war. Ogawa’s Sanrizuka Series remains one of the monuments of Japanese cinema history. In the midst of the turbulent 1970s, Ogawa Pro made the unlikely decision to leave Sanrizuka and resettle in a small village, Magino, in the northern Japanese mountains. The filmmakers lived collectively in a borrowed farmhouse, making rice and another series of films for sixteen years. As in the Sanrizuka Series, the films of the Magino Village Story were made with a commitment to develop deep relationships with their subjects and with a patient leisure that few filmmakers besides Flaherty have indulged in. It is difficult to imagine any future filmmakers with the ambition (or insanity) to match the scale of Ogawa Pro’s conception of documentary practice, particularly now that video has transformed the economics of independent production.
Toward the end of his life, Ogawa helped establish the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. He was shooting footage for a new film, and had ideas for many, many others. He was also reaching out to nonfiction film and video artists across Asia to share experiences and films and to begin collaborations that would jump-start a new era committed to documentary in Asia. However, at the height of his powers as a filmmaker, Ogawa died of cancer at a youthful age of fifty-five on 7 February 1992. With his passing, the collective that bore his name quickly dissolved. Aside from Eric Barnouw, few historians have considered the documentary outside of Europe and North America. Thus, a recent film on cinéma verité could portend to offer an authoritative and comprehensive history without acknowledging the work of Ogawa or other Japanese filmmakers, which in some cases precede verité’s Western appearance. By contrast, all histories of Japanese cinema – including those by Western scholars like Donald Richie – never fail to cover the contribution of Ogawa. Although overlooked by too many scholars, film festivals, and colleagues, the people that did come into contact with the man have strong memories. Ogawa exuded extraordinary energy. His gregariousness was matched by his love of food, drink, and most of all discussion. He loved to talk, overflowed with ideas, and was fascinated with everything within his magnetic reach. He possessed a kind of mesmerizing charisma that charmed most of the people who came close to him, most especially the people who joined his collective. Even the foreigners who struggled to communicate through his broken English never
failed to be touched by his passion. Joris Ivens, who visited the Sanrizuka house back in the late 1960s, told Ogawa, “You are my youngest son.” 1 In undertaking the telling of this biography, I find myself compelled to repeat what so many of the former members insisted whenever we talked: Ogawa Pro was no typical organization. There was something inexplicably unique about it. What exactly was so out of the ordinary is extremely hard for me to nail down and communicate, but anyone who came in contact with it over the years understands my quandary. In a first attempt at this, and to find an emotional center for this history, I offer the following anecdotal evidence for Ogawa Pro’s peculiar character. Over the years, more than one hundred men and women entered and left Ogawa Pro. Some spent a short period of time without making much of a mark on the group. Others stayed for twenty years. Incredibly, none of them received proper salaries ; budgets left in the archives reveal they spent more on film screenings than daily life necessities! They committed themselves to Ogawa Pro for other reasons, usually political ones, and they left for as many other reasons. However, the typical way they quit is revealing. As former member Nosaka Haruo explains: “Ogawa Pro had some 125 people in it, and when it folded there were only three or four left. Most of these people did not announce they were leaving. One night you would go to sleep next to someone, and in the morning you’d wake up and they were no longer there. They would just disappear without saying, ‘I quit,’ let alone ‘Sayōnara.’ It is like certain love relationships ; the only way out is to run away. Some stayed only a few days or weeks before disappearing. Others stayed for decades. It was a crazy, unusual group. Impossible to describe!” During the shooting of Nihon kaiho sensen: Sanrizuka [Winter in Sanrizuka], even Ogawa disappeared without telling anyone his whereabouts. It drove the staff insane ; however, cinematographer Tamura Masaki, 1 Ogawa Shinsuke and Hasumi Shigehiko (ed.), Shineasuto
wa Kataru, 5 (Nagoya: Nagoya Cinémateque, 1993), 70.
who was never a member of Ogawa Pro, found it all entertaining. After a long while, Yoshida Tsukasa, Honma Shusuke, Fukuda Katsuhiko, and several other core members decided to leave, in the middle of night as usual. They got as far as a coffee shop in Chiba before they settled down and decided to return to Sanrizuka. Ogawa himself returned after more than a month, offering no explanation. This hints at how Ogawa Pro was no ordinary film production company. The inability of these core members to abandon the group intimates the degree to which Ogawa entered into the core of their existence. Their experience working with Ogawa left all of them with powerfully complicated memories, especially in the context of the movement’s failure. Although I was not a member of Ogawa Pro, I came to know him well enough to sympathize with the contradictory feelings of the former members. I first met Ogawa at the 1988 Hawai’i International Film Festival, where he was showing Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story] (1986). The film had impressed me, and I wrote a short piece I’d rather forget for the festival catalogue. Ogawa liked the essay, and we immediately struck up a friendship. When I finished my master’s degree, he helped me take some time off from school by introducing me to the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, where I have worked as a coordinator ever since. In my many trips to Japan, I often stayed at Ogawa Pro’s apartments in Ogikubo, Tokyo, or in Magino Village in Yamagata. My relationship to Ogawa felt – and feels – so intense that I am shocked when I consider that it was only for four short years. The house they lived in at Magino is now gone. Some members (from here on I shall drop the adjective “former,” as emotionally no one ever seemed to leave Ogawa Pro) wanted to preserve the house, which was as much a “sakuhin” (“work”) as any of the films. They envisioned a memorial housing Ogawa Pro’s traces, an archive to stop the experience from receding into the past. Others wanted to tear down the house as soon as possible, sell the prints, pay off long-standing debts, and attempt to mark a material ending. They desperately wanted to put the prints, stills, rushes,
In retrospect, I knew Ogawa for an incredibly short time, but it feels quite long, involved, even intense. What must it have been like for the people who worked and lived with him? No wonder they all have such complicated and present feelings so many years after his passing from this world. His magnetism is still strong, which is exactly why some members are trying hard to establish new lives independent from that vortex of memories while others are so willing to give in. A biography of Ogawa is just as much about the film collective that bears his name. At the same time, it is the story of postwar Japanese documentary and is ultimately a slice of the social history of postwar
Japan. The stance this project takes requires an accounting of the larger context in which the films were imagined, produced, and watched. Kitakoji Takashi has suggested two broad reasons why people like Ogawa’s films. 2 Some spectators are keen on the films’ politics of resisting power by standing firmly on the side of protesting students and farmers. Others sidestep or ignore the politics to assert that they are simply good movies ; for them the films’ significance lies in their rejection of the shackles of objectivity, which brought a new creativity to documentary film. In other words, they try to apprehend the films primarily as “cinema,” downplaying whatever politics might have informed their production and consumption.
itakoji Takashi, “‘Han’tochaku’ no Monogatari: K Esunogurafii to Shite no Ogawa Puro Eiga,” Jokyo (May 1999), 123-124.
“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (1982)
posters, graphs, clippings, notes, diaries, receipts, scripts, everything, in someone else’s archives and relegate Ogawa Pro to the past once and for all. Ogawa died so young and left so little, leaving some clinging to memories others would just as soon purge.
However, I work under the assumption that even these two basic responses are products of a certain moment in the history of Japanese society and its relationship to politics and art. Both readings are available today, and are certainly supplementary to each other, but this does not mean that they were always or evenly available over the course of the past several decades. The films themselves are not equally political, or aesthetically or emotionally pleasing, and that is part of our concern here. Something momentous happens in the midst of Ogawa’s career. It is marked by the collective’s move from Sanrizuka to Magino, but has everything to do with one of the most difficult problems facing historians of postwar Japan. Something happened in the early to mid-1970s. Let’s consider a fascinating discussion at the 1998 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. The occasion was a major retrospective of Japanese documentary films from the 1980s and 1990s. This was the last instalment in a biennial series that painstakingly covered the one-hundred-year history of nonfiction filmmaking in Japan. Previous retrospectives confidently displayed a national heritage and its sure but steady growth, but the title of the 1995 edition suggested a less than optimistic attitude: “The Groping in the Dark – Japanese Documentary in the 1980s and Beyond” (“Nihon Dokyumentarii no Mosaku – 1980 Nendai Iko”). Nowhere was the cautious uncertainty more evident than in the accompanying symposium. On the stage were four filmmakers representing various generations in Japanese film history. In the middle sat Kanai Katsu (who started filming in the 1960s) and Ise Shin’ichi (from the 1980s). On either end were Iizuka Toshio (1960s) and Kawase Naomi (1990s). Iizuka joined Ogawa Pro in the 1960s and served as his assistant director from the late 1970s until Ogawa’s death in 1992. He has since become a director in his own right. Kawase had recently returned from the Cannes International Film Festival, where her first feature (shot, incidentally, by Ogawa’s cameraman Tamura Masaki) surprised everyone by taking a special jury prize. The seating arrangement at Yamagata was a piece of history writing in and of itself. It did not take long
before the generational structure bared itself onstage. Any “groping” that evening would be between those on either end of the platform. Iizuka and Kawase would have it out over the question posed by moderator Yamane Sadao, one of Japan’s best critics. Taking a cue from audience member Fukuda Katsuhiko (an ex-Ogawa Pro member who stayed in Sanrizuka after the collective left), Yamane suggested that in the mid-1970s, something happened that transformed Japanese documentary, leaving it in its present, seemingly precarious, state. As in any serious discussion of documentary in Japan, the words shutai (subject) and taishō (object) constantly came up. They are rarely, if ever, defined, yet are repeated like the mantra of postwar documentary ; functionally, they generally serve to demarcate historical articulations of difference, usually to the end of constructing a periodization. The artists on stage quickly staked out the territory. Iizuka laid out the generally accepted view that the filmmakers of the 1960s and early 1970s had a political commitment and took their engagement with the world seriously. They assumed a filmmaker subject (shutai) that was thoroughly social, one that required visible expression on the film and at the same time acknowledged its delicate relationship to the object (taishō) acting before the camera. Younger filmmakers, argued Iizuka (in an obvious critical swipe at Kawase), are too wrapped up in their own little world. They either focus on themselves or their family without reference to society, without engaging any political position or social stance. Kawase responded defensively that her own documentaries about her aunt and the search for her lost father had the kind of social resonance Iizuka claimed for his own work. In the end, the two offered only implicit criticism of each other. For all the groping, which included contributions from the floor by Tsuchimoto Noriaki (director of the famous Minamata Series) and Fukuda, almost everyone felt they had been left in the dark, especially on that question, “What happened to the exciting Japanese documentary world of the 1960s?” Following the filmmaking of the 1960s and early 1970s, which was spectacular in both quality and quantity, something did happen, and the Japanese documentary went into a steady, sure decline. At the very least, all historians accept that the sheer number
of stirring, creative documentaries in that earlier period was unprecedented, that the present situation pales in comparison. And how ironic that of all the art forms to experience decay in the bubble economy of the 1980s – in the age of johoshihonshugi (information capitalism) – documentary would lose its confidence and end up groping in the critical darkness for a toehold in Yamagata at the close of the 1990s. Few films today are as compelling or as daring as the prodigious work straddling the year 1970.
filmmaking. The documentary world also experienced a serious setback with the 2007 suicide of its most important filmmaker and theorist of this transitional period, Satō Makoto. A new generation of filmmakers appeared with some real talent, but they survive on side-jobs ; for example, Matsue Tetsuaki works in hard-core porn, Funahashi Atsushi in feature film, and Mikami Chie in television. Ironically (or significantly), the only director to forge a career based solely on his independent documentary practice, Sōda Kazuhiro, is based in New York.
Afterword. A Quarter-Century On
Meanwhile, television documentarists are complaining that the networks are getting more conservative, and the independent mini-theater circuit is on truly shaky ground. In 2017, many theaters were saved by an unexpected blockbuster of a documentary, the maudlin Jinsei furūtsu [Life Is Fruity] (2017) centered on a sweet old couple. Still, we can be thankful that every year one can expect a compelling film or two, and groups like the Independent Cinema Guild and Japan Community Cinema Center are vigorously and proactively studying the situation. Thus, the groping goes on.
This introduction to my book Forest of Pressure was written shortly after the “Groping in the Dark” panel at the 1995 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, nearly a quarter-century ago. The intervening years roughly amount to the time between the peak of Ogawa and Tsuchimoto’s careers and that Yamagata panel. This has also been a period of great change. The panel took place the same year as the appearance of the Panasonic DCR- VX1000, heralding a shift to DV and a lowering of the entry bar to production. New documentary film festivals and pitching events have appeared, most notably Za Koenji Documentary Film Festival, Tokyo Docs, and Tokyo International Documentary Film Festival. More schools teach production than ever before. There are two journals devoted to the documentary form, Neo-neo and f/22. And yet, these developments have not shed sufficient light to stop the groping around for steady ground or some sense of direction. The best evidence may be found in the hundreds of films made about the triple disaster of 311 (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown) ; there are only a handful of good films, and no truly great film, for an event so spectacular and so central to contemporary Japan. Returning to that panel, Ise and Iizuka continue to make documentaries for hire in the intervening years. Tsuchimoto Noriaki made no major films before his death in 2008. Hara Kazuo released only the surprisingly conventional Sennen Asbestos Disaster (2016) and John Junkerman made one major film as well, his epic Okinawa: Urizun no ame [Okinawa: The Afterburn] (2015). Kawase Naomi and Kore-eda Hirokazu basically left documentary for careers in feature
Excerpted from the “Introduction” to the wonderful book by Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure. Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), xiii-xxv. The afterword was written especially for this publication.
Cinematographic and Political Activities of a Committed Filmmaker
Sanrizuka â€“ Peasants of the Second Fortress (1971)
Ogawa Shinsuke, 1975
Ogawa Shinsuke and his young comrades formed a film production group with the intention of taking part in the struggle of the classes. Since 1968, from their very beginning, they have been going to Sanrizuka in order to join the peasants in their struggle against Power.
They have changed the function of the “group of five peasants” system, which was established by feudalism in order to assign to five neighbours the responsibility for a crime or a debt incumbent upon one of them. In Sanrizuka, the group has become the peasant army unit.
Why the struggle of the peasants?
Ogawa and his comrades have shown these methods of organization and the creative energy of the peasants in their last film shot in Sanrizuka, Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku [Sanrizuka – Heta Village].
Sanrizuka is an agricultural zone on the outskirts of Tokyo. The peasants there have been cultivating the volcanic soil for centuries and they have turned it into fertile land. They produce Tokyo’s vegetables. In 1966, the Japanese state decided to build the Narita International Airport there. It is Power that decides on the use of the airport by the US Air Force and the industrialization of the country. For the peasants, this mainly and very concretely means that they are reduced to day labourers. The peasants immediately joined forces in a “Union of the leagues of opposition of Sanrizuka and Shibayama against expropriation”. Through their involvement in the struggle of the peasants, Ogawa Productions has produced six films so far. In the course of their (cinematographic and political) work in Sanrizuka, Ogawa Shinsuke and his comrades have studied two things: 1. They have studied the method of organization of the peasants who have been struggling for nine years to avoid the destruction of their villages. The peasants recognize the social system of the feudal era. They fight by determining which position to take in each league of opposition, in each village. All the leagues are united in the Union of the leagues of opposition of Sanrizuka and Shibayama, but the union can’t decide on a village’s own specific path, as each village has its own social relationships, which are the result of agricultural and other work. In Sanrizuka, the peasants continuously struggle by changing the already existing social relations in every village to avoid repression and to be able to answer the concrete questions posed by Power. They have used their agricultural work organization, yui, to cultivate the common land with the intention of obtaining the necessary funds for the struggle. They have used their religious kō gatherings to become friends with one another.
2. They have encountered a contradictory fact in Sanrizuka, as those who work on the construction of the airport are also peasants. They come from the North, from October to April (the snow period), to work as seasonal workers. That way, the poor peasants, who have been declassified and become day labourers, are charged with the destruction of the houses and lands of the peasants of Sanrizuka. The “Japanese miracle” has been based on this interior colonization of poor peasants. There are five times less peasants than twenty years ago. They have become interim labourers, day labourers or pariahs. Thus, the comrades of Ogawa Productions visit the day labourers’ neighbourhood to make a film and remind the latter of the methods of organization they’ve observed among the peasants of Sanrizuka. Already in the beginning of 1974, they went to Japan’s biggest port Yokohama, which hosts one of the three largest day labourers’ neighbourhoods, Kotobuki. They went and lived in Yamagata in the North, where agricultural production is dominant, in order to live among the poor peasants of the region that produced a large part of the day labourers in Kotobuki. At the same time, they want to prove that it’s possible to make a political documentary with a small budget. They are evidence of the possibility of making a synchronized film with a Canon camera and a Sony minicassette.
Presentation of Ogawa Productions by Ogawa Shinsuke. Translated by Sis Matthé
Statement on The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka Ogawa Shinsuke, 1968
On the eve of the first shooting day in Sanrizuka, near Narita, two principles were reaffirmed within the crew. First of all, the camera should clearly be placed on the side of the fighting farmers. If power oppresses farmers, and if policemen beat farmers, then our camera will be on the front line to receive that beating, so that the “message” of power can be directly conveyed to the audience through the screen. Second, without being concerned about the difficulties of executing the movie, we would never try to hide the camera or use a telephoto lens. Instead of filming people who were unaware of being filmed, our camera would always be where it should be, and that is at the centre of the farmers’ fight.
Our fraternal relationship with the farmers, as emerges in the film, developed during the shoot. For one hour and 40 minutes, Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu [The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka] shows all this. It took eight months to make the film (preparations from January 1968, actual working from April to August of the same year), during which we never waived the two principles that we had set for ourselves. The fight of Narita goes on. This is only the first part of our film. We will continue it – in autumn, in winter – we will continue it as long as the fight goes on.
These two principles may seem trivial or simple starting points, but it was very difficult to fully comply with them.
That is why I have chosen Beethoven for the sound track: it is music that incites fighting and victory. It reflects, at least I hope so, the firmness and justice of the fight that is going on in Narita.
In fact, these were our starting points, and the farmers started to open up a dialogue with us precisely from there, by showing themselves spontaneously to the camera, which made it possible for us to take part in their resistance as messengers of their fight.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972). Translated by Giulia Galvan
Statement on Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress Ogawa Shinsuke, 1971
The fight in Sanrizuka has been going on for five years now. Five years have gone by since the day we got to Sanrizuka, with the movie camera and audio recording equipment. The fight in Sanrizuka is led firsthand by farmers, and its roots are in country life. The young people of the village have taken a pen in their rough farmer hands, hands that smell of soil, to write a vigorous denouncement of state power. The older people of the village, even if exhausted by the hardship of farming and their duties as heads of the family, resisted with all their strength against the violence of the state that aimed at completely destroying the nature and life of the farmers. The tunnel in the film Sanrizuka – Daini toride no hitobito [Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress] is the fruit of the extreme determination of the farmers. That is the real reason why they succeeded in infusing courage into so many other Japanese people and digging the tunnel: a great, productive and limitless achievement.
The last five years in Sanrizuka have allowed us to experience a few days that were truly worthy of mankind, because they were spent defending, with our own hands, the pulsating life of mankind and nature from the violence of state power. We loved these days deeply and wanted to keep their memory alive, that is why we made Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972). Translated by Giulia Galvan
What Kind of Man Is Ogawa Shinsuke?
Forest of Oppression (1967)
Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1968
I’m pleased to see and talk about the Ogawa Shinsuke of late. Like a wild child, he talks about his ever-changing ideas and sneers at his own faults without hesitation. He nurtures them and throws them out in front of us, rolling them into boogers. I am astonished by the extent to which this man has grown and gained weight. I hear optimistic sounds about Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu [The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka], a film he is currently editing. When he was making the film Gennin hokusho – Haneda toso no kiroku [Report from Haneda], he seemed very tense and dutifully uneasy. This impression has become entirely disarmed. When I look at him as a filmmaker, I also see the effervescence of a revolutionary. There is no doubt that he is optimistic in nature, and he now exudes the liberty of someone who has found his place. I think of various things. To be honest, Ogawa Shinsuke has been fundamentally disregarded. He started out as second unit director for two films by the production company Iwanami, and shot his footage in a strange way. Compared to the given objectives, the footage was so different and original that the director was disappointed. Ogawa hardly prepared, and yet the smallest details were very nicely finished. Nonetheless, and fortunately, he was able to avoid the misfortune of becoming an average director of short films or commercials. Either way, even then he had an extraordinary appearance. “When you look at people with a telephoto lens, the ears suddenly come to the front, right? With a wide-angle lens you cannot see the ears. Neither can you see them with your eyes. Knowing that a person has two ears, a telephoto lens produces a certain effect…” He was loved by cameramen, who considered him a very inspirational figure. The cameramen of Tobenai chinmoku [Silence Has No Wings] and Shokei no shima [Punishment Island] (Suzuki Tatsuo), of Hatsukoi: Jigoku-hen [Nanami, First Love] (Okumura Yūji) and his own cameraman Otsu Koshiro were all assistants at the time and good friends and interlocutors. He is decidedly different from other filmmakers because of his innate, thoroughly analyzed ideas, pushing his arguments until he finds common ground in other people, about the meaning of hand-held shooting, about differences between lenses, about the speed of movement, etc. He constantly talked about his vision on documenting
people in the chaotic conversations of that time, persisting in his principles so as not to wind up in any clichéd version of modernism. That is the Ogawa of six or seven years ago. “To capture human beings... Is it possible to capture a human being alive?” That’s what’s fundamental to him. Not only the cameramen, but I also became enthusiastic about the circular logic whose methods he resourcefully dug up. Even if he was a misunderstood talent and, just like us, fled the small existing film system that hates heresy, Ogawa quickly started working on his own. I heard he went to the Kokugakuin University to study ethnology, where he became a student movement leader and activist concerned with selforganization and underground film clubs. Let’s say he considered the underground scene as his home. After that, during the independent film production movement, he became the assistant director of Imai Tadashi (Kome [The Rice People]) and then came to Iwanami, aspiring to make documentary films, where he was apparently perfectly happy to work hard as an assistant. As far as I know, he never lost his singular effervescence. Yet, despite all of this, his personality was as such that he avoided appearing in public. Why was he always stuttering during labour union or film club meetings when he had to speak? In any case, his communication skills were lacking. Conversely, he was very strong and resolute in individual conversations. Because of these qualities, his movies go beyond the common practice of documentary films. They are long, have synchronized sound and show direct portraits of people. He said: “In the film Summer in Sanrizuka, I did not use a single candid shot. 1 Everything was filmed from the point of view of the farmers. Also when capturing the side of authority, I did it from the point of view of the farmers, frontally, putting the existence of the camera at risk. I filmed everything in this confrontation.” Doing this, through his self-reflective struggle, he finally matured as a filmmaker.
1 Sneak shots, footage captured without creating a posed
There was an element of self-hatred in the voyeuristic method he used in Assatsu no mori [Forest of Oppression]. Voyeuristic shots are unforgiveable for ideological reasons. In documentaries, by clearly showing the cameras and by exposing the filmmaker himself to the filmed subjects, the film subject should truly become open to criticism. Filming from a bird’s-eye view, with voyeuristic shots, is regression, which he radically breaks away from after Forest of Oppression. The issue of the voyeuristic shot had a strange impact. This started just after he edited the scene of committee chairman Kakuda who wore a concealed microphone while visiting and condemning his former school friend who left the line of battle. This led him to his decision of no longer using shots like these. In voyeuristic shots and in criticizing the other party (the subject of the documentary), Ogawa started to question his own position (standing next to a tripod and a camera with a telephoto lens). It was the position of a preacher, and it reflected the ideology of authority. According to a filmmaker’s humility, conversation is the only way, even with people who have a different point of view, knowing that there is no real possibility of communication. That’s why filmmakers need to wait until the morning comes. On the other hand, once Ogawa had decided to change, he radically rejected a certain method. Already in Report from Haneda, he admitted that there is an essential camera-position mistake. When there is a clash with authority, the camera should only film from the side of the students and should absolutely not stay between the students and the police. This is a fundamental point of view issue. One should make sure to always keep the camera under attack from the authorities, to perfectly capture the damage suffered by the students. In the conversation I had with Ogawa, he says that the criticism of his own methods, the ideas and the subjects, the camera and the lens, all this occasionally becomes a weapon through the people testifying and fighting. That process led him to Summer in Sanrizuka, in which he was able to truly fathom that perspective. He paid for it with the arrest of the cameramen Otsu and Otsuka. “Documentary films are not fiction. If you suppose that they are fiction, shouldn’t there be a moment when the filmmaker loses his own identity? In the
vital struggle to turn a documentary film into a real image, the filmmaker has the responsibility to say that fictions are real images too.” When Ogawa asks himself this question, he states that documentary films can be considered films when, according to him, thoughts, flesh and physiology truly become one, when he shows his own avatar in the film as a living being or when the avatar starts to breathe. He dissects himself freely. This is an activity that smells of a healthy body. When I look at the road towards Forest of Oppression, Report from Haneda and Summer in Sanrizuka after Seinen no umi [Sea of Youth], I am curious about the mechanism of perpetual motion within Ogawa. There is absolutely no narcissism to him. I am always confused when he inattentively and openly tries to point out the faults and limitations in his own works once a movie of his is completed. After the completion of Report from Haneda, the reviews reported a lot of mistakes. He listens to these indications of his shortcomings and, even though he is aware of them, it seems that he will defend his mistakes, until the day he is able to verify them himself. He is like a record holder who only challenges his own records. And to move on from the old records, he churns out new work, as though his shortcomings were his yeast, a charming multiplying existence. He says that Summer in Sanrizuka is, in fact, the spring and summer episodes after which he is going to make winter and summer episodes. What a thrilling prospect, particularly his ever-moving creative powers (which has steep declines and increases) and the works he will write next. How far he has come! “By continuing spring, summer, fall, winter, and again spring and summer, for about ten hours nonstop, I want to see the battle of Sanrizuka. People will change considerably. How will farmers discover their own ideas?” When he talked about these issues as if they were other people’s affairs, I feel that his films are changing into something entirely new. That includes my strong feelings that through his documentary films he single-handedly pierced a layer of rock.
70 mm in the year 1970 As a filmmaker, he is clearly extremely realistic. In a short period of time, he purchased a camera, a projector and a lens, one after the other. He collected the equipment with the same brute force he made films with. Needless to say it was a long-time aspiration of his to carry around a camera at all times, but he didn’t hide this extravagant desire of owning film equipment that he didn’t yet have. He did not even try to be moderate in his desire for expensive sound blimps and 70 mm cameras for his next work. When he talks about making a documentary using 70 mm (for the purpose of the planned mass demonstrations in 1970), it’s because in that scene he imagines one hundred thousand people and he wants to show every person as clearly as possible. If the frame isn’t enlarged to 70 mm, he is expecting negative consequences for the film. He is not different from other filmmakers when talking about the financial aspects of filmmaking with the necessary caution. However, because of the subject matter of the film (capturing civilians) and from his responsibilities as a filmmaker, he was extremely optimistic about securing the necessary funding. For his own productions, Ogawa possesses an out standing production and distribution system, which I found very instructive while producing the film Kyūba no koibito [Cuban Love]. The form of this independent distribution system is clear. He had already made four works since Sea of Youth when he expanded his own nationwide distribution system. This expansion was born from necessity, and I can imagine it supported him greatly. The fact remains that he is ingeniously making a guerrilla force of machines, people and works. I quite literally see the form of future Japanese films in it. I need to correct my suggestion that Ogawa suddenly appeared out of nowhere as a prominent filmmaker. I remember how many films he made after he left Iwanami as an unknown filmmaker four or five years ago, and how there were times when he produced no films at all. Before he came into contact with the correspondence students who became subjects of Sea of Youth, he searched for sponsors and lived the life of a freelance filmmaker making plans without resources.
For a bulldozer company, he submitted the scenario Ishikari aoyama samban buraku ; he locked himself in the factory of a certain beer company where he finished writing Biiru wo tsukuru koujou [The Factory That Makes Beer] ; and for a motorbike manufacturer he wrote Tesuto raidaa no kiroku [Records of a Test Rider]. These were the scenarios he wrote that haven’t been made into movies. Already in those “scenario hunting times”, he invited assistant directors and cameramen and developed the habit of conversing with them while writing the scenarios. Even though there was no money, he did have a crew (the importance of a crew is a crucial characteristic of Ogawa Productions). Even now, I see how his mind functions, the well-considered scenarios, the confident way of looking at people, beyond the actual film expression.
A Time of Transformation The PR film The Factory That Makes Beer was rooted in Ogawa’s feeling of astonishment when he learned that the last part of the secret of beer making was reserved for ordinary, experienced employees. He discovered this while he was visiting the factory. Of course, the company marketed this as the superiority of their product, but Ogawa went beyond that. Day after day, he came to the labour union part of the factory and sat down. While trying to polish his scenario by soaking up the atmosphere, he discovered that the employees were the true creators of the beer, not the company owners. Once this had been discovered, it became a pressing matter, and he saw how the exploited factory workers overlapped with activist issues, which led him to dramatically depict the metal factory building as something entirely different. In the end, the film couldn’t be made, but either way the employees held many meetings “making the film”. Ogawa laughed and said: “I have already accidentally made the film.” After repeatedly walking, observing and writing scenarios, he came across the battle of the correspondence students. Afterwards, his path led directly to the subject of the farmers (of Summer in Sanrizuka).
The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka (1968)
During the filming of Sea of Youth, the waves of the real-life battle quieted down. Some isolated activists had nothing to do, which intersected with the critical moment of losing faith in the movement, and sometimes the dark emotions and gloomy students had the same thoughts and expressions as Ogawa. During the months when nothing could be filmed, when the film did not find its end, Ogawa searched for a dramaturgically unrelated ending and included the act of besmirching a big bulletin board. Back then, he could not stop running around the students. Now, he has stopped running around. He has settled down, and he is free. He has certainly changed. This is what I meant when I said he has gained weight. What he said before going to Narita left a deep impression on me. “I remember an animalistic fear in the midst of the oppression by the authorities and the battle of the students, something frightening. The cheeks of the young boy who was a member of
the Vietnam Liberation Front twitched just before being killed, but his eyes were shining. How is it even possible that muscles twitch and shine? Is it possible to no longer be afraid? I would like to know this, both as myself and as one of the farmers.” After finishing the editing, he lost interest in the physically shocking scenes that brought back this fear. He said: "What’s more interesting is the brightness and the laughter of the farmers and their words when they start to talk… I was surprised at how the idea of a revolution is born.” I would like to know what happened to Ogawa in these few months. I will never forget his eyes, which were like small animals nervously talking about fear.
Published in Eiga Geijutsu (November 1968). Translated by Sis Matthé, Annelies Smet and Lisa Spilliaert
Time in a Village Tirelessly Under Surveillance Ogawa Pro, 1972
The Autumn of Last Year As soon as the struggle against the second wave of forced requisitions was over, the Sanrizuka villages offered a strange spectacle. All wrapped up in their blue jackets, the special anti-riot corps would carry out investigations and patrols, spreading lies: they were everywhere, night and day, wandering around the streets, deviating into the woods, inspecting municipal houses and makeshift shelters, and even entering farmyards. Simply because their hair was long, young people who happened to be by the side of the road or in a field would be arrested during the raids ; even the smallest empty bottle was broken, regardless of where it had been found, under the pretext that, one day or another, flames might come out of it. When they meet the villagers on the road, the scene is always the same: the cruel, mocking smiles of the bloated victor churn out the worst insults: “ignorant”,
“murderer”. You are pulling weeds in a field, you are discussing things on the road, and then suddenly, when you hear the presence of a stranger, you turn towards where, as usual, there’s an old acquaintance ; how long has he been there? His dark mass overtakes you with an ironic smile. How many of us have not experienced this feeling of indescribable humiliation? Power extended its black shadow of oppression and impairment even in the most hidden corners of village life: the situation got worse and worse. For the villagers, it was now clear: you had to tolerate, even in the tiniest details of your daily life, this state of tension, this continuous struggle with the enemy ; and as if that was not enough, you always had to beware not to vent your rage, due to the fact of feeling spied on at all times.
One Night That Winter The trails are frozen, dawn is still far ; suddenly, as if gliding on the frozen rice fields, the echo of the barrel-drum alarm system spreads from village to village. Before the villagers’ eyes, who immediately come out of their houses, first one, then two young people from the village – the active forces working the land – are taken away and vanish, as if absorbed by the night. Once, twice, three times, the repression against young people is unleashed relentlessly. Immediately, policemen in plainclothes gather, like flies, around the relatives of the ones who have been carried away: their parents, friends, partner. Every time, voices coming out of nowhere reach hyperbolic proportions and spread in the village: it’s no surprise, then, that the farmers entrench themselves in silence. Then, very often, deep down inside, surreptitiously, a black shadow creeps in: unperceived and insidious, it erodes you little by little ; it sets a trap. When you get to that point, it means that the plot has been successful, and that there’s a risk you’ll fall prey to limitless mistrust.
THE VILLAGE LIVES ON On the Side of the Villagers Amidst all this suffering, under the flaming sky that precedes nightfall, we were supported by the harmonious image of the countryside, clouds of smoke slowly detaching themselves from the stubble roofs at the bottom of the hill: undoubtedly, we were all the more sensitive to this emotional awakening the more the words we exchanged came from the “warmth of heart” you feel at a time when people are united. On the basis of all this, we were offered the possibility to have an authentic encounter with the villagers, which had never happened before. And we were more determined to go on living this rural life in which time and space are indissolubly tied.
Every Time the Barrel-Drum Alarm System Resonates Even in the fractions where today the silhouettes of a few young people have vanished, the ancestral practices of the “Brotherhood” and of the “Friendly Society” live on, and the work in the fields continues thanks to the help given to the families whose children have been abducted. The “Brotherhood”, the “Friendly Society”, whose origins date back to time immemorial, play the fundamental role of enabling exchanges among the villagers. And as the season of agricultural work approaches, the habitual tension that has always been present, is reborn in this village too. And when the supernatural silhouette of one of the disappeared youths held behind metal bars in various police stations appears at the entrance of the village, everybody is there to welcome him, smiles mix with sobs while bonfires of joy crackle. We young people fundamentally felt the need to raise awareness on the life of the village, which is beautiful but harsh, in order to grow and persevere in the resistance against the assault of power.
Spring Is Back On 15 March, the iron tower was completed, acting as an obstacle to reconnaissance flights. We, too, the members of the Ogawa crew, are embarking on our fifth spring in Sanrizuka. Currently, the crew on location includes nine people engaged in filming.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972). Translated by Giulia Galvan
The Struggle Has Not Finished Yet Ogawa Shinsuke, 1972
Back to the Countryside What made me choose Sanrizuka? This is quite clearly the question I am asked most often, and therefore also the one for which I can find the largest number of answers, some more vague than others. In any case, I think I am currently in a position to give a very precise answer, even though it all still feels like a lie. You can easily imagine that, when I got to Sanrizuka, I did not know what I was embarking upon ; who would have ever believed in the beginning that we would stay that long? I must say there was something that fascinated me: the smell of the soil – I’m serious. First of all, I like seeing how something might happen in these mud-immersed lives. Even when I was living in the city, before starting Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu [The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka], I had often thought of this. For example, behind Sakiya, by the riverbank Kōshū, there is a side that has been cleaned up, but where until recently there was a whole area of slums or something like that, with all the prostitutes functioning as a backdrop to the temple. It was shortly before the Olympic
Games of 1964. Once, it even crossed my mind to get involved in those messy lives and trace all the vicissitudes of a family up close. Either way, I eventually did get involved in all this, and I even started researching. At the time of Assatsu no mori [Forest of Oppression] it was pretty much the same thing. All this could have happened somewhere other than in Sanrizuka. That will no doubt sound strange, but it is clear that I just wanted situations where life was exposed, laid bare. At that time Sanrizuka happened to be what people were talking about ; it was the stage for a battle in which entire families participated. This meant that the whole of domestic life was involved. There was also another reason, which operated on a more intuitive level ; it was the fact that I felt the problems of the farmers represented something dense with meaning. All the more so because most Japanese intellectuals were completely uninterested. Once again, I felt this intuitively rather than rationally. All the more so because I was a farmer myself. Let’s imagine for a moment that the Sanrizuka airport was moved to the centre of Tokyo, to a working-class district, for example ; well, I am convinced they would not have done all these vile things. None of these
atrocities would have taken place. The fact is that the government, without even briefly consulting the farmers, made this decision, just like that. For God’s sake, now that Japan is a country in full industrial development, what do these poor people matter? You need to industrialize, produce more and more. And what about agricultural products? Well, you can still buy them at a good price in the wretched countries of South-East Asia, or even check if you can buy them in the US, which owns more than it needs. That is how the class discrimination line of the Japanese government works. “Après nous, le déluge!” These are things you can, you need to hear. I was really caught by anger. In addition to that, I was enormously interested in this kind of situation, where everyday life is at stake. Up until then, I had made films that were all very far removed from human issues, promotional movies, basically. It was bound to produce a counterreaction in me against this tendency. I cannot even say that I got to Sanrizuka with a clearly outlined plan to be developed methodically. But what wouldn’t leave my heart and mind was our current habit of finding ourselves comfortably settled on our own pile of prejudices, in our own class racism, be it in the name of the Nation, of Japanese Culture, or in the name of Japan’s progress. Indeed, we should not lose sight of the fact that not so long ago, in the Meiji period to be precise, 80% of the population consisted of farmers and that the country did not hesitate to kick these people in the ass. It is on this “indelicacy” that we settled, with our peremptory arsenal of cars, toasters, mixers, roasters, colour TVs, integrated circuits and so on. For example, at the university I got interested in ethnography ; I mention this, because in reality I had never been out of the city, not even once. Back then, there was nothing beyond the city. Whereas it is obvious that many things arise in villages, in remote regions, in the so-called “boondocks”: legends like Momotarō, for example, practices and costumes that blow your mind when you see them for the first time. All these ways of being, these archetypes of “Japanese consciousness” we find so important, can definitely not be found in cities, but in our countryside. All this interested me enormously. But before talking about the discrimination of which, with this kind of government, the peasant population is the designated victim, it should be pointed out that the farming or fishing villages are not in tune with Japan’s current
idea of civilization. They are, in other words, lagging behind. Take the Okinawa archipelago, for example ; even if it is increasingly attacked by capital, it remains a plethora of islands in the middle of nowhere, reachable only by boat, and not even every day. Well, you need to go to these very islands if you want to gather evidence on the origin of any truly Japanese cultural phenomenon. On mythology, theogony, etc. There is always one of these lost places in the back of my heart. In modern Japanese, the life of a farmer and their activities are always designated with the term “agricultural industry”, but I don’t like these two words at all. First of all because the term “agricultural” should be considered in an infinitely broader and more total human sense ; as for the other word, “industry”, it’s better not to talk about it. Once upon a time, these words did not exist. They were invented after the Meiji period. What I see here, in Sanrizuka, aren’t “agricultural industries”, but farmers. The creation of the international airport reunited these two concepts, “field, land” and “industry”, by force if you like. It is precisely against this rationalization of exploitation in its most modern version that the people of the land stood up and said “no!”. It’s a “no” that had been dwelling in me, I believe, long before I could scream it out here in Sanrizuka. Out of the whole crew of comrades who are with me, letting rhetorics aside, my four- or five-year experience tells me that each of them lives this truth and this rejection, either physically or morally. They are fully living the contradiction of an expression such as “agricultural industry”, and they understand how much more important agriculture or working the land is on a human level. Harvesting the fruits of the land, the sea, the mountains (that is, the mines), which used to be the primary industry, is an activity that has been left behind and ridiculed, tyrannized to such an extent that whoever worked there had no possibility of leaving. Thus a sort of proletariat came into being, but a non-proletarized one. My whole argument is pretty loose, as I am too close to it, but the issues I have just expressed should be thought through if we really want to prevent the worst catastrophes. The whole crew working here, by the way, is perfectly aware of these issues. Why do we keep filming when the struggle against the international airport can be said to be over, to have come to an end?
Sanrizuka – Heta Village (1973)
Because I think it hasn’t finished it. No! The struggle is not over. Of course, the runways have been completed, and so have the facilities ; in this sense, you can quite clearly say that the airport has been built anyway. But what have I done, to be more precise, what have we done, or what is this actually, this task we wanted to complete? From this point of view, indeed, the question becomes more meaningful. Because if they say that the airport has been completed and that therefore the struggle is over, is lost, then what is our task? The Vietnam National Liberation Front would have no plausible reason to go on fighting at this point, and yet it has done so, it’s still doing it, and not just a little. The airport is completed. Fine. But the people, the farmers who say no to this airport, continue to assert their refusal again and again. Therefore, this airport is not completed. Absolutely not completed! As long as we live, we will keep on testifying and developing the meaning and the profound social, political, and historical implications
of this “insubordination” among the people who still continue to live and exist. Therefore, we will always and everywhere keep on saying that “no, the airport is not completed” ; which is, finally, the meaning we have attached to our life. This sentence by Fanon is certainly well-known: “If the building of a bridge does not enrich the awareness of those who work on it, then that bridge ought not to be built.” 1 I think what Fanon wishes to prove is quite clear. When the building of an airport leads to one missing family, just one, and to someone committing suicide, the airport needs to be demolished. It’s as simple as that! When we start talking about suicides, I think power is losing its “good reasons”, if it even had any, to build an airport here. Plus, so many people have already died here. They died of resentment, choked by rage, 1 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York:
Grove Press, 1966), 199.
by the anger of watching an airport being built here in spite of them. That is why all the legitimate reasons for power to build an airport here vanish in thin air. Reflecting on Fanon’s words, if anyone still wonders about the farmers’ systematic resistance, they should burst into tears ; that’s how obvious the answer is. A moment of reflection, and no one would ever again be caught in the panoply of monstrous tricks by the press, always greedy for the sensational. Not to inform, but to provide sensational things, to amaze, to distort! Which, for those in power, apparently has the huge advantage of preventing people from reflecting, of preventing any mental activity whatsoever. Because thinking is certainly not the relentless studying of Kant, Marx, or Hegel, but asking, all together, how we will live tomorrow. All this implies that, if there is an airport here, it only exists in the imagination and great dreams of power. In our history, for us, no, there wouldn’t have been any room for it. So, as far as we are concerned, this is no airport. In Satō Eisaku’s 2 mind there can be runways, yes ; but for us, before our eyes, there is only a vast desert, a wilderness. That is how I see things. By virtue of all this it still makes sense to be here and continue to shoot my movies, our movies. It is clear, however, that I have no intention of staying here for the rest of my life. I also want to leave and see other things, and if I did, that would not change things in my point of view. Because wherever I go, I will always bring with me, as the most valuable gift there is, everything I happened to learn and see here. But for now we have this desire for insubordination that the farmers, these farmers we have come to know well, have shown to us, with their hearts, their passionate hearts, even if they did it without always being aware of it. Anyway, you will never be able to even imagine how the hearts of the farmers overflow with kindness. Say what you like, but I believe that to chain yourself to a tree in order to prevent giving in to power, you need to have a solid base of human kindness. And who will understand this extreme kindness, this humanity the people of Sanrizuka have demonstrated better than the Koreans in Japan, the wretched and discriminated inhabitants of our 2
Prime minister of Japan between 1964 and 1972.
pariah shacks (pariah intended as in India), or the even more wretched, who have seen things in their lives beyond all imagination? Among these people, the Sanrizuka saga will not remain a dead letter. After all, that is why we are organizing numerous rounds of screenings all over Japan. In the mining centres of the island of Kyūshū, for example. You should see how old Korean ladies immediately understand what we want to talk about! It is a pleasure to see how people can be so alive inside!
Freedom Within Ogawa Productions everyone is free. People should be free, I think that is a fundamental point. As I said, we don’t belong to any organization, and as for our daily routine, we live together, we eat together and so on. Freedom is a primordial aspiration for mankind, like oxygen for lungs. Following the rules, I’ll say that we first need to protect certain values in order to want or be able to be free, that we need to confront certain struggles, which fundamentally implies a responsibility you need to assume, including the responsibility for each individual’s dignity and sensibility. For me, freedom is nothing else. And to get to this state of freedom it is indispensable to have recourse to the help of others, which leads us to conclude that if you live in isolation, not in a community with all kinds of people, this freedom will remain a concept impossible to realize. That may seem paradoxical at first. The freedom of ascetics who bury themselves in the mountains cannot be called freedom. Using an image, I believe freedom is like a flame, a unique flame that burns in each individual. And I also think that we, as an organization, need not to be concerned about this flame. I say organization, but whether Ogawa Productions is an organization still needs to be proven. The defect of a large organization is that it wants to interfere everywhere, in a rather rough way. We don’t. We don’t interfere at all. Rather, should anyone wish to really reflect on freedom, they should pay more attention to a person’s humanity, without which they will never experience any freedom.
About the Mise-en-Scène in Documentary Film As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing. The crew arrives on site with the cameramen, and they can perfectly do without my presence, because I spend most of the time sleeping here. Much more than the mise-en-scène, what I am concerned about is, for example, introducing explosive elements into the discussion, into the debates. That is the thrilling part about teamwork, the fact that each individual in the group clearly has their own personality, shaped by a whole set of past experiences. Shooting a film is like putting together a crowd of personalities, as if assembling the tiles of a roof, so to speak. Because all these personalities, even if they try to adapt to the needs of teamwork, can only do it in a deeply flawed way, which leads to clashes, shadows, holes, sometimes even chasms. Everyone can grasp something of this kind in their neighbour when working. Everyone will take the floor or express themselves by way of the place assigned to them within the group. Camera men will express themselves through their equipment, and even the assistants will express themselves through their jobs as assistants. Each will visualize the part for which they have assumed responsibility. It’s like a pastel drawing. If it weren’t about fixing images onto film, the personality issues of the team members would not be important, but for this kind of work it is about accumulating, amassing personalities by drawing from their diversity, which is in itself a very effective means of expression. I think this applies to all. In my position as a director, I need to take an explosive role, and I don’t know if I can always accomplish this.
There was a time when I would never leave my cameramen, when I would give them millions of guidelines as to how I wanted the shoot to be. But now it’s no longer that way. Which, in a sense, is much better because it better enables the crew to create a team of comrades who complement each other perfectly, still with the reservations expressed earlier. And where they do not complement each other, where they overlap or in the end even fail to touch, that is where the individual, the human being comes out. A human being that has taken a stance on Sanrizuka. Indeed, what we have recorded is not a universal Sanrizuka, but a Sanrizuka as we have seen it, that is to say, as all of us have seen it. And in the same way, when a member of the crew is in the presence of an inhabitant of Sanrizuka, again a sort of shadow is formed because once again we find ourselves face to face with human beings, and not with secondary characters, as they are the protagonists of the tragedy we have set out to present to the world. A sort of shadow is formed, I said, because in this kind of dialogue one interlocutor always overshadows another, the farmer the cameraman, or vice versa. It is precisely this constant and subtle game of expansion and contraction, of attack and defence, and vice versa, which occurs when one individual is in the presence of another or when a group of individuals is in the presence of another group, that I would like to preserve and cultivate in our way of filming the images. Quite the opposite, therefore, of mise-enscène. Nuances, however weak, don’t seem less real to me and are actually extremely important. Everything I have just said naturally leads to the fact that I try, as much as possible, to remove all that concerns the very work of the mise-en-scène.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972). Translated by Giulia Galvan and Sis Matthé
Sanrizuka – Heta Village (1973)
The suicide of Sannomiya Fumio, a young man from Heta Village and one of the most beloved members of the Youth Action Brigade, sent a shock wave through the Hantai Domei (the anti-airport league). It marks a moment when the Sanrizuka Struggle entered its darkest period. The suicide also greatly affected the filmmakers of Ogawa Pro. Some of its members were able to read Sannomiya’s suicide note, and they noticed several notebooks the young man had kept on his desk. The notebooks recorded various aspects of the village, the kinds of local history and customs that are usually transmitted from generation to generation in an oral fashion. This would provide a key inspiration for the conceptualization of Sanrizuka – Heta Village (1973).
A Letter Before Death Sannomiya Fumio, 1971 The six-year long Sanrizuka struggle has been full of pain and sacrifice both in physical and spiritual terms. Recently, Sannomiya Fumio, a 22-year old fighter in the peasants’ Youth Action Brigade, committed suicide, causing a deep shock to everyone engaged in the struggle. This is the letter he left behind: I hate those who brought the airport to our land. My comrades of the Opposition League, the Women’s Action Brigade, the Old People’s Action Brigade, the Children’s Action Brigade, and my own Youth Action Brigade, please keep up the fight. All my energy has been sapped in this struggle. But no matter what happens please keep up our fight until the airport is crushed. To my mother – Every time I was arrested, how you must have worried and suffered. I felt so much for you and yet I could not bring my feelings out in words. If we were not faced with the airport problem I am sure I would be married by now and be a good strong farmer. But the more I think about it the more I hate those who brought the airport to our place. Please don’t be discouraged because I am no longer here. To my father – I’m sorry I spent so much time with the Youth Action Brigade and didn’t do much farm work. I did work with all my might in between the Youth Action Brigade activities. I was looking forward to building our watermelon house with you this year, but it is impossible now. Father, you are also becoming frail with age, but please keep up the fight until Hiroshi graduates and can take over. So far I haven’t been able to do much for you, my parents, and have always caused you worry instead. But it couldn’t be helped. They brought the airport here and anyone with a conscience could not help but fight against it. I wonder why people who want to live as humanly as possible are treated inhumanly. Truly, how frightening state power is that picks up and beats down the lives of peasants. Grandfather, goodbye. Hiroshi, goodbye, and take care of everyone. I have so much to say but the words don’t seem to come out. A few minutes ago I was uneasy, but now I feel calm. When I am gone could you wrap me up in the torn flag of the Youth Action Brigade… Crush the Sanrizuka Airport! Please live on in Sanrizuka till the end. In strength.
Midnight, 30 September 1971
Published in Ampo. Report from the Japanese New Left, 11 (1971).
The Image That Is Captured Is Guided by the Relationship Between the One Who Is Filmed and the One Who Films An Interview with Yumoto Mareo Kouni Kazuhiko, 1975
Kouni Kazuhiko: One of the difficulties of docu mentary cinema is that we believe to have seen and shown the reality of things or people once the camera and the microphone have been directed at them. However, these randomly captured images only reflect an already ideological and conformist presentation of reality. How did you deal with this difficulty? Yumoto Mareo: 1 I am going to try and explain to you the start of the shoot of Dokkoi! Ningen bushi – Kotobukicho: Jiyu rodosha no machi [Dokkoi! 1 Yumoto Mareo was a member of Ogawa Productions.
He worked as a researcher, assistant director, camera assistant, sound engineer and editor, amongst others, and he is known for his production notebooks. In this interview he mainly recounts the experience of producing Dokkoi! Songs from the Bottom (1975), a remarkable portrait of the people living in the slums of Kotobuki in the port city of Yokohama.
Songs from the Bottom]. In February, we went to the Kotobuki neighbourhood for the first time. Until April, we were preparing the equipment. We also went there to meet the residents, just to get in touch with them. On the 10th of May (1974), we rented a room in the neighbourhood. In May, all the members of our crew went there to find out about the way of life of the people in that neighbourhood. What we saw was very different from what we knew. Their way of life is totally different from ours, which made our work more difficult. What we did, then, was go for a drink with the people from the neighbourhood. When we saw people, they asked us to go for a drink with them. They monitored our way of drinking, which drunken stories we told them and whether we were interesting. They observed us meticulously. Of course, that is something we knew was going to happen in advance, but still we were nervous about getting studied like that.
Unlocking “Me Stories”
The Dialectics of Exchange
In Sanrizuka, we understood that the peasants couldn’t join forces if they weren’t able to address their own histories. The heart of the matter, I think, was still in these individual stories we called “me stories” in Sanrizuka. It was difficult to disentangle these stories, and we didn’t get the chance to tell them. In the city of Kotobuki, there were people who had committed crimes and didn’t know how to talk about their past. But if they didn’t tell each other why they had ended up there, which frustrations and regrets they had, they would never be able to act together. It was up to them to start doing that. Among each other, they tried to talk about their past a little, but it didn’t work at all. Their words didn’t move beyond monologues. We wanted to show the moment when, with their own hands, they tried to discover a path into their buried pasts.
During the summer party, Mr Kubo (one of our friends in Kotobuki) requested a serious explanation after we had filmed the party without trying to understand its meaning. The next morning, he tried to pick a quarrel with us. We were rude to him and answered: “We’re busy shooting the film.” Then he exploded in anger: “Stop it. You cannot film that. You only see the party side of Kotobuki. Please, stop it!” I was furious and without thinking I went after him to pick a fight. At the docks he said to me in no uncertain terms: “If you sincerely want to shoot true images of Kotobuki, look at reality, please. And that’s not reality. You see the old men who sleep outside next to the party dancing and the people who don’t participate? I don’t want a film crew that is unable to understand our desires because it is too busy shooting. You are shooting when someone else is dying. If you let him die because of the shoot, I will not let filmmakers like you stay here.” I understood. The weakness of our relationship with the residents during the entire months of May, June and July became apparent.
In order to film that, we had to participate in the exploration of their pasts. It was not an abstract but a concrete thing to share that heavy burden. For example, if someone asked to go for a drink, that’s what you needed to do. We couldn’t refuse, even though we had work to do. We were afraid, of course. Because, if necessary, we also became embroiled in the trouble. Ogawa Shinsuke told me that there was one peasant who was reading a comic book in front of the anti riot police and pointed at it, saying: “I hope this superman hero is going to come and help us.” When shown this image, Ogawa wanted to edit an animated superman image into the film Sanrizuka: Daisanji kyosei sokuryo soshi toso [Sanrizuka – The Three Day War]. They asked you to be superman. But you are no superman. How did you react? The residents of the neighbourhood asked us to be omniscient and omnipotent. But we were definitely not supermen. We tried to meet their expectations, because we couldn’t say we were unable to do certain things if we wanted to provide them with information and shoot the film. We couldn’t say: “We are not supermen.” But we couldn’t do everything either. So we participated in everything and we shared the burden of their problems.
Up until that point, we had transferred people from the prison of their daily lives to the space of cinematography in order to capture them on film and ask them about their stories. On the one hand, they expressed their beliefs ; on the other, they had a difficult task on their hands, without having any solutions. We had only helped them to prepare for the shoot, and we had placed the film outside of our relationship with them. I apologized to Mr Kubo that day. The fact that he had expressed his anger was invaluable to me. I was very grateful to him for that. I owed him. I offered him what I had understood of Kotobuki. We started sharing a heavy burden.
To Look at Current Affairs. To Make Our Way We tried again. We reviewed the work we had done up until that point. Starting with the documents in which we kept track of everything, we saw how we had reacted and we put a red circle around what we had filmed.
A man was in trouble. We listened. It happened at his house. Then we filmed him and asked him how he felt about his troubles ; but at the moment of suffering, the only thing we could do was to stay with him… without a camera. Because of that, they told us our attitude was too casual. We committed ourselves to helping him, but at the same time we had not been able to do our job as filmmakers. At that time, Mr Tanaka Yutaka died. We had already filmed him. He had lost a foot as a result of a work accident. After this accident, he had started drinking. He drank too much. We made friends with each other, and he often came to our room for a drink. We knew it wasn’t a good idea to drink with him ; but if we didn’t drink with him, he would have gone to a bar. It sure was a bad idea to encourage him to drink. I objectively hurt him, even if he was the one who wanted to drink. For a long time, I tried to find a way to do something for him. Then he died. He had broken his artificial leg ; he walked with a crutch and fell on the street. He was transported to the Nomura hospital where he died. For five days, we didn’t have any news. When he disappeared, we and all his friends went looking for him. On the fifth day, we were notified Yutaka had been cremated. What a shock it was! With none of his friends there to close his eyes, he had been cremated without any notification! We were certain we had to shoot this story in order to fulfil a duty. So we filmed the reactions of the residents, bit by bit. First, they gathered to hold a funeral for Mr Tanaka. That was the first time something like that happened in Kotobuki. Tatsu, a young man from the neighbourhood, came up with the idea. We took part in the preparation of the ceremony while filming: preparing the incense sticks, a Buddha shrine and Tanaka’s picture. All this time we filmed everything in great detail, with a lot of attention to the event. A lot happened during the funeral… Mr Kubo was the one who gave him the crutch. Yutaka’s death was a serious blow to him. He said: “I have killed him. He would not have been dead. He would have stayed in and waited for his artificial leg.” He was mad with grief. Mr Shimura yelled at him in front of the shrine: “Don’t be sentimental!” We filmed it. He said: “You’re not the only one to mourn his death. Regret gets us nowhere. It’s in the past. We need to try and forget it.”
He continued, “I never understand you. I don’t understand feelings without a positive goal. What’s the use of torturing yourself?” Mr Kubo replied, “What else can I do?” We filmed everything. And this shoot showed us the way. Ideology was gone. It was the first time we had our gaze focused on reality. Reality emerged during the preparation of the funeral.
You Who I Am Filming, You Are Influenced by Me Who’s Filming You The idea arose to hold a funeral together. Tatsu was the one who came up with it. We were able to imagine how they would respond. Mr Kubo was against it and said: “It doesn’t get us anywhere.” Tatsu persevered with his view. We thought Mr Kubo had to explain his opinion and that Tatsu couldn’t decide anything without taking this opinion into account. So, they needed to talk. We told Mr Kubo: “That’s what Tatsu thinks, and what about you? You need to tell him that he doesn’t need to be so self-righteous and that he needs to look at reality. You need to talk to him.” And we asked Tatsu: “What do you think?” We talked to both of them. We made them talk to each other. The mise-en-scène wasn’t ideal, but we were able to clearly understand the situation, everyone’s task and role…
The Relationship Between Filmed Persons Is Influenced by the Images and the Sound Captured The funeral passed without any problems. Two days after that, Ms Irikura Masako, an alcoholic, fell from the stairs and died. Another dead person. It hurt us a lot. The residents of the neighbourhood crashed completely. But, again, it was decided to hold a funeral for this lady. When Mr Kubo, Mr Shimura and Tatsu were drinking and keeping watch over the lady’s coffin, they started a discussion. We filmed it. Mr Kubo stated the problem: “What’s the use of these funerals? While we are doing this, someone else is dying. What to do?” Shimura and Tatsu asked him to explain: “But what
else can you do? You are always such a pessimist. First you need to act.” Kubo: “Of course. I don’t do anything. But Shimura, what have you changed in this neighbourhood with your activities of the last eight or nine years? What has fundamentally changed?” Shimura: “What you’re saying doesn’t prove anything. Everyone needs to start acting.” Kubo: “Yes, of course, but there is something else.” Mr Kubo raised the issue of the people who are unable to recover. There was no hope for those who were unable to get social aid. Their faces turned black and thin and they died of cirrhosis, vomiting brown gastric juices. There were many of them, but we couldn’t help them. We could only record their discussions. It was useless, but it was all we could do as filmmakers. So we had the obligation of sharing their burden. By sharing it, we hoped to answer them. We sincerely looked for an answer, and that was our role. We ourselves wanted to find an answer to the question Mr Kubo raised and was unable to really clarify. For a month, we looked for the answer, and then we went and filmed the Hamako bistro.
We wanted to show them in our film what was impossible to explain in words: “We must stand together” or “Let us all share our heavy burdens”. Through our film, we wanted to clarify what Mr Kubo had wanted to say. We interfered in the human relationships of the people from this neighbourhood through the rushes and the films we’d already made, and then hoped their movement would manifest itself. The film the residents loved is not only a film of memories, but more… It’s also a film in which they find everything that they’ve taught us, but also what we have reproduced… We responded with what we found to be new. That was our hope. Another image of Kotobuki, the one we found. It was not the same image as that of Mr Kubo, or that of Mr Shimura, or of Tatsu. It was solely ours. We intervened with our image in order to animate their human relations.
What did we find after shooting the bistro scene? We, too, were unable to clarify it. Maybe… For the residents of the neighbourhood, the days around New Year’s Day, when there was no work to be done, when the hospitals and the social services were closed, were the most awful days. On New Year’s Day they needed to survive. I was sure we would find a dynamic. We wanted to film the process by participating in it.
Interview conducted by Kouni Kazuhiko, published in the magazine Bijutsu Techo (December 1974). Translated by Sis Matthé
Rice Production, the Village of Furuyashiki and the People in the Film Ogawa Pro, 1981 The summer of 1980. Cold air from the Pacific hits all the islands of Japan. Furuyashiki, a small village in the Zaō mountains, is no exception. In Furuyashiki, “cold air” is called “shiro-minami” (“shiro” means “white” and “minami” means “south”). As this local expression suggests, whitish air flows from the southeast side of the mountain range down to the village, and then the temperature in the village quickly drops. Inue Shogezo, one of the villagers, says: “The shiro-minami has hit us very often since the coldweather damage Tōhoku suffered in 1934.”
sort of folding screen. The cold air flowing over these mountains brings along the cold from a height of 1000 to 1500 metres. The air from the lower heights of around 600 or 700 metres is unable to get across the mountains. Nonetheless, in Shimo-Minamizawa the cold air comes from two different places, from across the mountains and from a somewhat lower location. Where does the cold air come from? “From right over there! It flows right across this pass towards Shimo-Minamizawa!” The camera shows the joy and excitement about the discovery, which for a moment makes them forget the threatening cold air.
On 31 August, at two in the afternoon, the camera captures the blooming of the rice. There are no signs that a surge of cold air is imminent. One moment later, however, the camera shows that there has been no blooming in any of the rice plants.
Next, the team discovers the cause of this year’s successful rice crop in the fields of Komatsugura, even though it is right next to the totally ruined rice field. Then another discovery: the small mass of cold air coming from a small piece of marshland.
At the beginning of October, the film crew meets Hanaya Yoshio, who is removing the unripe rice ears. Hit by the shiro-minami, the rice plants here in Shimo-Minamizawa have died. Subsequently, Yoshio and the Ogawa Productions’ staff team up to start experiments with cold air.
Besides the rice production, the camera captures the geography and climate of Furuyashiki. Then it pans down towards the soil. It shows the soil of the totally ruined rice fields of Shimo-Minamizawa. As Joshyo puts it: the soil would be good for rice production if the cold air did not surround the village. Nevertheless, the camera unexpectedly discovers an accumulated iron layer that no one has ever seen and is apparently very similar to the ones found in old rice fields. This time, the team builds a model of the soil layers and exchanges ideas about why the iron has accumulated
First, they manufacture a relief map of Furuyashiki and then they let dry ice flow over it, which is similar to the cold air. In the southeast part of the village, there are mountains of over 1000 metres that form a
here and how it affects the rice. An expression of awareness appears on the faces of the team members. The camera pointed towards the soil now turns to what is happening above the ground. It is already late autumn and the 1980 rice harvest is over. But the village is still there and the villagers live on, as always. With fossils of marine mussels coming from the hills behind her house in her lap, Mie is talking about the past, about her trip to Tokyo at the end of the 1920s, which she decided to take when she realized “not all places in Japan are like this infertile village”, about how profitable charcoal burning in the village was when she was young and her capacity to work was still intact, about the female fire fighters, who protected the village during the day, when the men were at work in the mountains. She also talks about the women in a photograph, who lived when there were only eighteen families in the village. A road that connects the village with the city. It was Kiichiro’s dream to bring “modernization” to the village through this paved, convenient road. In fact, it led the villagers out of the village. Meanwhile, there is a road everyone calls “Owari Kaido”. Wari, one of the women from the village, has been going up and down this mountain road for forty years with a heavy load on her back, huffing and puffing. On this slope, she experienced the miracle of her lifetime: a beautiful woman unexpectedly appearing. The “Owari Kaido” is the road for all the villagers who work in the fields and the mountains. The winter of 1980. Hanaya Hiroshi, the only charcoal burner left in Furuyashiki, is at work in the snow-covered mountains. He tells the camera team: “I prefer working for the oven over working for a human being.” And he shows us how he burns the hakutan charcoal according to the traditional village recipe. Chiu, Hiroshi’s mother, shows us the official letters that notify her about the death of her two sons, Chokichi and Takuya, during the war. For a long time, she has carefully kept the letters. “An honourable death.” Chiu’s two sons died on Saipan and in the Philippines, where the history of the Second World War saw its bloodiest battlefields. In fact, Chiu’s
family ancestors have built a monument for the peace of the dead. Around 1870, five generations earlier, the Yokichis gave up their traditional activity (bear hunting), built this monument and left behind family expressions to their descendants with the following content: “Do not touch guns!” That’s what Hirosho tells us, who became the head of the family after the loss of his two brothers. The monument is still standing by the road and contains the history of a village family, cut up and crossed, mixed with the history of the country… and then… The spring of 1981. The village’s traditional silkworm rearing begins. Hanaya Sada, the hard-working grandmother of one of the village families, is hard at work on the silkworms. Her family is one of the “second-line” families. She has helped her husband and worked her entire life so as to assume her “offshoot” responsibilities and to “revive” her family. Through arduous labour, they acquired a field in a village without cold-air damage, but it was lost “because of [American general] MacArthur”, which remains the biggest sorrow of her life. Kumazō is the head of the family’s third generation. Early 1932, the year after Japan’s colonization of Manchuria, Kumazō, then a twenty-year-old ordinary-rank soldier, was sent to Manchuria, the land of his dreams. But it was the beginning of the family’s involvement in the Second World War ; and when he finally returned from the war, he was already 36. He is quietly feeding the silkworms with mulberry leaves… Suzuki Tokuzō arrives in the village unexpectedly. He is a surviving soldier of the battle of New Guinea. He says that only 800 of the 12,000 soldiers sent there came home alive. “I believe that the only thing I can do for the peace of the war dead is to keep the memory of the war and my participation in it alive,” Suzuki says. To prove his belief, he is always carrying his war trumpet. The melody of his desire for peace on earth, which he plays on his trumpet, reverberates in the village. The village sent nine men from its eight families to the war, and three of them died with honour. Hanaya Kiichiro was called to war when he was 36, in the prime of his manhood. He was the head of the family. Even though he was only gone for a short time, his family suffered immense damage. For whom and for what was the war fought?
Production still “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (1982)
Kiichiro’s grandfather Hanaya Mantarō was also known as Mantarō Hanabi (“Hanabi” means “fireworks”). When the silkworm rearing brought prosperity to the village and the villagers became “newly rich” towards the end of the nineteenth century, they set off fireworks in the sky above the village. Kisa can still picture the fireworks she saw as a little girl.
focuses on the women’s fingers steadily moving over the white cocoons. The mood is cheerful, they are singing… Wari, known for the “Owari Kaido”, is there and helps them.
Kimura Chiu takes official treasury bonds from a Buddhist shrine and shows them to us. She got them from the government as a gift for her son-inlaw Tomekichi, who died on the island of Attu. But she says how helpful it would have been if she had gotten them earlier, when her family was in need ; now they are worthless. “I now believe that both Tomekichi’s death and the money that was offered for his honourable death were dedicated to the country, but I will never forget the August days of 1945, when I learned that the emperor had surrendered,” she adds.
In the evening, Wari heads home on one of the village roads. The wind picks up and the leaves of the trees rustle. It echoes off the mountains, the swamp mumbles… as if human voices were singing in unison.
In Chiu’s house, the cocoon harvest from the silkworm rearing is processed in festive joy. The camera
She is singing a song she often sang in the past. Chiu is laughing a lot.
Today, on 3 July 1981, at four in the afternoon, the shiro-minami flows back to Furuyashiki.
Published in Informationsblatt (Berlin: 14. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, 1984). Translated by Sis Matthé
Living Like a Peasant Among Peasants An Interview with Ogawa Shinsuke Andrée Tournès, 1984
Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village] is a sort of sequel to Ogawa’s films about the peasant struggle against Narita Airport. Impressed by the peasants’ peaceful courage, Ogawa has the feeling this courage originates in their lives, but his first attempts at describing village life turn out to be superficial. He then contacts the peasants from Kaminoyama ; they refuse to talk about themselves: “Peasants work and live. That’s all. Only their existence has a meaning. Come and work the land with us. We have a plot of land and a house for you.” The Ogawa group takes up the challenge and settles in Kaminoyama by living off their own rice production. They develop a first project on the production of rice, researching the degradation of the crop. The group continues its research in the mountains of Furuyashiki and discovers that only eighteen men are still living there, “people with ideas”. The group then decides to concentrate the film on the elderly of Furuyashiki. What’s left of the abandoned film is a one-hour documentary on rice harvest and the discovery of the causes of the decline in production. Then, the first story intervenes, the story of Mie and her fossil mussel found on the mountaintop.
Among her memories: the group of firewomen. What follows are Kiichiro’s stories and his disillusionment when the new road serves as a way to empty the village of its youth. Wari, Hiroshi, his mother, Chiu, and Kumazō are at first faces filmed in long fixed shots, then silhouettes that repeat ancient gestures for the filmmaker: Wari going into the woods where she once met an unknown woman ; the construction of a wood oven by Hiroshi, who preferred serving the oven instead of a boss. Slow gestures of hands unfolding a piece of cloth in which photographs of the sons that were killed in the Philippines are tucked away ; a little show by Kumazō and his trumpet, telling the story of a life and of a people, from the adolescent ripped away from his land for military rituals to the shame of being the only survivor of a massacre, which he eases by playing for every birthday of each of the deceased. Four hours of film, the result of ten years of cohabitation between the filmmakers and the villagers ; all of life, old age and memories, all of Japan captured in the microcosm of the men and women of Furuyashiki. A major filmmaker rendering, through the rigour of his art and the patient attention of his gaze, the overwhelming proximity of the human condition. Andrée Tournès
How did you become a filmmaker? In 1966, I made my first film, Seinen no umi [Sea of Youth], but we didn’t get a chance to show the film in regular theatres, so we felt we needed an organization and founded the production group Ogawa, which is very important, not so much for the shooting of the films, but rather for the distribution. Was that already a political film? Yes, but not as explicitly as the next ones, because in 1966 there was no student movement yet. So, in a sense, it was a prophetic film. The big movement started in 1967-1968. Was your primary motivation cinema or politics? You could say that I discovered politics through cinema. Were you part of the student movement? I participated in the struggles of the 1950s against the treaty between the United States and Japan. I was in Tokyo. What O¯ shima is talking about in Nihon no yoru to kiri [Night and Fog in Japan] happened in Kyoto. How did you choose the eight peasants you show? There were only ten peasants, two of which were part of a religious Japanese sect that forbade them to be filmed. They refused to be filmed by me, not the other way around. How did you succeed in breathing life into the entire village through individual stories? The village is made up of each peasant and their neighbours. I chose to show them separately, one after the other. All together, they paint a picture of the village. It’s an old technique. Nowadays, sociologists try to understand the village as an entity. I believe we need to understand every peasant individually as a person. In order to do that, you need to know their living conditions, their work, the climate, the water, the sun. That’s why we started by showing the issue of the rice.
Each of the stories filmed in fixed shots is extraordinarily rich. Have you re-edited, recut, regrouped them? Every peasant told us a certain number of stories. We reproduced some of them, but not always in their entirety. When there was something that needed cutting, I showed everything we had shot to the peasants, who sat in front of the screen and watched the footage with us. They discussed it and said: “That’s what we’re going to keep.” There are very intense moments in which emotions suddenly arise. For example, the moment in which the trumpet player has just finished a funny show and is overtaken by memories and emotions. How did this spontaneity and perfection come about? I don’t like to approach things directly. The words of the peasants are always very different. Eventually they rephrase their own story in a way that is somewhat different from their first story. That’s the important part. What kind of equipment did you have to film the fire inside of the oven from the inside? We had four cameras: a French camera, a Bolex, a Bell Howell and a very small 16 m m one. It was so hot inside of the oven that the lens got damaged and turned blurry. How do you work as a team? I handle the camera and sometimes also the sound. We have a crew of twelve people and we’ve been working together for twenty years, so there’s not much to discuss. What matters is living together, drinking and eating together with the peasants. And I’m a good cook… Did you contact the peasants collectively or one by one? First together, then one by one. They are people. The first one I contacted was my neighbour. We didn’t film him, but he wrote the poem at the end. We lived with them and we even found a new way of growing rice. Several of them started writing poems.
Production still “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (1982)
Did you have any specific problems with the women?
Are there any Ogawas in the making?
When a stranger arrives in the village, he first meets the children, then the elderly, women or men, then the wives and only at the end the husbands. They are all old in de the village. We didn’t encounter any difficulties.
In my own production team, I have young people of 25 or 30 years old who will continue.
In the future, are you going to stick to the approach of grasping the real through individuals or do you envision a more synthetic approach? For me, there’s no difference between following one single peasant and covering the totality of Japan’s problems. If I follow someone on a deep enough level, I can show the totality of Japan’s problems. I will not change my style. Through individuals, I give an overall view.
Published in Jeune Cinéma, 159 (June 1984). Translated by Sis Matthé
The Relationship Between Seeing and Not Seeing
“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village (1982)
Ogawa Shinsuke, 1986
Film is something you can see, isn’t it? You cannot capture things you cannot see and turn them into film. Why is Urutora ai [Ultra Eye] 1 boring? Actually no, while you’re watching it, it’s amusing. But, immediately after, you forget about it. In the end, it’s because they show something you cannot see, but which has been designed so that you would be able to see it. Film, on the other hand, shows what cannot be seen only through images of what can be seen.
The way we have edited it today, the moment we jump from one shot to another, what do people then feel when they see that? They intensely feel our burgeoning gaze and our point of view of closely observing the rice.
For example, let’s take the scene we edited today, the scene just before the title sequence. First you see the “blooming of the rice plant” in a rice field, followed by the “fertilization of the rice”. It means that we jump from one thing to another. While the “fertilization” is shot indoors with a camera fixed to a microscope, the preparation of the shot is omitted, and we are instantly shown just the result. But suppose that, after the “blooming” shot, another image was inserted of naked stamens being placed upon a microscope slide, onto which pollen is sprinkled with the words “Ready, start”, then in all likelihood the spectator would understand that this is how the fertilization of the rice was filmed. And if “fertilization” then occurs, it becomes merely an explanatory shot, namely, a “result”, and all charm is lost. The spectators will be bored.
We see the sequence with the succession of scenes “blooming to fertilization” through the point of view of cameraman Tamura [Masaki]. But in reality we cannot see “the fertilization taking place” in his eyes. Because that is precisely something that is in the mind of Tamura. But the spectators see it as something that Tamura is seeing right now. And that way, what becomes visible at that moment is the passing of time Tamura feels there. In other words, the light there, the heat, the smell of heaped up rice plants.
Film is something in which you are continually shown something, isn’t it? People who watch films each understand the images from their own point of view, translating them into their own time. That’s why cutting down or omitting an image sometimes means to betray the point of view of the spectator. To align this idea with the example above, you see the blooming of the rice plant in the rice field and if that subsequently shifts to the appearance of the fertilization shot with the microscope camera, I think nobody would have foreseen that.
1 Very successful non-specialist scientific television series
made and hosted by Yamakawa Shizuo between 1978 and 1986.
Things like the feelings or the concentration when we were continuously observing the rice plants in the rice fields aren’t “something you can see”, are they?
If an image of the different phases had been inserted, then the “invisible” wouldn’t come across for the people watching it. Because then the whole process would come to a halt with a scene that merely explains it. And that is exactly what Ultra Eye becomes. This time I want to make a film that from beginning to end approaches “things you cannot see” through “things you can see”. The editing that starts tomorrow will be with the scenes in which we follow “rice plant – field” the whole time. While working on these scenes, we will also address “the two stories of the Horikiri shrine” [for the Goddess of Mercy]. Just now, when I looked at the rushes of tomorrow’s part after the title sequence (today we mainly edited the scene before the title “summer – blooming” and tomorrow we plan to edit “autumn – quantity of the harvest” and “winter – our field”), I thought that if we would link it to “our field”, it would be the same as in Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village]. I feel that I now start seeing the difference between “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village and this film. In “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village, the explanatory scenes are mostly situated in the first half of the film. There we present “the frost damage” by repeating successive images. It is persuasive, but there are parts that
compel the viewer to show patience. I’m not saying that’s bad, I just want to convey a different, lighter way of telling a story, right down to the last detail, this time.
another, that would really be a failure. But if it goes well, we could present the exact existential sensation of the mass of soil of our one rice field as it is to the people who watch the film.
So I think that we shouldn’t follow the order (every layer of soil, soil analysis, ground analysis, etc. of all the research sites A-B-C-AA) for “our field” as well and that we shouldn’t follow the whole process and link everything together, but that a bold jump is necessary, like taking site A and site AA as representative for all the sites in “our field”. Or what if we were to place the scene of “our field”, filmed indoors using an illustration in the episode “research of the groundwater level”, after the scene when the snow suddenly falls and a sharp wind blows and in which Mikado [Sadatoshi] and Iizuka [Toshio] both are blown away when they walk on the field.
I think that the sequence of “rice plant – field”, that we are going to edit in its entirety starting tomorrow, will go smooth ; “the image that uses the picture” will come in the middle, and if it works out, it will be a bridge and it could come within “the two stories of the Horikiri shrine”, starting with Mr Satake. That moment may heavily disturb the gaze of the spectator. But maybe because of that jump, he or she will probably suddenly sense the rice field profoundly.
That scene, first of all evoking “the origins of our field”, begins with a picture of the rice field of long, long ago, and subsequently there are colourful images of “our field” on numerous screens, right? There, using diagrams with cel overlay 2 of the successive years 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979, using pictures of the sites of the events, and using numbers indicated on the pictures, what comes across is the research into the state of the water drainage, the analysis of the relationship between the water drainage and the quantity of the harvest, the improvement of the water drainage by digging ditches, etc. There, the sense that we have started to consider the soil as our partner comes across.
That is what was especially difficult today when we edited the main roll, because I think that, by inserting scenes in that way, all the different methods of this work are present. We didn’t use one image or cut in an explanatory way. But it should actually still be an explanation. We should have well made “visible” the “invisible things” that we experienced while closely observing the rice plants.
Seeing the scientific methods that enter into this – research, analysis, overall insight – with our own eyes, we could also say that we uncover one rice field. One rice field is nothing more than one heap of soil. But it is a lot of things. We are not going to explain everything successively, but rather pull it apart and uncover it. We are not going to amass but omit images.
Of course, even the image of “our field” on the picture, depending on how we use it, could only amount to an image of us merely explaining our rice field. If the image doesn’t unfold, when we jump from one cut to
Not published. Ogawa in Magino, personally told to the crew on 21 February 1986, during the editing of Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story].
Translated by Elias Grootaers, Britt Stuckens, Geert van Bremen and Ingeborg Verplancke
A technique also used in manga and anime.
Documentary’s Sense of Reality Ogawa Shinsuke, 1987
I think Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village] is basically an interview film. That’s what I thought to myself. We’ve been using this form since Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku [Sanrizuka – Heta Village]. What we wanted to try to do in “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village is to scientifically analyze rice. So far that hasn’t been shown in a film. The story of the women is entirely an interview. That’s why the structure is clear, right? That is because we were involved with the villagers over a period of only two to three years. Perhaps the single part that stands out is the segment about the charcoal burner. That part is not an interview, right? Because the people in Furuyashiki who burn charcoal had disappeared, our crew, including our photographer Tamura Masaki, had no other choice than help with the burning of charcoal. Although it was a short period of about three years, time was concentrated thanks to this mutual labour, and this resulted in a powerful experience of time.
Let me give you a concrete example. Because it is a short shot, most people will probably not notice it. But there’s a scene in the mountains in which the charcoal burner throws down wood from a snow-covered slope. This is very dangerous. And if you would be hit, you would die. Yet Tamura’s camera didn’t use a telephoto lens. Because it’s so dangerous, you would normally stand on the other side and shoot the scene with a zoom lens ; but he shot the wood tumbling down the slope with a close lens, from below, resembling the perspective of a human eye. The question is how that was possible. Without their closely shared experience of time, I don’t think the charcoal burner would have allowed the cameraman to stand in that position, as it would be dangerous. If he would have been there with his wife, he would have allowed her to stand there, as she would know exactly where the safe spots are. In other words, considering the position of the charcoal burner, the direction in which the wood is thrown, and the confidence he gained through three years of experience, Tamura sits on
the snow-covered mountain slope with his camera, knowing that no wood is coming his way, even in the worst of cases. And as the charcoal burner knows well that Tamura has gained this knowledge, he can feel at ease throwing the wood. That’s the kind of relationship it is. When the locals see this kind of shot, they immediately understand. Even if it seems a bit gratuitous, it was a very important position for us. Until now I have filmed everything synchronously. And what was very interesting this time, while making Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story], is that I mostly refrained from doing that. We often add sound in the studio ; we call that foley. The scenes of the rice plants are almost entirely created that way. Because we thought it was frightening, we couldn’t do that at the time of “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village. That film was entirely synchronous. When you no longer know what to do while editing, you can justify it with synchronously recorded sounds from the moment of shooting. Filmmakers probably won’t say that so often, but strangely enough you partly feel more secure when working with synchronously recorded sounds. I have been doing that for more than twenty years on the editing table and, like piled up rubbish, I somewhere started to have doubts. And when this time I listened to the sound we recorded synchronously with a one-point microphone, it was certainly not the sound we had actually heard in the rice fields. While using a microphone the orientation and the recording angle are extremely limited. It is more severe than with a lens. When you shoot with a standard lens close to the human eye, you end up with something more or less close to reality, right? Such standard microphones also exist, but you end up with a totally different sound. Many strange things occur ; the dynamic of the sound goes missing, the close sounds enter much louder and the distant sounds disappear, and so on. In reality, our ear is hearing and organizing many sounds at the same time. This means that while working, you are also orchestrating your own sound with a certain sense of direction. I started to realize that you can’t record all that with a one-point microphone, and so with the sound engineers Kubota Yukio and Kikuchi Nobuyuki – and Tamura was there too – we finally created all the
sound in the studio. Everything, including the sound of the bus passing by in the distance. Those aren’t the real sounds at all. But strangely enough, when the film was screened in the meeting place of the community of Kaminoyama for more than 2000 people, they told me that, of all my films, it felt the most real. We had brought along real soil from the field and added water from the tap to make it soggy and so on. We had brought along rice plants and planted them, we let the sound of the bus run in the distance, we placed the chirps of the birds in off, and so on. We could do all that because we had documented the rice field for such a long time. That’s why the re-enactment is flawless ; I can only affirm that it is a document that is constructed with the real sounds of the time we were working there. Our bodies have surely remembered them and, when I think of it, it’s really what we wanted to capture, the whole time we have been filming. In other words, it’s not just a question of merely creating, it was a process of nearly thirteen years to know what reality really is. A process of thinking wrongly, being deceived, many trails and errors, during which sounds, impressions and several stories had seeped into the physiology of the body. That is what I call document. It’s not having a theme in mind and setting a storyline in motion. It’s what has been remembered from all those days for over ten years in the depth of the physiology of the body. That was something we hadn’t been able to convey very well in the sound. In “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village we only had one microphone on a boom, but if we would have used the method we’re using now then we would have been more free. It’s not that we are caught in the dispute between fiction and non-fiction, it’s the memory that resides in the human body. That is document. That is how this film has come into being, I think. Everything revolved around the axis of the time that our bodies harboured. Or maybe it was the space of the village that was carved into our bodies. The people of the village are bound by the time of the daily clock. If you bear that kind of time on a daily basis, you can’t really live, can you? But on the other hand, there is that other time flowing surely and accurately. That’s why it’s not at all wrong to say that this film is a document of the village. In documentary film the experience of reality strongly manifests itself. That is definitely an important element of documentary film,
Production still The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story (1986)
but whatever is captured in the body will once be able to unlock the power that binds reality. Perhaps that is why it can bestow an even more amazing power upon the sense of reality in a documentary. The way in which we have made our documentary has generated our own original document, and from that we receive the urge to make the following documentary. It’s as though we have come to distinguish a certain liberty, and perhaps reality is less realistic than it is liberating. You can also do it in a dramatized film, but I want to do it in documentary films. If things that roam freely become fettered by a reality called film, this will also – perversely – put a restriction upon us. That’s what I feel. The crew probably as well. Tamura and the others moved around very freely this time, I think many people will certainly pay attention to the camera work in the rice fields, etc. Also abroad he is looked upon with admiration and it is said he is
perfect, but that is the result of cultivating and closely observing rice plants for seven years, right? That is also reflected in his work on the film of Yanagimachi Mitsuo, but it’s not only just an innate sensitivity ; from the moment that we started to work on the documentary film, he freely moved around with the camera and he freely conveys the true feelings of the people who work there, the beauty and joy of the moment of creation when working. That’s what I did this time, and I became free.
Extracts from an interview published in Gekkan Image Form (June 1987). The interview was conducted by Takashi Nakajima on 7 April 1987. Translated by Stoffel Debuysere, Elias Grootaers, Yuichiro Onuma, Britt Stuckens, Geert van Bremen and Ingeborg Verplancke
The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story (1986)
Documenting the Heart and Soul of the People Who Tell Stories Ogawa Shinsuke, 1987 The farmers who have appeared in our films, up until now, primarily told stories in response to our questions in interviews ; that was the filming method we used. In Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story] we didn’t use this form at all. In this film the farmers talk about nothing else than their own matters and, nevertheless, they are sufficiently conscious that every “character” performs a “character”. 52
When we were caught up in trying to grasp all the words used for rice, we were complete outsiders for the villagers. And for us, they were also semi strangers. At the time, we could have made a film in the form of an interview in Maginomura [Magino Village]. However, by the time we set up our cameras in front of the villagers, ten years had passed since we had come to the village and we knew the personality of every villager through and through. We had heard their “stories” dozens of times. For their part, they
sufficiently understood that we were knowledgeable of various matters. So how did we do it then? Let me give you the example of the opening scene after the intermission: the story of the Mountain Goddess. We had already heard this story many times before from our main character Yasushi, and because of that I couldn’t insolently ask again: “Well, Yasushi, tell us about when the Sun God was dug up from the field.” So which method did we use? We asked for advice: “Yasushi, we think it would be interesting to film that story, but from which point in the story do you think it would be the most interesting to start telling it?” And then Yasushi said: “You are right,” and he thought as hard as he could about a narrative and script that were the most appropriate to express his feelings. We made the scene in which the farmers perform themselves entirely with this kind of method: the villagers and we would bring up “ideas” and discuss them between ourselves ; and while we grew closer to one another, we made the film. We didn’t want a reproduction of the story per se, but we wanted to document the heart and soul of the people who tell these stories. Now I will talk about the story within the story that is contained in this film. These events really happened to the ancestors of Magino. Of old, they were passed down, orally or through books that were read from generation to generation. And with the passing of time, several layers of feelings and thoughts of each villager from every generation were superimposed upon them and, before one knows, it is the story that is conveyed today. And that’s why, in these stories that every villager knows, there is an essence that becomes stronger as the stories are transformed into theatre ; and precisely that, through all generations, touches a nerve with the majority of the villagers and continually revives the image of the ancestors. That is the motive behind these stories. Here, too, we wanted to document how the villagers felt towards these stories, the impressions of the current villagers, and thereby also their current heart and soul.
As a point of departure to allow these feelings to merge with one another, we provided a screenplay. And we constructed a stage as a set for a dramatized film, as a place to allow this enthusiasm to well up. The farmers of Magino who assembled there each assumed a “role” charged with feelings towards the events of the ancestors, or closely observed the “play”. They weren’t spectators, they were all participants in the “play”. This air of great excitement and tension also enveloped the participating actors from outside of the village, who were famous in Japan. What’s more, the place where the play was performed was the place where the real events had occurred. For the costumes and the props, the people from the village searched for things that the ancestors had left behind in storehouses and that were connected with the events that were performed. I will give three examples of this. For instance, the document with which the magistrate confronts the leader of the peasant revolt as burden of proof is the original document that the peasant leader had written and signed himself. The kimonos and the footwear that Naka and the other women wear in the “story of the beggar” were selected from wardrobes by women of the village whose mothers and grandmothers, who had known Naka and the other women, had left them behind. And their hairdos, of course. The women of the village really meticulously paid attention to everything, down to the smallest detail, even as far as the smallest objects like a little purse that’s in fact never seen on screen because it is hidden in an obi [sash]. That way, the story within the story lived on in the very place of the events. The result is that we didn’t merely re-enact the story, but that we arrived at documenting the current heart and soul of the people who tell stories. From the interview published in Informationsblatt (Berlin: 17. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, 1987). The interview was conducted by Regula König in the office of Ogawa Productions in Tokyo on 9 January 1987. A part of the second half of that interview was extracted in the form of an account. Translated by Elias Grootaers, Britt Stuckens and Ingeborg Verplancke
The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story An Interview with Ogawa Shinsuke Regula König, 1987 “Together with the crew of Ogawa Productions, I have lived for thirteen years on a farm in the northeast of Japan. The reason for this was to track down the basic foundations that form the world of ideas and feelings of the Japanese. For the Japanese, rice has been the staple food for 2000 years. But not just that: the rice production has had a big influence on customs and traditions and on the perception of the environment. We have shot this film in the small village of Magino, while growing rice, constantly preoccupied with the issue of Japan, of the Japanese.” Ogawa Shinsuke
The Background of the Film… The motivation behind this film dates as far back as the time when we were shooting a series of documentaries on the resistance movement of the farmers against the construction of the international airport of Narita. That was twenty years ago. Unexpectedly, without any debate, the government had decided on its construction, in an area which extensively contributed to providing the consumerist city of Tokyo with its food. It was met with fierce resistance
from the side of the farmers, which we captured over the course of eight years, while living in the small village ourselves, in a series of seven documentaries. The longer we were living among the peasants and recording their struggle in different forms, the more we had the desire to get to know not just their visible actions but also the peasants themselves and their private lives, in which we felt a whole world of customs, traditions and environmental characteristics would be reflected, in addition to their personal stories. An extremely difficult issue. We were outsiders, or even worse, people from the city, surrounded by artificiality, who had completely lost the feeling for the diversity of other life forms and our relation to nature. Only close cohabitation with the peasants and the learning of work in the fields could show us the way to their essence. But was that even possible? In the midst of these considerations – at the time our Narita films were screened in the most diverse regions of Japan – peasants from the Yamagata prefecture offered to provide us with a house and a field in Magino, if we were really serious about it. That is how far their understanding of our cause went!
Magino is an ordinary farming village. Daily life is laced with old customs and attitudes that have shaped its history and geographical identity. That is how we landed in Magino thirteen years ago. Our journey into the “inner world” began.
“Hearing the Voices of the Plants” We were not preoccupied with the rice production because rice is the traditional staple food of the Japanese. Any work would have been welcome: cattle or pig breeding, wheat or fruit production. It was a mere coincidence that Magino produced rice and fruit and that we were given a rice field. Our first goal was to capture the plants as if they were “living beings”. Of course, we had no idea about the technology. There were no predecessors that we could follow in order to acquire the production methods in a natural way. We, as city dwellers, were incapable of “hearing the voices of the rice plants”, as it is called in the local vernacular. The expression is used to refer to the people who have acquired their production skills through years of experience and are, thus, able to capture the essence of the plants. We did not want to draw on written knowledge, but we wanted to learn through confrontation in practice. The problems that arose were discussed with the peasants. It took us three to four years before we somehow had a grip on the cultivation of the rice. We experienced our field as a vast universe, which we researched enthusiastically with scientific methods, microscopes, and test tubes. For ten years, we recorded daily meteorological data. We became aware of the enormous influence of rain, wind, sun and temperatures on plant growth. The slightest, hardly perceptible change could be fatal. We have ten hours of film footage about our analyses, of which only a small part was used in Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story]. As I have already mentioned, for us it was about recording the living conditions of the plants, their “voices”.
For example, you always see the same landscape in the film (albeit in different seasons and moods). The camera placed in the rice field always looks in the same direction, to the west, from where weather changes arrive. The image does not run at the regular speed (24 frames per second), but according to a highly compressed timing: dark clouds agglomerate ominously above our heads, a heavy milky snow front is quickly approaching… All these images are recorded from the perspective of and according to the time of the rice plants. Their life span is only six months, from April to September, which is very short if we compare it to the life span of human beings. Hence the time compression. Time compression. And, also, a wide range of times ; because in this small place, different periods, some of them going back 4500 years, continue to exist, whether through myths that have survived, beliefs, customs or finds from long-lost times… So our approach was based on practical experiences and scientific methods. At first, the peasants, shaking their heads, wondered about our activities. Gradually, however, when they saw the results of our measurements, such as those of the drainage of a certain place in the field, their attitude changed. At first just once, but then more regularly, peasants came to us, wanted to see slides of our analyses, inquired about data, asked us to research the soil conditions of their fields… Word spread, more and more peasants came to talk and our hitherto limited circle of friends expanded. It was strange: the moment we believed we could hear the voices of the rice plants, the peasants came to us to talk. Eight more years went by, filled with field labour and stories told by the peasants. So we started filming these episodes very late. We did not want the camera to run as long as the excitement of the new, the enchantment of the unknown was still there. But when acclimatization and routine sneaked in, we started capturing the “sediment” on the bottom, so to speak, the landscapes, the customs that were passed down, the “storytellers” themselves.
56 The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches â€“ The Magino Village Story (1986)
A Documentary Despite Fictional Elements… The film Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village], which we finished in the meantime (in 1982), is quite a scientific approximation of our experiences in Magino and the surrounding area. Until then, we let the peasants speak in front of the camera by way of interviews. In the new film, however, the peasants played themselves. By then we knew the characters, temperaments and “stories” of a couple of people, and we asked them if they wanted to play themselves in front of the camera. After we got past the initial insecurity, we wrote the “screenplay” together, each of us making suggestions which were then thoroughly discussed. For us, what mattered were not the episodes as such, but what was told, the essence reflected in the transposition. As we knew each other well and as there was a relationship of trust between us, there was no reason for them to fear burning their fingers on their self-portrayal and exposure. A problem that is especially delicate when it comes to documentaries.
In this way, we tried not just to revive the stories through acting, but also to keep the documentary element, whether through props and clothes or through the fact that we were portraying the nature of the storytellers themselves.
Postscript When transcribing the interview, I find out that Ogawa and his collaborators are planning a big party and a screening of the film in Magino, the so-called breeding ground of the film. Already for New Year he has screened the film in the village. It is important for him, he believes, that the film is first shown where its roots are and that it is not immediately funnelled into the big city by a huge marketing machine. To each film its own distribution system… This is just a small example of Ogawa’s consistency in defending his cause. Regula König
From various sides, I heard words of praise about the natural, skilled way they were portrayed. I believe it has to do with our mutual trust, maybe also with the way of working. In a sense we “rehearsed for years”. Both “interludes” were performed by professional actors, together with the peasants. We chose the theatre form because it crystallizes the essential, the “essence” in a much clearer way. But the documentary elements are far from absent in that approach. In the story of “Yoki, the beggar”, the women from the village went digging in old trunks for fitting clothes from the Meiji period for Naka, Yoki’s sister, in order to dress her the way she was remembered by some. For the “uprising of the peasants”, the villagers went looking in attics for clothes and props that were left behind by their ancestors. We wrote a screenplay, constructed a stage, the peasants played their roles, but the personal memories of the acts of their ancestors are clearly present. The stage was placed where the uprising had really taken place. The document the governor shoves under the leader’s nose is real, just like the annals the village elder is reading…
From the interview published in Informationsblatt (Berlin: 17. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, 1987). Translated by Sis Matthé
58 The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches â€“ The Magino Village Story (1986)
The Documentary Imprinted Into the Body Fragments from a Conversation Between Ogawa Shinsuke and Photographer Naito- Masatoshi, 1987
In 1987, the director Ogawa Shinsuke and the photographer Naitō Masatoshi held a long conversation on the occasion of the premiere of Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story]. From their respective fields, both occupy an entire chapter in the history of the image in Japan. Naitō Masatoshi, one of the great postwar photographers, was also one of the collaborators of the Ogawa Pro collective and an expert on ancient Japan and on Ogawa’s particular documentary philosophy. The conversation meticulously unravelled the basis of all of Ogawa’s directing decisions and reasons by following the eight chapters into which this monumental film, shot over the course of thirteen years, was divided.
The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story would become the director’s last film – he died in 1992 – and this talk, of which we reproduce an extensive excerpt here, would become one of the most accomplished summaries of the late Ogawa’s cinematographic thought. In 2001 Manzanbekigaki [Red Persimmons] was released, a posthumous film by Ogawa, co-directed by Peng Xiao-lian on the basis of some raw footage shot by Ogawa in 1984-85 and new scenes shot between 1999 and 2000.
So you grabbed hold of the sun. I think that the Ogawa Pro philosophy is reflected there.
Naitō Masatoshi: I think the very title of the film (The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story) says everything about its content. The image of the sun in the first scene is impressive. In films, the horizon normally remains fixed and the sun slowly rises. However, in this film, it’s the other way around. First, we see a dark world and, slowly, the earth falls, the sky comes out, and the sun appears. The sun doesn’t remain fixed, but moves. And the horizon also moves, keeps on falling. In films, we are used to always seeing the sunrise from the static, immobile earth. That’s why this sun scene is very surprising: although, today, even primary-school students know that it is the earth that revolves around the sun – which is known as heliocentrism.
When you work the land, when you work with living organisms, like the rice in this case, you feel the presence of the sun in your back with every step. My real feeling is that the sun is not in front of me, but behind me. In a soft curve of my body, from the back of my head until my back, that’s where I feel the existence of the sun.
On the Sun and Heliocentrism
If we reflect a little on this subject, we realize that we have always seen the scenes of the rising or setting sun from a geocentric point of view: the globe remains fixed, while it is the sun that moves. Paradoxically, by showing the rising sun in a scientifically correct form in a film, we don’t experience it as something real, but quite the opposite, as something mysterious. It seems as if we see the earth from another planet because the sun in that scene is a sun with a cosmological dimension. This film is punctuated by this kind of, in many respects, tremendous effects. I think that the “thousand years” the film refers to is not a normal millennium that takes place in time, through time, with the geocentric sun as its symbol, but a millennium that contains time, condensed and dense. Ogawa Shinsuke: We had been preparing this film for almost thirteen years ; and it wasn’t until the last phase of the shoot, more or less in the spring of 1985, that the presence of the sun took shape. At that point, the problem of how to start the film arose. The moment of ordering a pile of footage and unifying it into one work had arrived. Slowly, the idea of placing a scene that would instantly open our perception and feelings at the beginning of the film gained ground. It also felt as if the film couldn’t begin if we didn’t do this.
In that sense, I have always wanted to get to know the sun. Wanted to watch it. To be honest, in the middle of the shoot we did various images of the sun using a pinhole camera, etc. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied. In the end, we were able to get hold of footage of solar eruptions released by the Palomar Observatory. The crew members watched these images very often. In this footage, the solar surface suddenly moves and, a little while later, repeatedly erupts. It was a close-up image of the sun. When seeing it, I thought that was the substance of the sun. I had the feeling I understood. From that moment on, I felt less like chasing after the sun. It was then that Yamazaki Hiroshi got involved in order to undertake the special sun shoot, wasn’t it? Yamazaki had published a series of fantastic photographs of the sun, taken by opening the camera shutter for hours and using a dark ND filter. He had also directed an experimental film of the sun. That is to say, he is a man who is very passionate about the sun. At that time, I was in Kaminoyama as well. I remember he was working with an equatorial telescope that followed the rotation of the earth. There is something very interesting. In Kaminoyama, when we decided on the date of the test shoot, Yamazaki measured the latitude and said, “On that date, the sun will be exactly there.” 1 1 In Japanese, different verbs are used to express the
existence of objects, animals or persons. In this case, Yamazaki used a verb that is only used for people and animals that are alive and are able to move by themselves. Normally, this kind of verb is not used for stars or planets. Thus, the photographer did not consider the sun an object, but rather a living being that is able to move by itself.
Yes, that way of talking is funny. [laughs] After placing the equatorial in the camera, we entered the data, started the motor, and the camera started filming. The sun still hadn’t risen above the horizon, but we knew its position right across the earth. As I have said earlier, in our daily lives, the sun does not so much exist because we see it, because we watch it, but because we feel it. Even if it’s dark, we always feel it as the substance of the air through temperature, humidity, etc. In Magino, in the beginning we didn’t understand. Over the course of thirteen years, the feeling of the sun was documented (was filmed, was imprinted) into our bodies. I sincerely believe that this is true documentary. Professor Irokawa Daikichi wrote that during the Meiji era (1868-1912), a clockmaker from Hachinohe, in the province of Aomori, called Maehara Torakichi, observed the sunspots every day with his astronomical telescope. He put forward the theory that the cause of the cold, which produced large-scale famine in the south of Tsugaru, was the changing of the sunspots. He was a scientific pioneer of the people. I was suddenly reminded of this episode when I saw the powerful attraction you feel, through rice, towards the sun. From the outset, science is full of dreams and illusions. Before devoting myself to photography, my specialization was chemistry, and that’s why I understand it well. The work of scientists is always attached to a mysterious world, like life or the cosmos. Close to the world of religion as well. When reflecting on the foundation of the information gathered by science, suddenly, instantly, the other world is seen.
From the Infinite to the Microscopic The scene that follows the sun scene is the scene of the blooming and the fertilization of rice. I heard that the image of the fertilization you shot is very rare, even on a global level, and that it also has great value scientifically. The blooming and fertilization scenes are very mysterious and erotic at the same time. When watching them, I have the feeling that rice and human beings are the same living creatures. Someone told me that sequence was peasants’ pornography. [laughs] With respect to the fertilization of the
rice, the people from the village say that, during the fertilization hours, you should not go into the rice field as it is a magical, unplanned moment, a delicate and fragile moment of life. It is related to an intrinsic anxiety, different from that of human morality. It is feared that man’s entry into the process could paralyze the very act. That’s what the anxiety is related to. The act happens in the high-summer sun. From the sun scene, we go to the blooming and the fertilization scenes. That is to say, from the space of the infinite cosmos of the sun to the microscopic world at once. It seems to me that your philosophy is summarized in this movement from universal infinity to the extremely close photography of the smallest, and in the ability to enhance and equate these images. I think that the time between the sun’s infinity and the microscope’s proximity is the time of the village of The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story. We wanted the blooming of the rice to be the thing that was facing the sun from the first scene. That is to say, we have the sun in our backs, but the rice is looking at the sun. The blooming moment happens at the beginning of August, when it’s very hot. During the hottest hours, the farmers take a nap. And when a cooler wind starts to blow, they resume work with force. When the farmers are resting, we, on the other hand, go out into the field to shoot under the ruthless rays of the sun. [laughs] That perfectly and symbolically explains our position. That’s what it means to shoot a film, right? The village of Magino of the city of Kaminoyama, in the Yamagata prefecture, is a village with around 100 families, located in an alluvial fan at 200 metres above sea level. Our stay, for thirteen years, wasn’t without its problems. Although the intention of the people from the village was to welcome us with hospitality, there was a reason why it was difficult. Our attitude, when we were filming, did not entirely fit the habits of the locals, of the people that were born there. That is an important topic. Nonetheless, the people from the village are usually delighted with whatever traveller comes along for a couple of days. The members of Ogawa Productions settle in the village,
grow rice and film the scenes of the fertilization of the rice. And they truthfully maintain a clear approach: although they grow rice, they recognize that they are not peasants, but members of the film crew. It is interesting that you, when filming this life, the life of the rice, are also showing an unknown world to the people of the village. I think that only by maintaining this position of professional filmmakers can a true exchange with the peasants, who are professionals themselves, be possible. Returning to the topic of how to film the rice, it is important to say that if we failed once we didn’t have another chance until the next year. Moreover, in the beginning, we wanted to get an image of the pollen, but we couldn’t even get our hands on a decent microscope. The microscope we used in the beginning was a Petersburg. It really was a thing from the time of Dostoevsky. [laughs] The lens wasn’t made to shoot in colour, and we didn’t have any knowledge about filming with a microscope ourselves. As we were filming a world with dimensions smaller than a tenth of a millimetre, one small vibration of the camera motor produced an abrupt movement of the image. That was the first of many difficulties, one after the other. Inevitably the question arose: when the conditions are so bad, should we give up, or not? In moments like that, you need to evaluate which things could compensate for the negative aspects. The answer in my case was to obstinately cling to the strange, to what we didn’t know, in this case, to the rice. Whatever happened, we wanted to see the inside of the rice. We wanted to film the image in the sharpest way possible, in addition to the charm it possessed. So we kept on trying, again and again. The most important thing was the technology we used. The technology as such, that is to say, the tools needed to meet the goals and the potential: to create them, to modify them and use them to result in perfection. The tools of a coalman correspond to the size of the oven and to the dimensions of its entrance. In short, they were created according to the necessary measures. In our case, that was essential ; because we often failed when making the preparations manually. And, frankly, that would kill anyone’s desire. In the end, we found out that living rice doesn’t show what’s inside of it so easily. The key to winning the battle with the rice
was to see how close we could get to it. That’s it. What really ended up striking us in this tense relationship was the following: we had the feeling, experienced in a physical form, through our hands, that we were really living together with another living being. Undoubtedly, all this time allowed you to provide that which you were perceiving with a certain materiality. In normal scientific films, that is not the case. Here, the first thing that appears is a symbolic image of summer ; and when the title disappears, the rice scenes start, following the processes from germination to complete maturity.
The Mandalic Universe of Rice and the Land Then the winter scenes follow. And after that, in the scenes of the arrival of spring, the water is running and the images of planting the rice start to appear. They are very beautiful. First, we see the sun and the rice, and then the world of water and earth appears. When the water enters the rice field, the field acquires a very lively feel. In this respect, one thing was very surprising. When a normal person sees a flat rice field, he thinks the land is uniform. However, when you enter the rice field, you realize it is full of irregularities and singularities. A rice field created by reparcelling sixteen smaller plots of land has sixteen different characteristics. The same goes for each of the sixteen smaller plots: the differences inside each plot are huge. In one word, a rice field is like a universe of different land configurations, a concentration of the different natural characteristics of the land. The rice is a living being that is unable to walk and develops its whole life where it has been planted. From afar, a rice plantation feels like a uniform green sea. But by looking at it more closely we will notice that one rice plant has nothing to do with the other. All the elements that have intervened in the land have ended up shaping the plantation of that season: whether it was a hot or a cold year, the carefulness of the hands working the land, etc. All the elements respond according to the configuration of the field and the composition of the land and eventually emerge as the specific and distinct characteristics of each rice plant.
We called the rice field that they put at our disposal in the village “our school”. We researched all of the aspects of that field. It is called profiling the land, which consists of digging a hole and seeing a cut of the layers of the soil, of analyzing the composition of the soil, of putting the preparations into the ground and reading its energy levels by looking at the traces left by the microbes in the soil. We learned a lot that way: everything was there, in that plot of land. Yes, there are a lot of small living creatures in the soil. When the water is brought into the rice field, the microbes come out, the animals wake from their winter sleep, and other living creatures also start their activities… Every year in winter, we did several tests: ploughing one part of the land a little deeper, improving the drainage in another part, etc. As a result, every year we had higher hopes of achieving a good harvest. When the water plunged into the fields and the agricultural machine worked at full force, we had the feeling that our hopes were moving along with it. Everything in this scene feels exciting, the soil of the rice field, the water and the machine. When you eventually know life in the rice fields, you also learn how to be careful at each moment ; you really understand what is happening at each instant. For example, in the soil, there are many living creatures that live and die according to time and the seasons. That way we understand the cycle of life and death. The rice plants are very beautiful and possess a shining, almost erotic brightness. Facing the sun, they grow and produce a voluminous golden crop. It’s all very beautiful. But we need to realize that the processes of decomposition afterwards are also a real part of life. This happens underground, hidden from the sun, but it is also a real part of life. The rice straw returns to the earth. In the subsoil, the rice straw is converted into nutrients for the rice plants. The rice plant eats another rice plant. And human beings are nothing more than living beings the rice plants feed on. Another concentric circle of the chain of life appears.
Earlier, I briefly talked about the fact that we are carrying out meticulous monitoring of the processes of manure decomposition by means of a microscopic camera. In this process, first the small living creatures cling to the straw and start decomposing it. The moulds emerge. Of course, the moulds also feed on the smallest living creatures. When these moulds are multiplied and reach a certain level, microbes smaller than the moulds start appearing. One after the other, these microbes are replaced among themselves as well: micrococci, bacilli, actinomyces, etc. The life conditions of the microbes change through their own activity. At every turn, the decomposition, that is to say, the process of the decomposition of the straw unstoppably advances. We are talking about rice, but each and every living creature on this planet lives this same big drama. When I listen to you describing the life of the rice, I am reminded of a kusōzu painting 2 from the Buddhist branch Jōdo. That painting is as follows: a beautiful noblewoman dies, her corpse swells up because of the gas produced, her skin is broken by worms, the body is stained with blood and pus, decomposes, only the bones are left and at the end everything returns to the earth. That means we shouldn’t close our eyes to reality. It seems to me that the fact of the renewal of countless lives through the decomposition of the straw is the almost religious mandalic universe of nature.
On the Story of the Kannon 3 of Horikiri, the God of Water
In this conversation, I have used the expression “documentary imprinted into or marked onto the body” or “documentary that enters the body”. I would like to explain this. For example, in this film we use 2
Kusōzu is a type of Buddhist painting divided into nine stages describing the processes that happen between death and the total decomposition of the human body in order to explain the Buddhist philosophy to the people: in this world, nothing fixed or constant exists, and life is fragile. 3 Kannon is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
many sounds: sounds of rice leaves, of birds, of frogs, of water, and of many other elements. With regard to the sound of the wind in the rice field: you already know that the rice leaves rub against each other and produce the sound of the wind, right? Depending on the condition the rice is in, the sound of the rice varies. For example, the sound of soft leaves, like those of spinach, and the sound of hard leaves, like those of grasses, are of course very different. I am referring in generic terms to the sound of rice leaves and its equivalence with the sound of the wind. But that sound changes according to the condition of the crop. Every rice field has its own sound, which changes with its development. I believe that the sound produced by the rice of today, grown with chemical fertilizers that contain too much nitrogen, and the sound of the rice of the past are different. In this film, the crispy sound of the leaves was of great concern to me. At the premiere in the cultural centre of Kaminoyama, where we had shot it, before we showed it anywhere else, there was a person that concentrated on this and said: “Today we can no longer hear that sound in the fields.” That comment delighted me. He was able to distinguish the natural sound of the rice leaves ; rice we plant manually and take care of without chemical fertilizers. My idea of the documentary marked onto the body has to do with concentrating on and appreciating these kinds of details. When all of these elements have entered our bodies, that is to say, when the entire world of living creatures of this planet has left a mark inside of us, then, and only then can we enter the story of the Kannon of Horikiri in a natural way. Only then can we recognize that the water that enters and crosses the rice field at the time of planting contains and carries tales and stories. Which leads you to incorporate fictional scenes into the documentary, for the first time in your career. They were stories we heard: beautiful and profoundly bitter tales. The truth is that beauty and bitterness are two sides of the same coin. Adopting a position of resignation or of indifference is not a good thing, but it is necessary to recognize that these two feelings are connected by a tense relationship. Honestly, I started to understand what these feelings really meant, their profound connection with the creation of a rice field
from scratch, and recognized the importance of water. It is as follows: water makes people cry, but it’s also a source of help. Water allows for the creation of rice ; but sometimes it completely destroys the rice fields, and floods and buries houses. In some cases, it is so frightening it ruins human life. Therefore, we have a very tense relationship with the God of Water: we ask for water to come and to stay calm at the same time. Only the people that maintain this relationship of intense tension with nature have the creative capacity to create these kinds of beautiful and bitter tales. Stories like those of the village of Magino. When I heard the story of the Kannon of Horikiri, I immediately wanted to film it. But I didn’t realize that what we actually wanted would never appear with the traditional methods we had been using, by doing interviews ; we had to actively fictionalize it. If we shot it realistically, absolutely nothing would appear. On the other hand, however, I was afraid we would slip into sentimentalism if we would do it on our own, so we gave the fictional tale back to the village. Let me explain: we selected episodes from the original tale and, once we had created the script, we showed it to some people from the village. Exaggeratedly you could say we assigned them the task of correcting it. They returned the script with a tremendous amount of corrections. Far from any normal proofreading. [laughs] I was moved by the case of Kimura Shigeko. She also worked as assistant director during the shoot of the film. She really saw the concrete images of every scene she read. She said: “The costumes for the scenes should be as follows: these are the Japanese clogs of Kuroda’s house ; this is the dress of grandmother Sugano, etc.” She captured each scene that way. There was also a known archaeologist from the Tohoku region who participated in the film, professor Hasekura. Although he doesn’t look like a known professor in the film. [laughs] I trusted his sympathy and his ability to adapt the work he had done in his professional life to another realm. That way, we once more gave back the legend to nature as a whole: to human beings, to the mountains, to the winds, to the birds, and everything else. First we took the legend from nature, we wrote it, we fictionalized it. And then we fictionalized it again by sending it back to nature. Paradoxically, the tale we produced by going through this whole process is very real. In this case, the word real does not mean
that it happened that way. We are not using the word in the realistic sense, but in the sense of the truth it transmits.
The Goddess of the Mountain and the Dōsojin 4
On How the Goddess of the Mountain Welcomes the Dōsojin as Her Financé In the end, we arrive at the chapter of The Goddess of the Mountain and the Dōsojin. They are very entertaining scenes. For a long time, Yasushi had secretly kept the piece, a Dōsojin, which his father had found. However, when the chapel of the Goddess of the Mountain burned down, he took this piece from where he had hidden it and placed it in the chapel. The Goddess of the Mountain is a goddess, so with a god, she can she live a quiet life. Even though they are obviously gods, they need a partner, just like human beings: a god for a goddess and a goddess for a god. Although they are gods, they should live together in harmony… [laughs] Yasushi’s words in front of these gods are hilarious: “May you live happily without family misfortune…” is what he tells them. The chapter begins with a beautiful shot of the flight of a starling. In Magino there are several gods made from stone or wood. There is an important reason for the place of each god. One day, in the chapel of the Goddess of the Mountain, I suddenly discovered the Dōsojin, a figure of a penis worshipped as a deity, which I had never seen there before. Since the Goddess of the Mountain is a goddess, I didn’t find it strange that this figure was there. But I didn’t really understand why ; that is to say, who had put it there. I asked some neighbours and I found out that 4 The Goddess of the Mountain is a goddess without a
partner. In general, she doesn’t like other women to enter her territory. The Dōsojin is a traditional Japanese god, generally made from stone or wood and placed at the edge of a territory or at a crossroads in order to prevent evil spirits from entering from the outside. Its figure appears alone or as a pair. Sometimes, as in this case, it is represented with the figure of a male or/and female sex organ.
it was brought there by a person who had a special relationship with us, Yasushi. He had put the Dōsojin in the chapel. The first thing that flashed through my mind was that, through these gestures and actions, the gods of the village are moving, coming and going freely, reflecting feelings and ways of thinking of the people from the village. Based on this kind of freedom and belief, the figure did not feel like a normal stone to us but like a living creature, and there is no authoritarian or commanding air about it either, as is sometimes the case with stones. The penis gives a rather elegant and haughty impression ; but at the same time, it is somewhat funny. [laughs] Of course, this episode is a funny and humoristic moment in the film. That’s why we shot it. But we were very careful not to play too much with this comical aspect. We didn’t want to be too light-hearted with religious belief. We represented it very carefully, as a natural reflection of feeling. The faith of the village is not a faith that comes from symbols, but a faith born from one’s own heart. When lightning struck and burned down the temple, Yasushi suddenly remembered the discovery of the Dōsojin twenty years earlier, and this made him worship it like a deity, right? It is obviously not only a comical issue. What happened was that suddenly the ancestral blood circulating in Yasushi’s body got agitated and passionate. That’s what’s so interesting. Inside of him, time and everything about it suddenly started to move at high speed. In reality, things did not happen so quickly. Almost a year passed between the lightning and the fire, but in Yasushi’s heart they happened at the same time. There was another very illustrative episode, which I didn’t use in the film. When lightning struck, the cedar tree left of the chapel snapped. Then the grandmothers came and collected everything. And what did they do with the cedar tree? They turned it into chopsticks. [laughs]
But, beware, that wasn’t just a whim. As the sound of the word chopsticks in Japanese (hashi) also has the meaning of a border or an edge, according to popular belief chopsticks have the function of linking this world with the world of the dead. When lightning struck, they came up with the idea of turning the tree hit by lightning into chopsticks for the whole village. The shock produced by lightning revived this ancestral meaning. That is a tremendous issue. Exactly, yes.
The Meaning of Discontinuous Time Making chopsticks from the tree struck by lightning, and the fact that Yasushi, with his faith woken up by the fire, placed the stone figure in the chapel of the Goddess of the Mountain, represent a sudden emergence of the ancient belief, don’t they? Maybe culture is not knowledge or understanding that is continuously passed down over a long period of time, but something that secretly circulates and materializes at a given time, in a flash, surpassing time. I think that in ancient times the Japanese thought that time was not continuous. In the Shugendō 5 religion, they practice a sort of asceticism called Kaihōgyō, which consists of walking in the mountains. There are some so-called secret places in the mountains, sacred spaces where the entire essence of the mountains is concentrated. In Kaihōgyō practice, you need to walk with tremendous effort in order to reach this sacred place. When arriving at the secret place, you become possessed and see visions and apparitions. I think the Shugendō monks thought that the geography of the mountains was not a continuous territory. Secret places existed here and there, and between them there was an empty space. We could say that in this line of thought the mountains are like a model of a molecular structure, of the structure of atoms. Consequently, thanks to the Kaihōgyō practice, while 5 Shugendō is a religion that originated in Japan and is a
mix between the traditional worshipping of the mountains, which were considered gods, and concepts from other religions (Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, yin and yang philosophy, etc.). In some cases, it is classified as a branch of Buddhism.
they walk from one point in the mountains to the other, time stops completely. However, when arriving completely exhausted at the secret place, they enter into a possessed state, and time starts circulating much faster. That is to say, a sense of time that develops the idea of non-continuous time. That’s it. In the world of the recitations and prayers of the Shugendō monks, time gets ignored and surpassed freely. In your film, something similar happens: we travel in time, from the Middle Ages to the modern age, to the Jōmon era, back to the modern age and to the present day. It is a sense of history you can’t find in the rigid continuous time of chronological history. It is interesting to note that the sense of time in this film is close to that of the world of prayer of the Shugendō monks. Exactly. If the spectator manages to capture this, I would be very happy. That is to say, the entire film reflects the time we want to catch. In the continuous time of the village nothing seems to happen, but at a certain moment, something – in our case it was the rice – leads us to see beyond that, in a split second. When watching the continuous time of daily life, a crack is produced once in a while, and an unexpected world arises from it. Yes, exactly ; in this concept, the discontinuity of time is in its turn continuous, is not interrupted. That is to say, I think that there is a non-continuous time (which only occasionally becomes apparent) but that it is non-interrupted. In order to define the underground unity of this time, we eventually used the expression The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story. The reason the first scene after the break is the scene with Yasushi is that we thought this episode expressed the meaning of the film title in a manner that is comparable to the sun scenes at the beginning of the film.
The Origin of the Shintoist Temple of Itsutsudomoe
On the Hidden Uprising in the Shintoist Temple of Itsutsudomoe and Its Representation in the Film The villagers that appear in the scenes in Itsutsudomoe complained about how difficult it was to memorize their roles, but they 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.
The uprising of Itsutsudomoe happened 240 or 250 years ago. The leaders of the uprising were from Magino, which is 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 five victims of the uprising. It was a revolt that aimed at achieving certain just demands by the peasants. In any case, in order to achieve them, even if only partially and not immediately, the leaders of the revolt – who carried all responsibility – had to die. According to the law of the time, which did not allow for any sort of incitement to an 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 certain fragments from the sacred book of Buddhism. When the villagers come to pray, two sounds are heard: the sound of the drums and a tinkling sound. They are two different influences, Shintoism and Buddhism, at the same time. Yes. In a Shintoist temple the bones and the Buddhist mortuary tablets are worshipped as divinities, and the villagers pray in front of them. 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 is why they say that Tarouuemon and his comrades who rebelled were great people. I suspect that if they had triumphed in their uprising the villagers would not be worshipping 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 survived the uprising ; I mean that their descendants are still living here.
Only the leaders lost their lives, and their families’ lands were expropriated and they were forced to leave. The fact that the majority survived means that, even though they also rebelled against the leaders, defending their cause with enthusiasm, they eventually abandoned the movement halfway through. I think that feeling is still lingering in the village. I believe that the peasants still, after one hundred years, despise their ancestors, because they may have backed out and betrayed the peasant leaders. The Temple of Itsutsudomoe was built as a Shintoist temple, not during the Edo period (1603-1867), but in the Meiji period (1868-1912), when they got permission from the authorities. Until then, people had to hide their feelings deep in their hearts with resignation. If we think about it, it must have been a terrible event. Yes. And the point is that everything depends on the depth of that feeling. Tarouuemon died, together with his two sons, as a sacrifice for the people. It was their sacrifice 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 like those we find in the novels of Izumi Kyōka: severed heads spinning around, flying pillows, etc. All these elements are the first evidence of that deep feeling. The current temple was built where the house used to be, right? People tell lots of stories. They also say that the people cut the head of the Jizō 6 , kept the head and the decapitated body, and called him the Beheaded Jizō. We can never be sure if this is categorically true or not. But I don’t care about the historical facts, only about the real facts.
6 Jizō is a Bodhisattva. You can see his figure somewhere
in Japan. He is the guardian of the weak and needy, especially children. He appears with the face of a smiling child.
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 Jizō falls, the mirror breaks into a thousand pieces… It’s impossible to be entirely sure, because the story stems from an oral tradition, but people say that in the Edo period lots of people secretly worshipped Jizō in their backyards and prayed… That’s another supposition. People also say that in those times Tarouuemon was very rich and possessed many rice fields and vegetable gardens. Naturally, after his death, the authorities confiscated his assets. The authorities did not want to leave this land uncultivated, because it was their source of income. So they tried to divide it among the villagers. Farmers usually want more land. However, the authorities faced an unexpected problem, because nobody wanted the fields and gardens of Tarouuemon, which were huge. I imagine that the authorities then forced the village. What did the villagers do? They came together and split the land equally amongst all of them. I think it was a way of sharing their guilt equally. What depth! Even today we see that the villagers own some small piece of land in an area away from their own fields and gardens. They refer to it as the “garden of Tarouuemon”. These were the three ideas behind the Itsutsudomoe scene in the film. I am speaking about these things as if they were easily accomplished, but that was not the case. It was impossible to go to the village and find out right away. It took us ten years. It was a really slow process of understanding, putting together the broken sentences of many people. In the beginning we didn’t know anything about Tarouuemon and we really did not have the intention of shooting anything about him. Slowly, working in the rice fields and participating in other activities that had nothing to do with cinema, I gathered some fragments and became aware of the story. I think that’s what true history is. It doesn’t have anything to do with the history that appears in chronology or the city records. By connecting the bits and pieces that are handed down from one person to another, a completely different world is revealed.
The Mass of the Dead That Doesn’t Let the Dead Enter Nirvana After that, I slowly started to understand that there were many gods in the village: the God of Water, Tarouuemon, the Goddess of the Mountain… Whether because of the commitment of the peasants to the land, the long-term memory of all these topics, the impact, the freshness stored in their hearts… For whatever reason: the deeper the meaning of time becomes, the better you understand that those gods are not abstractions. Talking about it in general terms, to abstract means to be removed from life. How to enter nirvana when you die, right? Yes. But look: Tarouuemon is celebrated on the 1st of January, New Year’s Day, the happiest and most festive day of the year ; that is to say, the day when in general people avoid referring to death. Wouldn’t you agree? For a long time, I couldn’t stop thinking about why they celebrate this mass on the very happiest day of the year. Especially if we take into account that we Japanese consider death or things related to death as something unholy. And, in addition, they celebrate it by worshipping the bones in front of the Buddhist mortuary tablets. One of the villagers showed me the bones and said: “These are the bones of Tarouuemon and his sons.” They weren’t cremated bones, but remains that had been buried. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, when the television programme with all the hip Japanese singers ends, all the people of this village go and pray in the temple. When the new year arrives, they go and worship the bones… That is quite odd. This event from 240 years ago, passed down through the ages, from generation to generation, has become, through accumulation, an extraordinary reality with the status of a popular belief, a story, a fiction. For that reason, it wasn’t necessary to invent it. The most important thing for us was how to bring it back to a real space. As a result, we entrusted professional actors with the roles of the judges and hoped, on the other hand, that the peasants, by
following their natural instincts, would show their pure feelings of adoration to Tarouuemon. One day, Masuo Igarashi, who played the role of Tarouuemon in the film, told me: “I might have incurred a divine punishment.” I asked him why. He told me that, in his performance of the role of Tarouuemon, he felt he hadn’t demonstrated well enough the great personality of such an excellent person. I think that the expression he used is a reference to the character created and developed by the long tradition of the village. In his version, the performance of this role by someone as young as himself could affect Tarouuemon’s soul and could work against him, as if to say: “You still don’t understand my feelings.” “I have made a huge mistake.” He was really, seriously upset when he told me. At that moment I had two conflicting feelings: one of true remorse at having done this to Masuo Igarashi and one of satisfaction because of the fact that the role of Tarouuemon had been played by such an introspective person. During the shoot of these episodes, there really was a kind of festive atmosphere in the village. You did the Itsutsudomoe shoot under the name The Great Ritual of the Shintoist Temple of Itsutsudomoe and the shoot itself was a mass for the dead. There was a festive aspect to it. Don’t you think all this is produced by the deep and real feelings of the people, by how they are living? It’s as if they take this opportunity to do something for Tarouuemon. The people from the village didn’t have the feeling they were shooting a film. Among the different masses of the dead, there is one which doesn’t send the dead to nirvana to rest in peace, but keeps them in this world so that his or her story is passed down. The suffering of the peasants made Tarouuemon stand up ; but when he saw that his silence provoked more suffering, that is to say, when he saw that his firm stance had consequences in people’s lives, he ended up confessing, against his true will, and hiding the real reason for his actions. He confessed, but not because of the torture he suffered. In this sense, he failed to unify the force of all the farmers so as to ensure the success of the uprising. I believe that if he would have confessed because of the torture he
suffered, he wouldn’t have had any evil influence: he confessed by hiding the real reasons for his rebellion. From my point of view, the peasants of the time knew these reasons very well and took it upon themselves to only pass down Tarouuemon’s feeling of resentment.
On Ms Omine, the Friend of the Gods
For us making the film, Ms Omine was a unique person who was capable of welcoming inside of her the entire universe I have been painting, including the uprising of Itsutsudomoe. The world of elderly women. You can think whatever you want, but I believe that the ancient concept of the world lived on in the heart of Ms Omine. In fact, there are elderly women like Ms Omine in many corners of Japan. Regular people would say she has visions or fantasies. For me, it was important to relate the time of this grandmother to the time that exists in ourselves. This idea was important because I had to find a form for us to escape from the time of the film. I mean that the last sequence would have been impossible without the Omine scenes. In this regard, the mechanism of the film was more complicated than in your previous film, Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: 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 effectively try to approach the human being 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, “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village, the protagonists were mostly women and the individual and family stories seemed to be more important - we could 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. And it is striking that the characters are mainly men. Only in the last section does Omine appear. And she strangely turns
everything upside down, turns it all around. [laughs] It’s funny how she talks enthusiastically about the most eccentric things. She says that Fudō 7 appeared in that form, that the Goddess of the Mountain showed herself to her in another way… Normally, the film would have ended with a big dramatic scene, like the Itsutsudomoe scene. In this case, however, Ms Omine appears, a woman capable of seeing the gods. It seems as if the film is going to end with Ms Omine, but after her there is the unexpected scene in which all the villagers say their names, waving their hands at the camera, with the music of the high school band. And then, at the end, again, the scene of the setting heliocentric sun. And when you think it’s finally over… [laughs] another scene appears, in which Mr Togashi plays the drums. It’s as if the film is never going to end. In fact, through these endless repetitions, the film will go on forever, right? It means that time repeats itself over and over again. That is the concept of time that we wanted to reflect. And about the story of Ms Omine, the truth is that there’s not much to say… Indeed. It speaks for itself… [laughs] What matters most is that we believed in this time, in this way of living time, during the film ; we really experienced it. The presence of Ms Omine is not just an anecdote. We haven’t just filmed an elegant granny that happened to be there. I have been friends with Ms Omine for fourteen years, and I perfectly understand her way of talking, to the extent that I am capable of imitating it. [laughs] Ancient Japan was made of a people that lived in the belief that there is another world outside of their daily world, a spectral world. It’s the world that appears in the story about the people and the gods of the mountains in the book The Tales of Tono, written by Professor Yanagita Kunio under the motto “May the people of the land tremble!”.
The Tale of Genji 8 also features a world where monsters and souls, separated from the people who are still alive, move and act at night. I think that this other world of darkness nurtured a tremendously rich spiritual culture. In the last few years, we have entered a life that is rich materially, but we have lost something very important: we have completely forgotten the existence of the other world. Indeed, Ms Omine is a person who lives in the other world, where the gods live. I just used the word “believe”, but when I first heard Ms Omine’s words, I had a hard time believing her. She never feels the need to change her way of talking ; she never changes her language in front of anyone. You could think that it would be better to talk in a more straightforward way with people who come from Tokyo, but that never crossed her mind. Honestly, in the beginning it was difficult for me to understand her. Especially the first months: I did not get what she was saying. [laughs] As I have already mentioned, only after a long process we gradually started understanding that what Ms Omine was talking about was another world, another real world. And that this real world was part of her own life in an essential and unique way. We slowly entered the world captured by Ms Omine and her unique and unrepeatable life, as unique and unrepeatable as my own life. One day, we will finally be capable of believing what underpinned Ms Omine’s life. That episode is a good demonstration of the film crew’s generosity because when Ms Omine starts talking, there is only her in the centre… That old woman doesn’t live in heliocentrism, but in geocentrism. [laughs] The thing is that you eventually became familiar with Ms Omine’s time, with her perception of time, and that you accomplished some kind of fusion with her. That’s how it was.
8 The Tale of Genji is a long and excellent novel written in 7 Fudō is a Buddhist god. In Sanskrit: Acalanatha or
the middle of the Heian period (794-1185) by Shikibu Murasaki. It is considered the first modern novel in world literature.
The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story (1986)
Originally published in the press dossier for The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story. Translated from “El cine de Shinsuke Ogawa. Ogawa en 1987. El documental impresionada en el cuerpo. Fragmentos de una conversación entre Shinsuke Ogawa y el fotografía Masatoshi Naitō,” in: El cine de los mil años. Una aproximación histórica y estética al cine documental japonés 1945-2005 (Gobierno de Navarra: Institución Príncipe de Viana, 2006). Translated by Sis Matthé
The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story (1986)
When Serge Daney Met Ogawa Shinsuke Serge Daney, 1989 In 1989 French critic Serge Daney was in Yamagata in Japan, where he was part of the jury of the first edition of an international documentary film festival. The festival still exists and is held biennially. For the “son of cinema” [ciné-fils], it was a beautiful occasion to meet the great documentary filmmaker Ogawa Shinsuke, who was then living in the countryside not far from Yamagata. For Microfilms, 1 he spoke to Ogawa about his thirty-year practice as a filmmaker 1 Weekly radio program on cinema, made between
1985-1990 by Serge Daney for France Culture.
of the real, about the conditions of the production and distribution of documentary films, about his own relationship with television, video and fiction. In the second part of the radio programme, back in Paris, Serge Daney gives us his impressions and thoughts about his meeting with Ogawa Shinsuke, about the first edition of the festival, about Ogawa’s accomplishments and more in general about the condition of Japanese cinema at the end of the 1980s.
Serge Daney: Microfilms. Good evening. I need to explain this terribly bland music you hear in the background. We are in the north of Japan. We’re in a region which is called “the forgotten Japan”, the most fundamental Japan, apparently, in Yamagata. It’s a little-known city and, to Japanese norms, a small city, although it has 200,000 inhabitants, where an international documentary film festival is being held for the very first time. The small city of Yamagata is very proud and honoured of being able to organize this festival. The festival has just started. And it’s not rocket science to know that this would never have been possible without the presence of a very important character in Japanese cinema who lives close to Yamagata, in a little town south of Yamagata, among the peasants, and is unfortunately unknown or hardly known in France because of his bad habit of making documentary films and because his films are unfortunately not shown or distributed, except for a few festivals. Anyway, cinema people know who Ogawa Shinsuke is. He’s someone very important who might be known in France because, ten or more years ago, he followed very closely the fight of the people from Narita, where the international airport is now located. The people from the region did not want to give up their lands, their territory and are still fighting their battle, which has lasted for years and years and has been followed in a totally stubborn, obstinate and obsessional way by Ogawa and his crew. Ogawa is not a classic documentary filmmaker, but someone who is fully involved in what he does: when he has an idea, he follows it through. Also in Japan, apparently, he has acquired a very special and distinguished position in Japanese cinema and in, let’s say, the awareness that the Japanese, some Japanese, may have of not really living in heaven on earth. I’m giving you this somewhat abrupt introduction as I did not expect that Mr Ogawa would be here. I’ll try to tell you what his films are like. His films are very, very basic. They are very much focused on the claims, on the land, on the presence of the land, on the refusal of authority which, if it happens in Japan, is very violent and very convincing, very rare. I remember we saw his films at Cahiers du Cinéma and after that, we didn’t hear anything from him. So, my first question is: what have you done since the Narita period and what has or hasn’t changed for you in your position as a fanatical documentary maker? Fanatical and jovial, I must say.
Ogawa Shinsuke: Yes, well, with regard to my films on Narita, the battle of Narita, which is called “Sanrizuka” in Japanese, the battle of Sanrizuka, it was of course a battle of students and workers. Much has been said about that, but it should not be forgotten that it was a battle for the peasants. The media talked about the student and workers’ movement a lot, but what was fundamentally important was the battle for the peasants, for the peasants to keep their lands. My way of making a film always has the following approach: I settle in the region with the people, with the inhabitants. I live with them, I eat with them, I talk to them. I share life with them. And in this shared life, I make a film. What’s also important, for example, and very interesting in this story, is that there were two tendencies in this region. There were married women who came from the mountains and married women who came from the sea. Before we continue, I should say that the sound of ice cubes you are hearing comes from the whiskey we are drinking and the sound of paper comes from the translator taking notes, the translator Kyoko Sato, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to organize this conversation, which was entirely unexpected and explosive. End of brackets. What do you get out of this approach? First, what is important in this approach is that we film things and people, people’s expressions and language, their words and also the landscape. What we call landscape in the larger sense of the word can also be a river or a mountain, a rice field. Every landscape has a living face. And if you don’t live in the region with the people, you can’t film it. There is a camera that films, there are people who use the camera to film. And there are people and landscapes that are filmed. There is a relationship between those three things. What interests me is that relationship. In order to film that relationship, I need to live with them in the region. Another issue that’s very interesting to me is that I’ve been making documentaries for thirty years and that I’ve used different approaches, obviously. I film and then I edit. The strange thing is that I often, almost always, edit the footage in the order it was filmed. We don’t change the order. I asked myself why… In fact, I think it has to do with this three-way relationship
I just talked about, between the people who film and the people who are filmed, and between the things that are filmed and the camera. A relationship is established during the evolution of the relationships that are created. For me, that is the drama of documentary film, that is the drama that interests me. Isn’t it true that there’s another “drama”, that living with the peasants the way you do will eventually turn into spending your whole life with them? When do you decide to change the subject? In order to answer this question, I am going to talk about Narita, about Sanrizuka. When we settled in the region to film this struggle, we obviously knew nothing about the peasants. But as we went along living together, we began to understand their lives, their problems, their ways of life, etc. During the shoot, during the struggle, there was an accident. There was one very significant incident. One day, they wanted to dig trenches under the airfield. But the soil was extremely sandy and there was a lot of water. While we were digging, the water gradually appeared and caused a sort of flood. The peasants have their own past, and they know things that people from the city don’t know. It’s hard to explain, but they put small tree branches in the water and those absorbed the water. That’s how they fixed the problem. It’s just one example, but there were a lot of things that made it clear that we didn’t really understand the life of the peasants. So, when you live together, there are things you understand with your body and things you understand with your mind. But to answer the question of how to know when to stop and turn towards something else: it is difficult to answer, because there’s not one clear moment. It is rather when the whole crew feels it. Because the whole crew lives together, me included. There are moments like that. They say they can’t go on because they don’t have the knowledge, because they can’t acquire the knowledge with their minds. At that moment, you need to change. They settled close to Yamagata, in a small peasant village called Magino, a typical peasant’s village in the north of Japan with the true Japanese peasant culture. Thus, they wanted to understand even more by means of their bodies, by growing rice and vegetables together with the peasants.
A question that is a little more general: when it comes to your work, do you think television is the enemy? Or doesn’t it have anything to do with it, is it an entirely different world? I think television is something entirely different. I don’t consider television the enemy of cinema. For example, I also often use video when interviewing peasants or even when filming things, landscapes, and such. But I am aware of the fact that it’s something very different from cinema. We need to see it as something different. I believe you played an important role in the choice of Yamagata for a documentary film festival. First, is that true? And how do feel about the state of documentary film, both in Japan and the rest of the world? The current situation of documentary film in Japan is still very complicated. First of all, it is true that documentary film doesn’t bring in a lot of money. So there’s a financial problem. It’s always really difficult to secure the necessary funds to make a film. So at the moment, increasingly less young filmmakers make documentaries, because they can’t do it for a living. Among the young filmmakers, I need to mention Hara Kazuo. From my generation or older, there is Tsuchimoto. The situation was complicated thirty years ago and still is. But paradoxically, because the situation was so complicated financially, we were able to do the things we really wanted to do. That is to say, there are means to make commercial films for Japanese companies, but once you do something you really want to do, you need to find the money, which is very difficult. As a result of this stubbornness, we were able to do high-quality things, most certainly. With a lot of sacrifices from the people who participated, obviously, who did everything for free. It would be nice if we could continue making films like that, or maybe not. For example, next year I am going to start a new film, but I crossed all of Japan, from south to north, in order to find the necessary funding. The situation hasn’t improved. Where do you go to find the money? Which people give you money?
As I just told you, it’s been almost twenty-five, thirty years that I have been making documentaries and during these years, there have obviously been financial issues. Then, there is also the issue of finding theatres, as most theatres don’t want to show documentaries. Therefore we had to create our own theatres, all over Japan. That is to say, throughout those thirty years, we’ve created a sort of association, or rather a group of people who support our activities. All over Japan. In each region, there’s a circle of people who support us. Those who’ve lived with us for thirty years, with many difficulties, are the ones who support us, because they have become richer than they used to be. They are the ones who give us some money to make films, not Japanese companies. Never enough, of course, but afterwards we manage to find what is necessary. Do you make documentaries because you don’t like fiction, because you don’t like telling stories? Do you like Japanese films that tell stories, regular films? What do you think of them? No, no, I have nothing against fiction films. In fact, I think it’s random. When I started working at Iwanami, I worked with a Japanese film company that also employed Tsuchimoto and Hani Susumu, who were documentary filmmakers. In fact, I’ve never really wondered if I make documentary or fiction films. For me, there’s no real difference between documentaries and fiction. I adore fiction and the film I’m going to make next is half fiction. The radio programme is almost over, but it would be nice if you could roughly explain what your next film is going to be. It’s a film I’m going to start shooting next year. It is going to take me about four years. I started the preparations four years ago. It’s not a story but… It takes place in a region which is even more rural than the one where I am now. There are mountains… It’s a secluded region. Over the past few years, more and more young Filipino women have come to the region to marry, which causes a sort of encounter between Filipino and Japanese culture. They meet, but there are also conflicts between people of very different cultures. This conflict, this encounter is what interests me. I would like to visualize their reality. I am
going to film the encounter between the dreams of the young Filipino women and those of the Japanese living in the villages. Very well. Unfortunately, the programme is over. There is no more music because the Yamagata Grand Hotel stops the music at 11 p.m. Everything is calm now. I would like to once again thank Sato Kyoko, who has translated everything with unbounded willingness, and Mr Ogawa. Of course, we would have liked to talk a little longer, but if some listeners would say, “who is this Ogawa, why does no one ever talk about him in France, can we watch his films?” I would be a very happy man. So, this was Microfilms, live from northern Japan. Thank you. Sayōnara.
Postscript Not quite sayōnara, because once I got back from Japan after this conversation with Ogawa Shinsuke, I felt like addressing some points. First, because I had seen Ogawa Shinsuke the day after the conversation at his home, that is, in the countryside, in those magnificent, extremely wild landscapes of northern Japan, with mountains everywhere and cigarette or beer vending machines in the middle of nowhere. A nice mix between something that doesn’t move and something that doesn’t stop moving. There, I saw Ogawa in the environment he lives in, those big Japanese houses where everyone lives horizontally ; and when I say everyone, it makes sense, as Ogawa lives surrounded by, how shall I put it, disciples or people who are learning cinema or people who, undoubtedly in a very Japanese way, believe that learning techniques, learning to approach people, learning to make films and consulting a master are more or less the same thing. It’s a funny feeling to see this man, both known and marginal in Japan, behave like a painter in the atelier tradition that is so dominant in Japan. It reminded me of more well-known filmmakers, filmmakers from the past, who worked like that, people who always had the same technicians, always the same actors, people who worked in a traditional way, always with the same material. People like Ozu, people like Mizoguchi, even Kurosawa in his early days. It was a wonderful continuation of the way people, the Japanese, have made films, not so much in
a major studio system which looks after everything and puts its mark everywhere, but in a major feudal studio system, which contains little units gathered around one master, around someone who knows. And even if Ogawa is someone very radical, very leftist in the way he works, there is still a small piece of countryside feudalism around him, with people, with young people who receive little money and live quite poorly, who rather than learning cinema in schools where they wouldn’t learn anything, simply learn how to move around the countryside, around the peasants and around the material, around the camera. All of it ended with a sort of great and very Imamurian drinking binge. I talk about Imamura because you can see his films at the moment and because he is a good example and a good prototype of the Japanese filmmaker, from the peasant school rather than the samurai school. The samurai school would be Kurosawa or O ¯ shima. Imamura and Ogawa are people who are very much connected with the land and who in the end don’t have any other values but tellurian and earthy values, who have a relationship with the earth. So, there we were, drinking sake and beer, and I promised to talk about experiencing the Ogawa cinema in the West. When you come back from Japan, you also feel like reassessing Japanese cinema. In the small world of Parisian cinephilia, there has always been a distance between the moment something happened in Japan and the moment we heard about it in the West. Japan has been making films since the very beginning of the twentieth century and it really wasn’t until 1950 that they really started talking about Shichinin no samurai [Seven Samurai] by Kurosawa and that the amazed West gradually discovered there was an enormous cinema tradition there, both quantitatively and qualitatively. But the golden age of this cinema was already in decline, as Mizoguchi died in 1956 and Ozu in 1963, I think. So we were always lagging behind when it came to Japanese cinema ; and as we always only liked it afterwards, we ended up not knowing the real state of Japanese cinema, the real state of its health. We now know that in the 1960s there was something very similar to the French Nouvelle Vague and that angry young people – including Ogawa, by the way, who had chosen documentary, but others had chosen fiction, most notably ¯ shima and Imamura – tried to shake the old studio O
system, the old system of learning, of feudal obedience, in order to make more modern films. What did they capture? They captured Japan when its reconstruction really started happening and when modernity was introduced in Japan. That is to say, when wealth was introduced. Like in France, les Trente ¯ shima’s films, Glorieuses also happened in Japan. In O in Imamura’s films from the late 1950s and the 1960s, as we can see in Akai satsui [Unholy Desire] (1964), an extraordinary film that is still shown in Paris, we can see the mix between the end of the war, trauma, nostalgia for the past, the desire to move forward, the American presence and a young generation, the first young generation of people in Japan who had as its mission, as its destiny, to be the first rich generation in the history of Japan. Today, Japan is a very rich country ; and that’s maybe why people are less fascinated by or interested in Japan now than a couple of years ago, because a couple of years ago they were amazed at how Japan far exceeded the capitalist countries or the countries that had invented capitalism. Today, Japan is buying up a part of America. It’s in all the newspapers. As everyone knows Japan has become more developed than we are, there is a certain fear, which is very very real in the USA and could also come this way. So, Japan is not popular at all anymore and is not on the agenda either, because the agenda is of course Russia and countries from the East. All is well. You are enjoying Microfilms in order to learn from it and talk about this country that right now is not making headlines and lives, digests, lives in euphoria, discovers with a sort of satisfaction it didn’t have before that there is money, there are investments, that poverty is down a little, that the country might play an even more important role on the global scale than before. But there has always been something about Japan, which I think comes from its strong peasant history, its history as a mountainous island, cut off from the world or rather recomposing a world on its own through its mountains and valleys. It’s that Japan might be the first power in the history of humanity that appears on the global scene with many remarkable economic arguments, a civilization, or at least a culture, and with no idea about itself whatsoever. In a Hegelian way, we could say that Japan exists in itself, that it exists for itself ; but for others, it still doesn’t exist, or maybe as a threat or a fantasy. It is a question we have asked ourselves for quite a long time, we who look at what we can
understand of Japan through Japanese cinema. Is it possible that a country reaches this kind of financially powerful position and still continues to behave like a tribal country, that is, making objects, living according to values that aren’t necessarily exportable? Japan is a sort of exaggeration of what England, that other island, had created in the 19th century, a real power, but without exportable values, contrary to France, contrary to secular France. This question becomes totally arrogant, and you even wonder if cinema can continue to play a role in the articulation of the very question. After the war, the Japanese were so very traumatized. You notice it in the films. There are absolutely extraordinary films, by Mizoguchi, Imai Tadashi, Shindō Kaneto, that were made in this trauma of destruction and in a sort of humanist and extraordinarily moving and virulent pacifism. Forty years later, reality is completely different. These films have disappeared and, today, you need all of Imamura’s energy and uncompromising edge to hazard or risk a different image of atomic destruction. Forty years later, that’s what he [Ogawa] does, he reconstructs an aesthetic wager, entirely unique and quite extraordinary. But the more Japan was reconstructed, the more it happened without cinema. One of the hypotheses we can develop is that cinema is very much related to poverty and to the passage from poverty to wealth, that is, to the movement from the countryside to the city, the acclimatization to the city, the movie theatre like a shop window, the imaginary wares. It suffices to look around and know that the world is not exactly like that anymore, in Japan even exceptionally so, as in every Japanese movie theatre they leave the lights on, which is something really annoying and was very disturbing at the Yamagata Festival. The lights go out, of course, but an enormous sign indicating the exit and an enormous sign saying where the toilets are remain lit. This light also provides the films with a sort of pale unreality, which is why they had to cover the lights in the case of the Yamagata Festival. This demonstrates the extent to which Japan, today, lives in a world of extreme visibility, an electronic world, as electronics provide a sort of perpetual visibility and a sort of fake perpetual daylight, of which television is the best vehicle, but which has reached a much more radical and generalized level over there. We are very far removed from the time when Tanizaki, in the 1930s, wrote his
book In Praise of Shadows, which is quite famous in France and in which he sang the praises of darkness, of the shadows, of things we don’t see, things that are secret: all this seems to have become a thing of the past. And in this world of visibility à la japonaise, cinema is struggling. Cinema is struggling to such an extent that when Kurosawa filmed Ran a couple of years ago, his last great film, he felt like Ogawa, in a way. That’s where Japanese filmmakers, just like Japanese writers in a way, are often resistance fighters who are irritated with their environment, who absolutely want to keep things the way they are. He felt the film shoot was a kind of open-air school that, given the size of the project, was meant to teach young people the craftsmanship that was slowly disappearing. In this climate, Japanese cinema has lost a lot of its impact or importance, although it still produces lots of films. There was another, related phenomenon which shocked me when I first went to Japan: the relative lack of knowledge of regular, cultured Japanese people and especially young people about their cinema, about the history of their cinema. I didn’t score any points, to say the least, when I told the Japanese that I knew Mizoguchi’s or Ozu’s films, not only because they often didn’t know these films themselves or found them old-fashioned, but also because they found it strange. If Japan is going to resist and present us with one problem, which far exceeds that of cinema, it is, of course, the problem of accepting to be deciphered from the outside. It’s somewhat of a cliché: we know that Japan is impenetrable, but it has become too powerful not to value what it produces. When you go to a small lost city like Yamagata, which is supposed to belong to a somewhat “backward” part of Japan, and you compare it to the French countryside, it is almost like a Wendersian countryside, with magnificent towns, a refined culture, where everything is entirely mapped out and nature is beautiful, but already staged, ready to be seen, with scenic viewpoints similar to oriental painting, you realize it is something very impressive. What is so impressive about Japan is the extraordinary porosity, the extraordinary fluidity of the circulation of things, people, ideas, modes, affects. It is a country that has succeeded in not having any bottlenecks. We could say that the presence of a population of spectators in a dark theatre, for the time of a
film, is a small bottleneck: there is something slow about it. Something slowly passes through an audience that has come together, that has gathered in a theatre. In that sense, cinema is opposed to or is too archaic for a society that is so regulated, so fluid that it can only invent pleasures related to this fluidity. So linked rather to the electronic, to games, to the movement of pachinko balls, to the movement of golf balls in enormous enclosures in the middle of the city, where people don’t practice golf with holes, but just send off balls, as Wenders so beautifully showed us. The problem of Japan seems to be the contradiction between this fluidity, which functions very well in Japan, and the obligation to say something outside of Japan. Nonetheless, there is a movement that might prove things are evolving and cannot not evolve. There is a somewhat snobby, second-degree movement that feels a certain nostalgia or melancholy for the films of the past. Nowadays, in certain cinemas in Tokyo, not just in film libraries or rare cinema clubs, they start to watch old films with a certain respect, the films that we often know, films from the history of cinema. So what role does tribal melancholy play? The Japanese love to be united in the sad idea of something that evolves and makes them cry and sing. And what is the role of recognizing a certain value in something that was made in Japan? These questions don’t immediately concern cinema, but cinema is a kind of indicator, even when it seems to disappear. I also need to say a couple of words on the festival of Yamagata, if only because it’s an incredibly well-organized festival. It’s the first time that the city council has spent money on a festival, and they don’t have a lot of experience in organizing big international festivals. There are a couple in Tokyo, which are a little nouveau riche, over-the-top expensive and holy. The festival of Yamagata was of a human size, which is to say that the small community of filmmakers, critics – I was a member of the jury – who ended up in this city really had a pretty wonderful ten days. The actual organization of the festival was exemplary. That is not a surprise, because we know the Japanese are good organizers. It was a documentary film festival and, after all the lofty reflections on Japan, we need to return to an issue which is as strange as Japan: documentaries. Why
documentaries? Because I think Ogawa, who lives in the region, pushed the city council to choose that theme. You need to know that the municipalisation of Japan happened one century ago. One century ago, in the middle of the Meiji period, they created municipalities like in the West. All the big cities in Japan are one century old. And many of them, not just Tokyo, have created film or other festivals on this occasion. Documentary cinema is obviously something extremely rewarding. The strange thing about the status of documentary film, which can be a sort of squared repetition – that can also be said of cinema itself – is that not many people are interested, but that it has an extraordinary reputation. Therefore, creating a documentary film festival at the other end of the world, in northern Japan, means getting money, respect and esteem. However, there are films as well and it’s impossible not to pose some questions on documentary film today. I don’t want to paint a gloomy picture by saying that things aren’t so great, but there is something not well thought out about what we call documentaries. Apart from the projects that are intimately linked to one individual’s approach based on true research, where the result or the endpoint is not there from the very beginning, there is an absolutely mind-blowing or even shocking number of films shrouded in extraordinary subjects, totally serious, absolutely tragic, that are a kind of “sub-television”. It is quite overwhelming. Maybe that’s the old jury member talking after having seen so many films where you feel like saying the film hasn’t been made, where there has been research and money to edit a film, but where it is then necessary to restart, not to edit it in the sense of an undertaking, but in the sense of an organization of images and sounds. You even feel a little sad that many of the issues of the great documentary filmmakers – which are ethical issues, as I think the essence of documentary film is ethical rather than aesthetical and is about where to position yourself in relation to a reality and what to do with this position – seem to be forgotten. I often feel that a good television documentary, however standardized and banal, is more honest than incredibly long, dragged out and pretentious things. That’s not Japan’s fault. It’s the fault of an issue that has now been completely exposed: everyone thinks we need documentaries. We do need them, obviously, but we’re going to have to re-invent them from scratch.
To end on a happier note: the film that won the main award at the Yamagata Festival is a beautiful Latvian film that tells the story of the decay of five or six lives in a small street on the outskirts of Riga and that slowly combs through a small corner of a city and gets the measure of the weight of history that every individual in the USSR carries with them. The second prize was awarded to someone we had already invited earlier, someone for whom we have a lot of respect and admiration, to Robert Kramer for the four-hourlong film Route One USA, which he made by following Route 1 in the United States. I can only repeat the foolish hope that we will be able to see it in movie theatres and on television. That’s documentary film. That’s research. That’s cinema. And this was my small Yamagata postscript.
Transcription of Microfilms with Ogawa Shinsuke at the documentary film festival of Yamagata, a programme by Serge Daney, produced by Pierrette Perrono, broadcast for the first time on 5 November 1989, on France Culture. Translated by Sis Matthé
The Theater of a Thousand Years Markus Nornes, 1997
In the summer of 1987, after completing his extraordinary documentary, Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story], Ogawa confronted a relatively new problem: he had nowhere to show his film. So he built a theater. The Theater of a Thousand Years [Sennen shiataa] was a traditional structure made of dirt, logs, tatami, and thatch which the filmmakers and their fans brought from the mountains to an empty construction site in Kyoto. Built specifically for this single film, this ephemeral theater on an urban construction site was partly an experiment in exhibition, partly a last-ditch response to a fast changing film culture. A publicity flier for The Theater of a Thousand 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.
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 Butō 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 sumō 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 Jōmon 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 Shintō priest, the screenings were underway. 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.
This “embodiment” involved an enormous amount of sweat, all volunteered. Through the efforts of Eiga Shinbun’s staff, 1 the filmmakers borrowed an empty construction site in Kyoto. A young architecture student helped plan the building, using traditional 1
iga Shinbun [Film Newspaper] is a Japanese film E magazine.
Extracted from Markus Nornes, “The Theater of a Thousand Years,” Journal of International Institute 4, no. 2 (Winter 1997).
Forest of Oppression (Ogawa Shinsuke, 1967)
Otsu Koshiro in Conversation with Kato- Takanobu 2002 Otsu Koshiro has walked side by side with some of the most important figures in Japan’s documentary world – Ogawa Shinsuke, Tsuchimoto Noriaki and others. His filmography reads like a historical outline of documentary film in Japan. On this occasion we learned about Otsu’s views from the other side of the camera in a discussion that not only covered technical matters but also moved through a range of other
topics. We asked Katō Takanobu, the final member of Ogawa Productions who also has strong ties to the Yamagata Film Festival, to take the role of interviewer. The resulting conversation between the two men, talking together as professional, accomplished cinematographers but also as a reunited master and pupil, unfolded into a stimulating discussion.
From Iwanami Productions to the Ao no Kai [Blue Group] Katō Takanobu: Could you explain what led you to do film? Otsu Koshiro: Well, it wasn’t “film or nothing” for me, and I didn’t spend my youth immersed in the movies. But I did like them, and in high school I was in a cinema club that had about 2 or 3 members. It was basically a fan club. We weren’t making films, we would just go to the theater and watch them. I was very interested in movies when I was in college too. That was right about the time that Masumura Yasuzō’s films started coming out, and I was impressed to see films by directors who had such a dry tempo. As for my decision to go into movies, at first I tried to get a job in journalism, working at a publishing house or a newspaper. I wasn’t really interested in radio, and I didn’t feel like going into television, which was still very new at the time. I graduated from college in 1958, but at the time most businesses were violating human rights to do investigations on employees’ political backgrounds, and I didn’t want to have to deal with that. I applied for some media-related work, mostly in newspapers and journalism, but those didn’t work out. Finally I ended up with [publisher] Iwanami Shoten. I lasted until the final entrance test but in the end I didn’t pass. At that time, though, if applicants made it to the final tests they were given a chance to take the entrance exam for [film company] Iwanami Productions. So I went to take the Iwanami Productions test and made it through. So I was interested in film, and when I was about to join Iwanami Productions they were still a new company, and they didn’t make feature fiction films. The company was finally starting to grow out of culture films (kulturfilm) and move into documentary. I took an interest in the new things they were trying to do. When you entered Iwanami Productions did you want to work as a cameraman from the start?
No, what I really wanted to do was direct. I came from a humanities and arts background and I couldn’t handle machines at all. I didn’t even know which way to turn a screwdriver. Mechanically I was totally tone-deaf. However, at the time the policy at Iwanami Productions was to make people with arts backgrounds work as cameramen. They wanted to train cameramen who could be thrown out on location all alone and still put a project together. The plan was to take people from the arts and shove them into the photography department to scramble around for a while, and after few years they’d train them as cameramen. As you said, Iwanami was a new company then. I doubt this happened often, but in that situation the photography and directorial departments spent a lot of time arguing, didn’t they? Well, most of the people in the directorial department were very young. Back then, in fiction film the system was one in which people might still be an assistant director after 15 or even 20 years. To put it nicely that gave people a lot of experience, but it basically made people slave over the same job for years before they were finally promoted. Nikkatsu was a new company, but even their people were probably working as assistant directors for 10 years. But at Iwanami, people would advance maybe two or three years after entering the company. Of course those would be small-scale projects, or there would be a supervisor standing by, or it would be only location work (no editing or post-production), so there were a number of conditions. In fiction film there would be a script and they would make storyboards based on that. The director was in charge of making any changes. There would be a sort of vague image of what to do and the director’s intentions would always come out in front. But in a documentary you don’t know what’s going to happen or how to deal with it. Basically everything depends on the situation. In conditions like that, a cameraman has more responsibility on his shoulders, so his word carries more weight on the set.
So there was a lot of frank discussion between the technical department – the photography and sound crews – and the directors. It wasn’t a vertically organized system. The directors and young assistants in the photography department went out drinking together all the time. In part that was because the company itself was young and there were few employees. Eventually this all led into a study group called the Ao no Kai. We started this group at Iwanami, and in the midst of everyone going off in their own directions, two people who stuck their heads in were Ogawa Shinsuke and Higashi Yōichi. By that time Kuroki Kazuo and Tsuchimoto Noriaki were already established directors so their status was a little different. In the study group we would go and borrow Alain Resnais’ Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog] (1955), for example, and watch it together. That was Ogawa’s specialty since he had some experience in college film groups. We were able to use the Iwanami screening room for free just by filling out a form. We could watch films and discuss them freely as a kind of extension of our work, so as a group we were really fortunate. When we borrowed something like Kamei (Fumio)’s Shinano fudoki yori: Kobayashi Issa (1941), Tsuchimoto and Kuroki came to watch and discuss it with us. Did the discussions after the films tend more towards concrete topics than abstract ones? They were very concrete. We were all new at it but we still took it very professionally, so we debated details about the cuts, scene order and framing of the picture among other things. We would draw on topics like Eisenstein’s collision montage theory for our discussions. For example, what was the best way to connect a long shot with another long shot, we asked. Back then it was considered standard to close in from a long shot to medium, bust and then close-up, but why can’t you just go from a long shot to a close-up? It might be cool to skip the mid range and go straight from a close-up to a long shot too. We were still very green, but we had free discussions about all sorts of things. The effect of ideology on the feel of a film, the relationship between art and politics, abstract issues like
that. It got very theoretical when we started debating what made a movie like Kobayashi Issa interesting. What in Night and Fog is interesting and why? Of course we’d also ask Kuroki, Tsuchimoto, Fujie Takashi (who later went to France and switched to sculpture) and others to come and critique their new films with us. It was a very free atmosphere. Later on most of the members left Iwanami Productions and began working freelance, so this atmosphere carried into the Ao no Kai. I suppose we grew up a bit and we kept doing film research under Ogawa’s leadership like always, but we could always discuss things ranging from one person’s specific production problems to politics and film, film and art. We had our hands full of things to debate seriously.
Forest of Oppression So you went from those discussions into actually making films. The first film you worked on as cameraman was Assatsu no mori [Forest of Oppression] (Ogawa Shinsuke, 1967). Is that correct? That’s right. The first film I did as cameraman was Forest of Oppression. Before that I worked on Seinen no umi [Sea of Youth] (Ogawa Shinsuke, 1966). Photography on that took more than three years and I ran the camera for about two months the first year. In Forest of Oppression, expelled students go to the Takasaki City University of Economics students’ hall and hold a stand-in. Were you trying to capture the sense of being closed in from the start? The camera doesn’t go outside for most of the film. We actually weren’t able to go outside. At the tip of the school grounds was a hall run by the student council. After they were expelled those students couldn’t enter the grounds through the front gate. You can see it a little in the film, but they opened a hole in a hedge in the back to go in and out. None of us came in through the front gate either, and we just stayed in the student council room. If we went out into the grounds I’m sure we would have gotten it, including from the right wing. There were some pretty strange characters there. So yes, there was an undeniable sense of being closed in. Sometimes when things like that are forced on you they get reflected in the work.
One other point there is the photography style I used. This is the first film where we succeeded in taking a camera into a situation and shooting with natural light. In the past the film was a problem, and it was standard to compensate with light or else the picture might not be exposed properly. That was a problem of film speed? Yes, film speed was part of the problem. Color film in particular was very slow. I think it had only gotten to about ASA 100 by then. Around the time of Forest of Oppression we were shooting in black and white so we were able to use film speeds from about ASA 80 to 400. Worst of all the grain (in 400-speed film) was really poor. Well, looking back on it now that roughness is kind of interesting in itself. Films like Uchida Tomu’s Kiga kaikyō [A Fugitive from the Past] (1965) made good use of it. Anyway if you don’t use the camera right and you’re shooting in a dark place with no good main source of light coming in, then the grain ends up really rough. When you try to watch that on a TV with poor reception the picture gets all murky. So on this film we used ASA 200 double-X, a medium-sensitivity film that reproduces dark tones well. To make a form appear solid in the picture you had to use three-point lighting ; a key light, fill light and backlight. That was considered the main lighting principle back then. So if your subject was against a window you would have backlighting coming in, but if there’s no window behind the camera as well there wouldn’t be a fill light to balance it out. Then you had to figure out if or how you could set up the lighting correctly. In nature, lighting like that doesn’t exist though. In those days film sensitivity and lens ability weren’t that great either, so at the least you’d have to use 1kW, at most up to 10 or 20kW of light. But when we were filming Forest of Oppression we couldn’t use any lights at all. There might have been one time when we used a 300 or 500-watt eye-lamp. If we used a light you would be able to tell that we were filming, so we devoted ourselves to using natural light as best as we could. Today you would call it shooting with available light. I took advantage of those bad
shooting conditions and tried to give the film more a realistic look. My method of photography probably looked pretty fresh then. Now that technique is very common though. At the time it was unusual. Anyway, when I was at Iwanami it was an absolute rule that you had to shoot from a tripod. However Suzuki (Tatsuo) had been doing hand-held camera work since 1960 or so. Nowadays it’s very common and cameras are made to be easy to hold, but back then we didn’t have cameras like that. If you held a camera by hand the picture would shake a little bit and you’d always end up with someone complaining that it was “hard to watch” or something. So we always used a tripod and proper lighting. That’s the way things were. However, as more filming started to be done with available light and, depending on the situation, with hand-held cameras, demand started to increase for people who could shoot sharp and lively images under those conditions. People started to get compliments for their technique with a hand-held camera. Suzuki Tatsuo became number one at that. His hand-held camerawork was really good. The scene in Tobenai chinmoku [Silence Has No Wings] (Kuroki Kazuo, 1966) where he chases the butterfly is wonderful. He used a slightly wider lens when he went running after that butterfly. His choice in lenses is outstanding. Suzuki could use telescopic lenses to their fullest potential too, and there’s another part in the same film where you can see that. He went both ways. I worked with him before and learned a lot about different filming techniques from him. 1 This was probably intentional, but in Forest of Oppression you also used a telescopic lens to spy on your subjects, so to speak.
Otsu worked as Suzuki’s camera assistant on Silence Has No Wings.
Because I couldn’t photograph them using standard methods. At that point the leader wanted out of the movement and one of the head people in the group went to persuade him to stay. I couldn’t just take the camera naked into that scene and photograph them, so I borrowed a room across the way and filmed them from there with a telescopic lens. But later on when the rushes were done the staff were all holding their heads saying, “We shouldn’t have done it like this…” I think Ogawa and Tsuchimoto also stopped using “hidden camera” techniques after that. That was some pretty bitter medicine, to be honest. There was a debate over whether or not to use the shot, but in the end we did use it. It was a strange cut. Let’s say we had a camera here with us as we’re talking, with a cameraman to do the shooting. If there’s no mutual trust – not necessarily a contract, but an agreement with the person being photographed that there will be a camera present – we probably shouldn’t be filming. The problem is whether or not that question was considered, and in this case it wasn’t. We weren’t serious enough about building a relationship between the camera and the subject. For some reason there was this tendency to think it was meaningless unless we got something on film, but that was a mistake. You can’t photograph what’s inside a person. You wouldn’t see anything. There are times when you shouldn’t film, and times when you can’t film. Basically there are some places that we just shouldn’t barge into. I think this is a problem we should always be drumming into our heads, including when we’re working in television. Say you have two people in front of you. There’s something like an “air” flowing between the two. I don’t mean the literal fact that they’re talking, more like the atmosphere drifting around them. Like the air you carry around with you when you’re alone. You could call it the “aesthetic” of the scene I guess. That’s really what we should photograph when trying to capture a person’s true being. It’s our job to see things that aren’t visible and to photograph what lies behind the things before our eyes, but I think the tendency among cameramen to think, “What I can’t capture in a photograph doesn’t exist” lay behind that stolen shot. That awful scene proved that the technique was wrong, so I totally stopped doing it after that. Further along – and this was true for both Ogawa and Tsuchimoto – the problem becomes, what do you 86
support? Where should you set your camera? Do you put it on the side of authority and power, or on the side that confronts that power? I think power now is starting to take a really ugly shape, and there’s a definite need to re-think those kinds of issues.
Leaving Ogawa Productions and Going to Minamata After working on Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu [The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka] (Ogawa Shinsuke, 1968) you left Ogawa and went to Minamata. What were the circumstances surrounding your move? I think there were two main reasons. One is that Ogawa was the closest he had gotten to the political side of things in that period. When making the Sanrizuka series, both his activities and his way of getting funding were getting closer and closer to political action, and I started to have doubts about that. We always had politics in consideration when we were making films, but I didn’t want to be influenced by them. Once politics grab you things start to change. I thought we should make films while maintaining a perspective on politics. That was one reason. (Ogawa probably sensed that danger too. You can see it clearly after Summer in Sanrizuka and in following films.) The other thing was literally whether or not to use the title “Ogawa Productions.” I objected to using it. I thought we shouldn’t put an individual’s name on (the films) like that. What is this “Ogawa Productions” anyway, I asked. Up to then we used titles like “Independent Film Screening Organization” or “Film Division.” We were very particular about using a title that represents a group. This was also when people started to notice Ogawa’s growing charisma, or dictatorship I suppose. I thought it would be wrong for an organization that made films while intending to oppose the emperor system to create its own internal “emperor.” So you decided to part ways over a difference in so-called political views rather than over artistic or creative differences? Yes. I think it’s best to say that.
Even after Ogawa went to Yamagata, he’d call me up and tell me to watch a new film he had just finished or ask me for some advice, and we’d meet up when he came back to visit Tokyo, so we didn’t really separate on bad terms. Anyway, Ogawa and Tsuchimoto were both antiestablishment, and they were both more or less pushed out of the film industry establishment. It was unavoidable. Looking at my experience at Iwanami, cameraman was, after director, probably the next most likely position to be bullied out of the industry. I knew Tamura (Masaki) from before, but he joined us after he saw Forest of Oppression. Once he started working with us though, the regular production companies stopped hiring him. They thought he was a liability, so he was shunned. I was raised as a cameraman outside the production system, and had continued to work on films, and I thought that unless new people who were trained outside of the establishment were rotated in regularly the movement wouldn’t last. At the time I could have more or less made a living with outside work, so I told them, “If it’s OK with Ogawa, instead of calling an established cameraman why not give Tamura a chance? If that doesn’t work out I’ll stay on.” They said they’d do what they could and ended up hiring him.
Minamata Series – On Minamata Disease In Igaku toshite no Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease – A Trilogy] (1974), there are quite a few interview scenes where the camera is pulled back a little and the director Tsuchimoto himself gets into the picture. Did you discuss this angle a lot with Tsuchimoto? Tsuchimoto would be listening to what they had to say and then pursuing certain points in the conversation, and I would be there filming it. One reason for shooting like that was that the atmosphere was really good. The fishers’ homes were colored by time and history in a way that was totally different from the new style of houses we were seeing in Tokyo then. I wanted to capture that atmosphere, so I pulled the camera back to get a wider picture.
Another reason for that was that until then, it was usual for the interviewer and staff to hide behind the camera and not come out in front. In documentaries up to that point the staff would disappear behind the picture, just running the equipment, saying whatever they wanted on the narration. To put it bluntly, it sank into propaganda. We hated that and wanted to deal with issues from inside the picture. So of course we thought it would be good to let the subject (the director) who’s asking the questions come into the frame. If the director had something to say, we wanted him to say it inside the film instead of hiding in the back and recording it onto the narration afterwards. We were hoping to probe for answers through conversations, not propaganda, so we felt a need to show the director as a proper subject in the film. To present him as an autonomous subject, not just as an interviewer. All of the Minamata Disease films have very impressive outdoor shots. There’s one moving shot that follows a small covered truck on the fish distribution route from Kumamoto to Kagoshima. It leaves quite an impression since it comes right after that tense indoors scene. I was always thinking about how to put the outdoors shots into the Minamata Disease films. In the medical world things always get really confined, right? It would have been possible to just complete it within that world, but Minamata disease is a sickness that was released within a certain environment. So I wanted to depict the environment people lived in – the sea, villages and towns. The fact that the patients were so trapped and shut off is also because of that rural environment, a land that’s surrounded by the mountains and the sea. I wanted to present “the Japanese village” in that form, so I also knew that I wanted to film as much as I could outdoors. I also wanted to avoid the oppressive visual atmosphere that comes from filming inside. This probably came out of that context, but there was one bird’s-eye shot of the village from the top of a hill. You’re shooting with a map of the village inserted in the foreground ; I think you must be trying to show the outdoors as openly as possible. In the next scene there’s a very well done hand-held shot where you just walk through the village.
Production still Minamata – The Victims and Their World (Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1971)
Up until the previous films Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] (Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1971) and Minamaata ikki – Issho o tou hitobito [Minamata Revolt – A People’s Quest for Life] (Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1973), I was concerned less with setting things up than with how to digest what came to us. But in the Minamata Disease, if we didn’t set everything up ourselves nothing would have happened. Minamata – The Victims and Their World was the opposite of that. For example, how can I depict one village from the top of a hill? Some of those houses are victims’ homes but others are not, and some are near the ocean or the river, and each of those hamlets are at risk of getting the disease. And inside them you see some people with the disease and some people without it. We wanted to show that kind of mechanism, I guess, in the film. In other words, we were consciously trying to cut into the situation with the camera.
So the film crew was very proactive in its search? We always included shots of Tsuchimoto going in to show that the films were going in to the situation. So Tsuchimoto represented the camera of the entire crew as he was listening to someone’s story. I wanted to bring out Tsuchimoto and the staff’s investigative stance. Basically if the staff didn’t actively try to make things happen nothing would come to the fore. We couldn’t just wait for something to appear. I think that was a special characteristic of the Minamata Disease – A Trilogy. In order to find out what kind of illness Minamata disease was, we had to investigate, shouldering the burden of the victims’ suffering, not from the perspective of medical specialists, until a complete layperson could understand. It was no longer an era when we could just wait for things to happen ; that sort of thing lasted until the time of Minamata Revolt – A People’s Quest for Life.
It seems that from around then Tsuchimoto, and also Ogawa, began to get more involved and engage reality more subjectively. Yes, that’s true. You can see that starting to bud in Minamata – The Victims and Their World, but in that case he wasn’t yet conscious about using it that way. The film as a whole criticizes the situation as reality. That tendency became clear beginning with the Disease Trilogy. Until then documentaries would wait for something to happen and then construct things as events inside that. The idea was that there was a hidden truth somewhere, and that if we went searching for it, eventually it would float up from the other side and talk to us.
That’s still an important issue today. People still believed that “the truth exists” up to about the beginning of the 70s, around the time of Summer in Sanrizuka. You tried to express things based on how realistic they were. Ontologically speaking, the idea was that “reality exists.” Somewhere people got the idea that if a person chased (reality), it would have something to tell them. So it was very objectivist. But that way of thinking started to collapse in the 1970s. You started to consider how things would respond differently depending your stance. If you change your own point of view then something different might appear. So when you ask, “Is that the truth?” it might not be. A kind of relativism developed, or a parallel way of thinking about things. That became more and more obvious.
At some point along the way, though, things stopped appearing unless we actively tried to dig them out. That shows how stagnant things had become. Even if it wasn’t an upheaval, from about the late 60s to the beginning of the 70s things were changing pretty violently. If you just waited around the situation would change and a lot would happen all around you. But I think that around ’74 or ’75 the circumstances started to develop to a point where if our side didn’t make a move, nothing would come up. It was that different.
This extreme subjectivity became another problem as the years went by. It’s very dangerous. Put that on a worldwide scale and you get all sorts of people thinking, “what I see is the truth and everything else is wrong!” The potential to fall into a very selfrighteous state of mind is always hiding in there.
It became harder to hold a third-person position on things, didn’t it? From around that time, issues of what position a person took – subjectivity, or how things would change depending on where you stood – came to the fore. Things went in a more and more subjective direction, and it turned into a method of mixing subjective and objective positions as you pushed things along.
Extracted from Katō Takanobu, “Documentarists of Japan, No. 17. Otsu Koshiro,” Documentary Box, 19 (25 April 2002). Translated by Michael Arnold
Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Environment in Documentary Film Aaron Gerow Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke are often considered the two pillars of post-WW II Japanese documentary. 1 Both engaged in a form of activist documentary that, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, was known not only for its commitment to important social and political causes, but also for interrogating the relationship between filmmaker and subject. Ogawa was celebrated for his series of films about protests against the construction of the Narita Airport, and Tsuchimoto devoted much of his career to filming the effects of and struggle over Minamata disease. Minamata disease occurred in the town of Minamata, on the island of Kyushu in Japan, and was one of the most infamous cases of mercury poisoning caused by industrial pollution. To many, this makes Tsuchimoto an environmental filmmaker. Even if Ogawa sides with the farmers who battle the airport authority’s forceful appropriation of their land, the problem for him is less the destruction of the ecosystem than the abuse of power and the destruction of human communities and a way of life. Tsuchimoto 1 Markus Nornes, “Noriaki Tsuchimoto and the Reverse
View Documentary,” The Documentaries of Noriaki Tsuchimoto, DVD pamphlet (Hamden, Connecticut: Zakka Films, 2011).
also exposes the malfeasance of the Chisso company – the polluter – and government officials, but his focus is ultimately on the breakdown of the relationship between human beings and the environmental effects of such abuses. What I wish to explore is less the topics that Tsuchimoto pursued in his documentaries, important as they are, but rather how he pursued them. My argument is that if Tsuchimoto can be called an environmental filmmaker, it is not just because of the concern for preserving the environment evident in his works, but also because documentary for him is both a recording and a sign of living in and as the environment. Filmmaking to him maps as well as embodies the relations of human beings with their surroundings. In the end, his method becomes not just a style, but also an ethics, because in his films, documentary must become environmental in order to for it to have a proper relationship with its subject and thereby record and preserve the world. Tsuchimoto’s documentaries ranged between political documentary and the educational or PR film. A student activist who spent time in jail in the 1950s, Tsuchimoto made his first independent documentary, Ryugakusei Chua Sui Rin [Exchange Student Chua
Swee-Lin] (1965), about an international exchange student who was facing deportation from Japan to Malaysia for his support of Singaporean independence. Since Tsuchimoto approached Lin even before groups were formed to support his cause, this “is a movie,” as Markus Nornes has said, “that started a movement rather than represented it.” 2 Tsuchimoto’s films, like those of Ogawa, rejected the supposedly neutral objectivity of conventional documentary and took the side of those whose voice was rarely represented. He once wrote that he “set out for Minamata in order to get the reverse view, to look out from the small hamlets, at the city, at the prefecture, at the state.” 3 Tsuchimoto and Ogawa’s documentaries less recorded than participated in and engaged with political movements. The first Minamata film, Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] (1971), joined a movement already in progress, but it did so by making public what had remained hidden. The Chisso company had been making chemical fertilizer in its plant in Minamata, in Kumamoto Prefecture, for decades, but a change in the production process in 1951 increased mercury levels in waste water from the plant. The effluent was dumped directly into Minamata Bay, poisoning the fish that local residents ate. The first cases of mercury poisoning appeared only a few years later, but it would take decades before both Chisso and government scientists acknowledged the relationship between the disease and the company’s actions. Until then, official prevarications, media collusion, and prejudice against lower echelons of society like fishermen contributed to the exacerbation of the poisoning incident. Tsuchimoto’s film attempts to reverse that, not only by exposing the horrors of mercury poisoning, but also by offering a different version of the role of 2 Markus Nornes, Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and
Postwar Japanese Documentary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 39. 3 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Eiga wa ikimono no shigoto de aru, new edition (Tokyo: Miraisha, 2004), 47 ; quoted in Justin Jesty, “Making Mercury Visible The Minamata Documentaries of Tsuchimoto Noriaki,” in: Mercury Pollution: A Transdisciplinary Treatment (Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012), 140-141.
media, one that is committed. Following the efforts of victims to confront Chisso by buying stock, the documentary peaks with the camera powerfully capturing Minamata victims confronting the company president at the annual stockholder’s meeting. There is another side to Tsuchimoto, however, which could be linked to his background at Iwanami Productions, a post-WWII production company that specialized in educational documentaries and public relations films. While wedded to corporate Japan in a period of high economic growth, Iwanami ended up cultivating some of key filmmakers of the 1960s, from documentarists such as Tsuchimoto and Ogawa, to fiction filmmakers like Hani Susumu, Kuroki Kazuo, and Higashi Yōichi. As Takuya Tsunoda has argued, the company proved influential on the Japanese New Wave in part because the New Wave itself had a pedagogical dimension. 4 Even after leaving the world of corporate PR, Iwanami filmmakers would carry on Iwanami’s educational ethos. Filming the lives of farmers, Ogawa for instance would go on to test ways to make a rice paddy more productive ; and Tsuchimoto, facing a government and academic community that continued to withhold knowledge of Minamata disease, made what is in effect a threepart medical film, Igaku toshite no Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease – A Trilogy] (1974). These two backgrounds can provide one explanation for why Tsuchimoto’s films are a complex combination of involvement and detachment – of political engagement and scientific objectivity. A more central factor in this combination, I would argue, is Tsuchimoto’s own intervention in what Markus Nornes has argued is the fundamental concern of postwar Japanese documentary: the relationship between the filmmaker and the taishō (subject, or object being filmed). 5 Ogawa’s way of formulating this is the most famous and perhaps influential. After filming the farmers battling the Narita Airport for several years, Ogawa shot Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku 4 Takuya Tsunoda, “The Dawn of Cinematic Modernism:
Iwanami Productions and Postwar Japanese Cinema,” Yale PhD dissertation, 2015. 5 Markus Nornes, “The Postwar Documentary Trace: Groping in the Dark,” Positions 10, no. 1 (2002), 39-78.
[Sanrizuka – Heta Village] (1973), a film that focuses more on their lives and communities than their battles with police. His subjects, however, told him upon seeing the film that he didn’t get it right. While there were other issues involved, Ogawa eventually packed up and moved to Yamagata where he began farming with his crew. In this narrative, the filmmaker could then only truly relate or know the taishō by becoming one with them, living with them and experiencing not only their environment, customs and actions, but also their time. One aspect of Tsuchimoto’s detachment is evident in the fact that he never went to this extreme. I argue he did not because his environmental filmmaking included an effort to include the environment of the filmmaking process. First, Tsuchimoto had long before Minamata developed a cinematic stance towards the relationship between human beings and the conditions in which they live and work, one that did not necessarily equate environment with nature. His 1964 film, Dokyument rojo [On the Road – A Document], for instance, uses avant-garde techniques in editing and sound to tie the disturbance of space caused by the construction for the Tokyo Olympics to the alienation of the individuals he depicts. The human breakdown was a breakdown of urban space and vice versa. Minamata offered him the opportunity to explore in a longer form the connections between human life and its environmental conditions. The films recorded ways of life, ranging from recipes for bait to manifold forms of fishing, that reveal varied and mutable ways of living in and establishing knowledge of the environment that enable life to continue. Long sections of his films put aside the political movement simply to document, often in an aesthetically remarkable fashion, the processes of everyday life on and by the sea. In some scenes, such as the shots of the narrow alleys of the fishing town of Goshonoura in Shiranui kai [The Shiranui Sea] (1975), the environment can have a metaphorical (or pedagogical) function, here expressing the narrow vision and willful ignorance of the government doctor and his patients about Minamata disease. On the whole, however, the environment surrounding his subjects, from the manmade to the natural, stands as an object difficult to know, forceful and essential but hard to grasp. As Justin Jesty argues, Tsuchimoto both expands the possibilities of knowledge, arguing for
models of science that look at the Minamata problem more holistically, as well as recognizes its precariousness, especially as its object – the environment – can itself be subject to change and deterioration. 6 Tsuchimoto can treat his subjects as equally difficult to know as the environment, because they are in effect his environment. He did try to understand the victims of Minamata disease both during and after filming them. He would show his films in the towns and villages around Minamata Bay not just to spread information about the disease, but also to get the responses of those most concerned with the films, and he sometimes re-edited the documentary as a result. 7 Tsuchimoto had actually filmed Minamata in 1965 in a television documentary, but his conventional presentation of the issue earned the ire of patients who complained that he did not understand their suffering. He became aware of the violence of the camera, especially when it invades someone’s space and environment. 8 Knowledge had to be mediated by a concern for position and location. Tsuchimoto’s films thus became an exploration not only of the environment, and the disaster that can result when it is poisoned, but also of the modes and ethics of filming the environment – or more pointedly, of the ethics born when one thinks of filming itself as a relationship with the environment. Christine Marran, for instance, has deftly elucidated how Tsuchimoto’s films offer a solution for how cinema can represent and resist slow violence – the often invisible violence caused by long-term environmental pollution on living bodies. 9 His films also do not simply conquer the space fully knowing it (even though Tsuchimoto was known for copiously researching his topics), but are a process of motion through and learning about that environment. Minamata – The Victims and Their World, for instance, is structured less by the logic of 6
Jesty, “Making Mercury Visible.”
7 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, “Documentarists
of Japan: No. 7,” Documentary Box (1995). http://www.yidff.jp/docbox/8/box8-2-e.html 8 See his discussion of the incident between Kamei Fumio and Miki Shigeru in “Documentarists of Japan: No. 7.” 9 Christine Marran, Ecology without Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 55-89.
persuasive argument and more by the order of how Tsuchimoto and his crew came to know and earned the trust of the victims’ families, as one family then led and introduced them to another. This temporal process is echoed within scenes in several films. For instance, the section about the care center for children handicapped by mercury poisoning in The Shiranui Sea features a camera moving from an empty room down a hall until it reaches the space where the children are having a Doll’s Festival party. The action of entering space is emphasized because this is not the first time the camera has shown the children in the scene ; by drawing back and then moving in on a space the camera has already entered, Tsuchimoto is making us conscious of space and the stages of our access. One should note the sign at the entrance to the hallway that prohibits photography or filming. Given that, according to the voiceover, none of the children’s families decided to enter this space and come to the party, we are asked what enables one to move into and represent this space. The ethics become more pointed in Tsuchimoto’s deft combinations of close-ups and long shots in the Minamata films. Most exemplary is the scene in The Shiranui Sea when a teenage Minamata victim, sitting by the seashore, asks a doctor whether a brain operation could cure her. Her tears when she finds out that it cannot render the scene heartbreaking, but it is important to emphasize that Tsuchimoto does not once show her face in this quite long scene – even though we’ve seen her face before. Using a long lens and shooting initially in long shot from the back, the camera’s distance both places her in her environment – the sea that is, in fact, the source of her poisoning – as well as respects her space. Even when her image becomes larger on screen, that is through a zoom lens that still emphasizes the distance of the camera. She is shown in relation to an environment, but in a way that respects and does not cut those relations, as well as emphasizes the need for the camera itself to consider how it inhabits its environment, the teenager included. Tsuchimoto can underline that by inserting himself in some of these shots, not so that he can dominate the film like a Michael Moore, but so that we can see how he shares their environment, and needs to accommodate their positionality (and temporality, as he patiently waits for them to speak,
no matter how difficult speaking is to them). 10 That does not mean Tsuchimoto will not use close-ups, but he is aware of their power, noting at one time their “fascist feel.” 11 Some of the close-ups of the disabled children are disturbing: they are hard to look at, both because of the supposed deformity of their bodies but also because we feel uncomfortable taking them out of their context and exposing them to view. That discomfort, however, is Tsuchimoto’s way of bringing the viewer into the ethical quandary. Like the hall shot at the care center, he varies camera position to foreground the ethics of distance and space. He confronts us with an ethical problem that is centrally concerned with space: of distance, of the right to entry or privacy, of visibility or invisibility, of context, relationality, and positionality. Filming a documentary to Tsuchimoto Noriaki thus must involve a constant self-interrogation of one’s position vis-à-vis one’s environment, including especially vis-à-vis those who live within it. One of Tsuchimoto’s most famous sayings is that “film is the work of living beings” (eiga wa ikimono no shigoto). His first iteration of that phrase actually stated that his work is “not the work of an author, but of a living being.” 1 2 By this he meant not only that the subject of cinema is living things and their environment, but also that film is defined by the work of living beings – a work that is fundamentally ethical and involves constant self-reflection on how cinema, the filmmaker, and viewers define and position themselves in the environment and how they can relate to other living beings. Only through such environmental self-reflection can cinema be cinema – and can Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s films become true environmental films.
10 Nornes, “Noriaki Tsuchimoto and the Reverse View
Documentary.” 11 “ Documentarists of Japan: No. 7” 12 Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Eiga wa ikimono no shigoto de aru
(Tokyo: Miraisha, 1974), 136.
This introduction was written especially for this publication.
Showing Is Not Enough An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki
Minamata â€“ The Victims and Their World (1971)
Aaron Gerow and Yasui Yoshio, 1995
Aaron Gerow: Looking at your academic back ground, it seems you had no relationship with film. It was only after you had spent years as a student political activist that you entered the film world. I was wondering why you then decided on cinema. The first films you made at Iwanami Productions were, after all, sponsored films. Tsuchimoto Noriaki: Lately I’ve been watching too many of those “50th anniversary of the end of the war” programs and I think because of their influence this may wind up being my “50 year history”… Thinking back on it, I was very poor before and during the war. Because my father was a minor official, you could probably say we led a frugal life. Since there were no children’s books in the house, of course we didn’t have a record player either. All we had was a radio so we could hear the weather reports concerning incoming typhoons. That was the type of environment it was. Most of my elementary school days were spent in Koji-machi (Tokyo’s Chiyoda-ward) and the school I went to was made up mainly of kids from the upper middle class. There were kids who came from out the district to get there and I guess you could say it was a famous school. When I’d go to my friends’ house they’d have record players, cameras, books, everything. In the midst of that, there was the lure of a stylish Tokyo and foreign culture. In my school district, there were the grand mansions of the Mitsui and Iwasaki conglomerates. Across the moat in the back was a famous Japanese style painter, next to him was the Swiss Embassy, on the top of that hill was the house of an opera star – I guess you’d call it a first class area of Tokyo. In a corner of it, there was a place like a little valley and in that place there was a group of houses and tenements for the less “well off.” This was where people like performers, street car operators, and hotel workers all lived, the real heart of the old town area, but it was a very relaxed area because everyone there was poor. My grandmother had a terrible illness that used up a lot of money – she had spinal caries. It wasn’t only a child’s mindset, but I could stand it. More than anything, if she heard there was a good doctor
somewhere, she’d go to him, or if there was a faith healer, she’d go to him, and all of my father’s money would go to her doctor’s bills. You must remember this was still when there was no such thing as medicare or welfare. Surrounding that world of the old town where you didn’t have to worry about being poor, all the kids were rich kids brought up in Yamanote. And I was a transfer student from Nagoya mixed in with them and never really felt like I fit in. But when it came to studying, we all jockeyed for the top and I wasn’t going to lay down either. But culturally speaking, I was raised in a seedy looking world. [laughs] I guess because of that, I was able to really get along with those friends I lived with after the war when we were really poor. It wasn’t really a problem of class, it’s just that we understood each other quickly and easily whatever the conversation. The first world I saw was that type of world. Yes, in my generation everywhere worshipped the emperor ; we had an imperialist education knocked into our very marrow, and we never even knew of the existence of the culture and thought in Taishō and early Shōwa that criticized all that. When the war ended, I was 17. The biggest thing to me was finding out that the emperor was just a regular human being. Even now I hate the emperor system, but I have a different memory of this. My elementary school was in Tokyo and not far from the Imperial Palace. And as you can imagine, the three closest elementary schools were made to come out and participate in ceremonies at the palace. We were the emperor’s “official” elementary school. [laughs] If a foreign dignitary would come to Japan, we’d be marched out in front of everyone wearing smart uniforms and waving the national flag of Japan. Cameras and newsreels all came to capture it. We happily waved our flags until we thought they would break. Whenever there was an imperial visit, we were all brought out and bowed deeply. They’d tell us: “Don’t raise your head until they’ve passed. If you look upon the emperor you’ll go blind. Remember he is a god.” When we asked adults how the emperor and empress had successors to their line if they didn’t indulge in sexual intercourse, they,
speechlessly, would avoid giving a direct answer. We used to play around the Palace or in the big moat. Whenever we passed the gate, we had to bow. Because the emperor was god, a being you were never to look upon. However, one day there was a photo published in the newspaper of the emperor and MacArthur standing side by side… a tall MacArthur and the short emperor. When I saw this I was so embarrassed I could have died. I mean, we had stopped emperor worship after we lost the war, but who had deceived us? Wasn’t it education, newspapers, school teachers, the citizens groups, and even my own parents who were to blame? I really felt that they had a lot of gall to gang up and push that divine emperor system on us. That’s why I felt like I should never trust an adult, be suckered into fashions and fads, read best sellers, that I should take passionate debates with a grain of salt. I made a decision in my heart about several such things. At any rate, I would only trust those of my generation, those with whom I saw eye to eye, all the while keeping a scrutinizing watch on those adults with whom I had to have contact. I’m ashamed of it now, but in my late teens, I was a pretentious little brat. I had an interest in politics but I only knew the early Marx, and all I really knew of Lenin and Mao was what I read in pamphlets. But I did enter the student movement. I paid my tuition with a part time job, but I was starving for books. I sold my blood, and once stole a book. I still remember the title, it was the third volume of Marx’s German Ideology. [laughs] The lady in charge of the store saw me, but I think she let it go. You know, even to this day I still won’t show my face in that store. [laughs] Right around the Korean War, I was really involved in protests against raising student tuition and the red purge of all progressive professors. Did you have any problems finding a job after being involved in the student movement? I really didn’t have a hope then. Through the Occupation army, the order went out to give lists of names of the main members of groups that were perceived
to be left wing. The regulations on groups stated that if you gave out such a list of the main members, you were allowed to perform certain activities. That was around 1949 when that was issued, I believe. Even Zengakuren (the all-student union) was required. But the names of the real valuable activists were hidden, and the names of members who were expendable were entered on the list. I was one of the ones who was expendable. [laughs] I wasn’t a leader or a theorist. I was one of the official publishers of the Zengakuren newspaper, but that meant cutting the mimeographed copy, and folding and sending out the printed bulletins. I didn’t mind doing that kind of work, because I had no delusions of becoming an ideologue. Consequently, at this time, I was on the Japanese public safety bureau’s black list and thought I couldn’t get a decent job. I had been expelled from college, so I felt you could call it a natural course of events. There was really no way to get around having two black marks: the list and being expelled. However, there was an armistice in the Korean War, the special procurement boom was over, and even those who had gone to college and seriously graduated were finding a hard time getting employed. It was a time when you had to do something, anything, to get by. Actually, I wanted to become a journalist if I could. That was because I really admired John Reed who wrote Ten Days that Shook the World. I didn’t have the desire to enter the film world, at least then. Even though I liked films, I had never even touched a camera and I didn’t really have the time or money to go to movies. That was mainly because I lived in culturally deprived conditions. [laughs] I heard you mention before that you lived near the Toho studios. At the end of the war I moved to Kinuta in Setagaya Ward, right next to the Toho studios. We barged in on one of my relatives’ place, and lived there after the war as well, but that area just happened to be a sort of film village. The neighbourhood was filled with famous film people. Miyajima Yoshio the cameraman, art directors, actors, actresses, people in production,
and the list went on. And I lived one door down from the kindly old man Yoshino Seiji who was later responsible for my entering Iwanami Productions. I’m skipping ahead somewhat, but I was to enter films some ten years after that. Even though Mr Yoshino was originally a feature film cinematographer, he was the one who chose to make a photography section in the Culture Film division at Toho studios. During the war, he shot Yuki no kessho [Snow Flake], Shimo no hana [Flowers of Frost], and Horyuji, all of which are recognized as classics. He was nice to me from the time I was a middle school student. In the last days of the war, when the air raid warnings would come out, men would have got out to stand watch. Now, standing watch is really a boring thing. Sometimes while watching the night sky, the normally tight-lipped Yoshino would mutter as if talking to himself about the particular techniques he used in the films he was shooting at that time. He used to tell me things like, “If you attach a time-lapse camera to a microscope, several hours worth of the movement of frost become several seconds,” or, “To shoot Horyuji’s pagoda, you have to build a scaffold” – things which used to send me reeling. [laughs] But he never asked me if I wanted to make films. [laughs] But he knew the conditions that surrounded me. That’s what was strange. [laughs] After I was expelled from college, when the Communist Party was in a period of extreme left adventurism, there was a time I held up in the mountains and carried on like a guerrilla soldier. We said it was to protest the American Occupation Army’s bases and to destroy the owners of forests and the like. That is, it was the place to temper the young, a place where factional cells were eliminated. Knowing that, I still went out, and got arrested by the cops in a petty skirmish, and get prosecuted. It took three years before the first trial ended (1955). I got released on bail, but you still have to appear in court from time to time. And in your average company, you can’t just go say, “I need some time off to go to court.” [laughs] Luckily, at that time, one of my friends from the Japan-China Friendship Society’s main office told me about a job in the advertising department of their bulletin. I worked there three years working on the bulletin and doing things like introductory screenings of new Chinese films. I think my assigned work suited me, but since
I didn’t have much interest in continuing with the Japan-China friendship movement, and since I thought my sentencing would turn out to be a pivotal point for me, I couldn’t wait for 1955. After 1955 the curtain opened on the new era of high growth. And then Yoshino told me he wanted to “have a talk.” I wondered, “Was it about me?” but it wasn’t that. [laughs] I was told, “You probably have some friends good enough for this, introduce me to them.” I recommended one. That friend of mine was a hard worker. Then the verdict for me came in, and I was found guilty but my sentence was suspended. My time would no longer be taken up in court. And at the right time I was asked, “Do you want to work?” But my heart wasn’t really in it. Living in a film village and the things I saw there really stuck with me. I participated in the great Toho strike, I even went to the studios, but by then, the independent production movement had already begun. That overlapped with when I was in the student movement. By the time Yoshino asked me, the real glory days were already over and the freelance assistant directors all complained, “It’s the disposable age.” That sense of disillusionment changed the way I looked at things. Though it sounds pretentious, I felt as though I had seen both sides of stars and film people… Movies aren’t really that big a deal anyways. Was that against fiction films? They were interesting enough in themselves, in terms of those who watch fiction films. But in terms of making such films, I really didn’t have much interest. However, one day I was invited to a screening of Hani Susumu’s Kyōshitsu no kodomotachi: gakushū shidō e no michi [Children of the Classroom] by Oguma (Hitoshi), whom I had introduced to Iwanami a year before. I was really impressed by this film: it had originality with a fresh kind of direction that broke the formulas. I was also very interested in how they managed to create a sense of almost verbal expression with the camera. This was my first real meeting with documentary.
Was that interest related to your earlier desire to be a journalist?
while his work was an industrial PR film, his shots were purely a cinematographer’s.
Yes, it was close. For me the film grammar and camerawork were the most interesting. I think it was probably the first (1950s) Iwanami documentary to use a single lens reflex Arriflex. Unlike the Mitchell camera, for which up until then you had to peer through the finder, the cameraman could adjust the focus as he followed an object with the camera. Until that time, on all shoots I had seen, the assistant cameraman had to use a tape measure to correctly measure the focal distance. Because I’d seen them repeatedly say, “Start on that mark,” and then run numerous takes to see how it looked, the new lens probably looked extremely fresh. While he was shooting, the cameraman, I think it was Omura Shizuo, really thought it was good: called it the “thinking camera,” I think. Of course automatic focus is taken for granted by people today, but you could look hard through that camera and quickly correct slight focus problems in the lens or adjust while panning. The subjects are children and the camera work is really alive. I was especially surprised with Hani Susumu’s youthfulness. That was about that time when I said, “I want to run the camera,” and Yoshino said, “Remember your age” – in other words, it was too late. [laughs] By then I was already 28. In the end, I was made a producer’s apprentice, starting as a location manager. I was busy getting lunches and securing hotel arrangements on a PR film for a big steel company, and didn’t get to participate in filming often.
So you ended up learning more from a cameraman than the directors?
But I was able to meet very skilled cinematog raphers and assistant directors there, and I was glad I was able to talk to them. If you compared my previous jobs to that job you could say it was extravagant. The sake I had previously only been able to drink maybe ten times a year, I could now end every day with. 365 days a year. [laughs] Meeting Segawa Jun’ichi was the best though. During the war he was assistant on Tatakau heitai [Fighting Soldiers] and when he’d drink we’d debate about Kamei Fumio or Miki Shigeru’s camerawork. When we settled down, I’d pester him noisily asking, “What were you trying for with today’s camerawork?” I was really drunk at the time. I got the feeling then that
Yes. On my first job he was both cinematographer and on-site director and a famous supervising editor named Ise Chonosuke edited it all. I think it was the tradition of prewar/wartime documentary but they’d say, “You shoot the scenes and I’ll put it together,” and divide the work into photography and supervisory editing. The cameraman would be handed something like a shooting script, make a plan, and go shoot it. Afterwards Ise, who had the tendency to not even go on location, put it together. This was also taken on by so-called external contractors for Iwanami Productions. I learned technique as Ise’s assistant but, although this may be impolite, as far as documentary film making goes, he was the ringleader that left behind a bad film style. It’s hard for me to come right out and say it to the degree he was a genius of an editor, but he would follow a certain goal and adapt the montage to fit that. I guess you could say that was the legacy of P.C.L. (the forerunner of Toho) culture films. Yasui: Didn’t Segawa get mad when the shots he took were edited? They were both professionals: they had the spirit where Segawa would say, “You can’t take that cut out!” and Ise, “Don’t overlook that shot.” Since they made masterworks even for only PR films, it was frightening. I really had an extravagant experience during my PR film days, technically speaking. Gerow: So Segawa was kind of your teacher at Iwanami. But afterwards, he was also your cameraman. What was your relationship like then? This may not answer that directly but let me try. Very recently I went to visit Mr Segawa, who is sick in bed, and was able to talk with him about what the most important thing in documentaries was. He told me an episode I had heard a dozen of times about the making of Fighting Soldiers. Maybe this was something he had been wondering about over and over again for 50 years.
Specifically it was like this. There was an event that happened during the filming of Fighting Soldiers regarding a scene they didn’t film, so of course it isn’t in the film. It is something that Segawa will never forget. His story is this. After the Japanese army had made many people suffer passing through a village that they had burnt to the ground, Kamei happened to spot a child in a field, got a hold on him and put his arms around them, and then called his cameraman saying, “Miki, shoot this!” Segawa was an assistant so he was always by the side of the camera ready to crank it. But Mr Miki didn’t try to shoot it. He said for a reason, “But Kamei, your hand’s in the shot.” Kamei replied, “It’s OK if my hand’s in, take it!” According to Segawa, Miki was a “famous” coward, but he stiffened up and refused to take it. That night Kamei couldn’t suppress his anger at Miki and the two argued on without end. Kamei put Miki down verbally, but even so Miki wasn’t convinced. Kamei said, “If I edit it, I can show the terror of war in that child’s expression. I could have used that kid’s face. So all you had to do was shoot what I said you should.” Miki didn’t give in: “I can’t shoot that.” He said, “It’s not in me.” This debate stuck with Segawa for the rest of his life and lies at the base of his philosophy of being a cinematographer. Until he was in his forties he thought, “He should have taken it as Kamei told him to. You take what the director tells you to and then decide about it at the rushes.” But in later life you could say that he began to understand what Miki thought in his illogical refusal. He said, “There are things that a camera man just cannot take, even though he is told to. And now I think that it was Miki who was right.” Further, recently there are parts of Segawa’s memories that have come back clearly. For example when he was drafted into the service, he accidentally met at the front a film director and a cameraman he used to work with. Adding that, “They are all gone now so I can tell you,” he said he was told they once purposely let a Chinese soldier escape and then shot him with a machine gun for a scene. They said, “When you fire
a machine gun it’s not easy to get a direct hit. We can’t have an enemy soldier flailing around.” Segawa was terrified to hear that one of his seniors actually killed a Chinese prisoner of war for the sake of a film. And even talk about it as if it were nothing! He thought, “This is what it means to be a filmmaker. How terrifying, how shameful,” and said he tried to forget it. And Segawa had nearly forgotten it until Miki’s illogical logic pushed its way through to the front and brought his memory back clearly. That was the first time I ever heard this. After a two or three year tour of duty, that’s when Segawa linked up with Miki and shot Fighting Soldiers. “Looking back on Kamei and Miki’s debate, Miki’s argument fundamentally held the position that we were victimizers, invaders.” In other words, according to what Segawa said, “All the members of the documentary film squad wore military uniforms, or were made to wear clothes resembling such, and the camera lens glistened, looking like a weapon or a rifle. And before you set that onto a tripod, anyone who sees you carrying it around in your arms is going to be scared. To that Chinese kid, we looked just like Japanese soldiers. His was a face that thought we were going to kill him.” For Miki, photographing the victims was something he could not do from the side of the victimizers. At that time, whether or not Kamei had any sense of being an aggressor or not is not clear – perhaps it was subconscious – but there was an element of discrimination in his direction of this film. The two memories converge to make a terrible circle. In other words, I guess I want to say, “As a cameraman there’s a part of your body that just cannot film some things.” I imagine it was Segawa’s testament of over 60 years of being a cinematographer. I don’t know about the feature film world, but in Segawa’s youth there were those who thought the director was an “emperor,” and that the director’s suggestions were the same as a command. But the fact that “the body doesn’t listen to what it’s being told” suggests a deep, intelligent nature. An intelligence that has sunk to the depths of one’s body.
Once a cameraman has taken a shot, he can’t com plain about how it is used, because he is the one who took it. What Segawa wanted to say to those who follow him is the actuality and spirit of the statement that a cameraman is not simply the one holding the camera. After fifty years of thinking through Kamei and Miki’s debate, he found his own answer. Pulling out the memory of what a companion had whispered to him on the battlefront, he paid his formal respects to Miki and at the same time skewered the “Kamei Myth” regarding him being an anti-war filmmaker. That’s the feeling I got when I received Segawa’s theory of being a cameraman. I was struck with awe. Does your staff maintain that kind of spirit? Would it be OK if your cameraman said, “I can’t film that?” Maybe, well I think it’d be alright. Cameramen who hold feelings like, “This is my film, this is my shot, this is my work,” on such an internal level have pride. I learned from Segawa about cameramen with a sense of what kind shot is acceptable like, “The shot I took can stand on its own. If you don’t like it, I won’t take it.” So I would like to have cameramen like that on my crew. At the time at Iwanami, there was the Ao no Kai [Blue Group, also called Blue Society], so did you have such discussion about documentary there? Amidst a situation where PR films were the center of documentary production, did you argue about that? I guess in the end you could call it the Ao no Kai era. Whether or not you can call it a “society” or not I’ll leave until later. It’s probably just my own prejudice, but it seems that you can divide film people into two broad categories. Those who have a big spirited heart, are interested in everything, and more adept at acting than the actors. In the film world they make a fictional world and draw the staff and cast into it. Then there is the type common in the field of documentary film, those who are strong in film theory and logic, the polemicist. [laughs] I guess I entered a film company that was strong in theory. [laughs] The majority of young filmmakers at Iwanami wanted to know how to take mental, spiritual images. They craved them.
The locations where they shot PR films were electric or steel companies ; thinking about it, there was no way to defend themselves. They knew that they were making films geared for the stockholders’ meetings. However, in the midst of all that, there were those who wanted to their own individual shots that could only be done in images not in words. And through an accumulation of practice, there were those, myself included, who thought they would be able to make their own future film theory. Everyone’s probably the same. But the reason it didn’t become idealistic is because the style was to thoroughly debate the films that they all worked on. In other words, they didn’t bring forward a new tendency in film theory or do director/film research. Namely, if there were good rushes taken, you’d dip into them. And you lean on sake for support, and drink to it. For failed shots that didn’t turn out well, we’d listen if the people involved wanted to make an issue out of them, but nobody had an interest in poorly taken shots. Because the staff that took those cuts also recognized it. Rather, we’d wonder why even a regular shot sometimes has excellent kinetic power: how were they able to take that shot, what was happening between director and cameraman that allowed that to happen? We’d even want to ask about the unspoken level of camaraderie. That’s why we could never do it without sake. [laughs] In order to open up one’s painful areas you need to borrow the power of sake. At least I’m that way. Even today, my disposition is to want to show the rushes I have taken to people and ask their opinion: “Well what do you think? It’s probably no good right?” I understand it was the unspoken practice of old moviemakers to “keep the rushes off limits to anyone other than the staff or crew.” External contract veterans had that character, but to us, a younger, horizontally equal generation, it was silly. The people of Ao no Kai thought it only natural to say, “so-and-so’s rushes are ready!” and go to the screening room to watch. That’s why when we found images with impact, we were all impressed and felt like, “Let’s drink to this tonight!” But to drink, you need a place for it and we went to our favourite bar Narcisse and occupied it until it was almost bankrupt. [laughs] Whether Ao no Kai was a “society” or not is still not very clear to me. There was no leader, no rules, and no
dues. Anyone could talk about anything they pleased. Films are made by a staff, so everyone on location, the producer, cameraman, soundman, editor, and the rest were all there. At the time, we even showed up at a certain film studies group. And all the progressive directors from each documentary film company as well as critics were there. But everyone was overwhelmingly passionate about reviewing the films of Godard or Alain Resnais and that was not by strong point. I was mildly interested but not so much in that logic. They acted as intermediary for those who made films, as if you had to go through them – it made me irritated. Rather than introducing or theorizing about those directors or films beyond our reach, I thought it was infinitely more interesting to speak of, say, the work of the cameraman Suzuki Tatsuo, or the montage work of Kuroki Kazuo or Higashi Yōichi – people you worked with. I heard my full of things like Ogawa Shinsuke’s unusual analysis of location work when he was an assistant director. I was entranced by Kuroki Kazuo’s overturning his own previous ideas, saying, “That’s it, that’s it,” as new images developed to such a complicated point we were frightened. Some of the regulars were cameramen like Ōtsu Kōshirō, Okumura Yūji, and Tamura Masaki, sound recorders like Kubota Yukio, editors like Kamoto Yuriyo. I guess those two or three years were a film school of various sorts to each of us. Among the members of the Ao no Kai, there were many directors who left Iwanami to go independent. You yourself, after making such classic PR films as Aru kikan joshi [An Engineer’s Assistant] (1963) and Dokyument rojo [On the Road – A Document] (1964), went on to independently film Ryugakusei Chua Sui Rin [Exchange Student Chua Swee-Lin] (1965). Was there a kind of reaction against PR films entering the era of independent production? Did you yourself feel you could finally produce films as a form of political action? I already mentioned that from the end of the war until I got into films, I lived about 10 years doing things that were not related to film. I had nothing to do with university film study groups, or script research groups, or cinema clubs. But as a spectator I saw enough independent and politically oriented films
to make one’s head spin. At one period after the war, I gorged myself on the sort of films that had a clear ideology, and a film grammar that expressed that explicitly, the type that said, “Let’s band together and do it!” I gradually became less responsive to films reducible to such messages, but as for politics itself, I’ve always kept a political way of thinking. But I think that’s different from film expression and enters the realm of sensitivity. In the case of the film Exchange Student Chua SweeLin, the exchange student was just a regular Asian student in the title who wanted independence from the former English colony of Malaya. What drove him out of the university was the same old contempt for Asia held by the Japanese, and you cannot speak about that without bringing politics up. However, what was filmed that really impressed me was when Chua spoke. He had a charisma in expressing himself that seemed to envelop the camera. I think too much sometimes, so for example, filming the meeting at Chiba University, I just assumed all on my own what they wanted to protest and expected that result to come out. When it didn’t come out the way I expected, I’d think, “This hunch was wrong again,” and pull entirely back and wait, shooting the area or everyone’s backs and continuing my relations with them. I have a saying for my staff which goes, “It’s interesting when predictions are being overturned.” No matter when or what you say, since it’s probably related to what you are wanting to say, I make that unfinished thought or whisper, the change of a small expression very important. This is true of all my films, but when it becomes a film, the people filmed sometimes say, “Did I say this?” Something is expressed that doesn’t come out in their daily life. In the everyday there is something you could call the non-everyday, something that’s not a lie, not a fake. Film depends on the relationship between the camera staff and the object. Yasui: Moving from Chua Swee-Lin to Paruchizan zenshi [Prehistory of the Partisans] (1969), I was really impressed with Prehistory of the Partisans when I saw it at school. It really has a buildup. I thought you must be someone with a strong talent for organization. Where did that come from?
Prehistory of the Partisans (1969)
Well, I think it’s probably because I keep a distance between myself and the subject. I keep a distance while maintaining a great interest. Even if I have sympathy for the subject I can’t allow an emotional impulse. In Prehistory of the Partisans, the characters are diligently fighting, but I look to see whether they can honestly carry out this armed conflict in the future. There’s the flow in the period from the students’ sense of crisis to the taking up of arms, because this was right during the Cuban Revolution, the Vietnam War, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The students’ feeling of being bottled up actually existed and you could also see the violence of the opponents. That’s why they (the Kyoto University Partisans (non-sectarian)) were so serious. At least I think so, but because I wonder where these people will go, I should both bring the focus forward and pull it back. For example, in the confusion of the scene where they barricade the university and openly arm themselves, I put in a bird’s eye shot from Mt Hiei which made Kyoto University appear to be nothing more
than one corner of the old city. This was in part to keep my head cool as well. Nothing’s changed in the world, and the tourists are ogling over the students’ violence. Where will they go from here? I wanted to show that future space. Gerow: This is a question relating to style. The dual quality, as you said, both keeping a distance and having a great interest in the main subject – someone like Takita Osamu in Prehistory of the Partisans – is a part of your film style. In other films, while using close-ups extremely well, you also shoot interviews in a long shot where you yourself appear on screen. Do you think the two are related? Well, this probably won’t answer your question but I do like editing. In the editing room I put the brakes on my subjectivist tendencies. Or maybe it’s just that I want to take long shots as a form of expressing self-criticism. When I appear on screen in an interview, there’s a psychology of wanting to be seen objectively: I really like close-ups, but visually there’s a violent, compulsory power to them.
That’s the frightening power of film: it may be odd to say so, but it has a fascist feel to it. That’s why, by using a long shot, I’m able to return to a critical point of view. On the other hand you could say I do it because I know about my bad habit of being taken in by the power of close ups. Hypothesizing about editing, I guess when I’m on location shooting, I feel I have to take a long shot to emphasize the position where I am. Yasui: I’d like to ask about your relationship to Ogawa Productions. How did you end up shooting Prehistory of the Partisans for Ogawa Productions? I had been freelance for a long time. I talked about the themes of revolution and violence with Ogawa Shinsuke and he asked me if I wouldn’t do it at Ogawa Productions. This was still before the Minamata Series. It was right after they finished the first Sanrizuka film and were in the process of shooting the continuation. The Kyoto Partisans were in Kyoto and Osaka, so Ichiyama Ryūji of the Ogawa Productions Kansai office helped in production. That was back when I was itching to do something, so I was really excited. I’m really grateful to him. Gerow: This year at Yamagata, we’ll be screening both your Minamata films from the 1970s and Ogawa Shinsuke’s Sanrizuka work. As directors who knew each other from Iwanami, what points do you think you have in common? How are you different? That’s something for other people to indicate, not something I decide. Yasui: But both of you must have been conscious of each other. The other guy’s making this, so I should make…
Positively speaking, the main difference between myself and him was, just as he said, that I continued to work for Iwanami Productions on a freelance contract. He was entirely a friend of mine through the Ao no Kai and never once did we work together on location. We never saw the conflicts of each other’s location sites. After I made An Engineer’s Assistant, I severed my contract with Iwanami. Up until then I had made around a dozen or so TV films and was able to meet Segawa and Ise. While being put through the wringer by my producer and having the accountant complaining about the budget to me, I gained a lot of experience. But, in the case of Ogawa Shinsuke, he left Iwanami and went out on his own while still an assistant director. He put together a staff with friends from the Ao no Kai including Okumura Yūji and the soundman Kubota Yukio. You could say that he blazed the trail of independent production while already aware of his inexperience in direction. He told me many times about the difference in our respective handicaps. [laughs] His love for film was real. He kept his zest for film study and that atmosphere of group research around him until the day he died. I’ve always admired that. Unlike me, he also watched lots of films – he loved films more than anything. For me, wherever he was, you could sense there was always a feel of diligent film study in the air: Sanrizuka, Yamagata, Berlin (the film festival), or wherever. At the internment ceremony in Gifu I said, “Ogawa Shinsuke was unique and excellent, the only filmmaker in the world who was a student of the art of cinema.” [laughs] But among filmmakers, you can’t say that you’re never jealous of your companions. If I said I wasn’t, I’d be lying. [laughs] But returning to your original question, there was absolutely no sense of rivalry of “well they’re doing this so we should too,” because I was just overtaken by filming and screening the Minamata Series, especially in the 1970s.
There’s none of that in me. I had the same experience of being in Ao no Kai with Ogawa Shinsuke and for decades after that, talking about films together was everything. When we spoke together, he was the one who did most of the talking. [laughs]
Looking back on those times, both Ogawa Productions and you at Minamata were making films without sponsors. On a financial level, that was pretty amazing.
On the issue of raising capital, Takagi Ryutaro (the producer) really worked hard. He did more than what was thought humanly possible to gather the necessary funds. After all, we were able to continue to make Minamata films in a series. I know he must have suffered over that debt for a long time. The presidency of Seirinsha passed on to Sho Kojirō, but I still think everything isn’t completely settled yet. It’s clear that the continuity of Minamata disease regulated the series. When I made the first feature length film Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World], I said everything I wanted to say and thought that was that. But I was criticized later by the people who saw it the world around for not including any “medical explanation” for Minamata disease. Actually, this film was made right in the middle of the court proceedings and the medical world was very uncooperative. Even though we knew there was an expansive amount of film for academic use at the Medical Faculty of Kumamoto University, the gates were shut tight to us. The reason being, “We cannot in any way influence the court’s decision.” After the ruling on the Minamata case in March of 1973, I foresaw an ebb in the vigor that had held up until then. As a feeling, rather than it being an ebb tide, it was more along the lines of a self-directed incantation which said people shouldn’t run away. [laughs] Thankfully, Takagi really had a strong desire to make a medical film and so we were able to push through with that. In actuality, the school gates opened for about a year or two after the court’s ruling was handed down giving an overwhelming victory to the patients. Films like Igaku toshite no Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease – A Trilogy] and Shiranuikai [The Shiranui Sea] could be made because of perfect timing. In the two year planning and editing period, I was able to concurrently produce four films. Because of that, the flow of capital was terrible. Takagi must have walked around peddling it to every medical school in the country, but we couldn’t sell it like we thought we might. He had one uphill fight after another.
One thing else I’d like to ask is about when you took the Minamata films and showed them around the world. You seem to put considerable effort into not just making, but also showing your films. What was your purpose there? A Minamata film was first presented abroad in the early 1970s at the United Nations Conference on the Environment held in Stockholm. I was brought over by environmental activists from around the world and visited Europe and Moscow. Then around 1975, Minamata disease broke out amongst the indigenous peoples of Canada (Indians) and I went at the urgent request of local volunteers. In Canada I showed the film on the “Minamata Film Tour” starting from Vancouver on the Pacific Ocean and running across the country all the way over to Quebec on the Atlantic Ocean side. It took over a hundred and some days. In those days the Japanese Government thought that Minamata was a national embarrassment and didn’t want us to show films like this abroad. We showed the film to everyone from the indigenous peoples and medical professionals in the affected cities to university, provincial, and national officials. I got a good idea of how the native peoples were treated by the whites. The Minamata victims also opened their arms with compassion to their younger brothers with the same disease. On the other side of the bay from Minamata, on the islands off the coast of Amakusa and Kagoshima, I spent over a hundred and some days going around showing Minamata films with my staff with a simple intention: I knew that although there were many Minamata victims there, through pressure from either the villages or fishing organizations, they wouldn’t allow the film to be shown. At first I didn’t think I would take my staff. I was in the peak of my filmmaking days then and said, “Have the supporters of the Minamata case do the showings.” But in the 1970s the people who supported the Minamata cause were called communists, Trotskyists, and terrorists. Since Takita Osamu from Prehistory of the Partisans had gone underground, and I as a result had my house searched by the police, you could tell they were treating me as a “terrorist director.”
However, when the people who made the film say, “We want to offer a chance to the people who need to see this most,” and go off on their own to the polluted areas and villages showing the film, no one can stop them. If you try, then it’ll get done. The four of us did it, including Koike Masato, who is now a director and will be in the symposium at this year’s Yamagata Film Festival. In addition, there was Nishiyama Masahiro, who’s the director of Mizu kara no sokutatsu [Message from Earth], and the cameraman Ichinose Masashi. During the showings we would stop and explain things and sometimes I was in a cold sweat. I read about that somewhere and wondered why you stopped the film. Although I was trying to be careful, it was a metropolitan montage, I guess you could say. The tempo is fast and even I was in a hurry. What the people in the fishing villages without information were most worried about was whether or not they knew the disease was contagious or hereditary. It was a big problem back then when people would say, “Don’t marry into a family with Minamata disease, and don’t have them marry into your family.” I make films so that anyone watching them can understand. This is just common sense. But when the people whom I most wanted to see it were right before my eyes, I would get carried away with things I wanted to forcefully emphasize because that would probably be the only time I would be able to show the film there. The place where we stopped the film was predecided. It was the scene of the experiment with mice that most clearly explained the development of fetal Minamata patients. Although Minamata disease is a type of poisoning and therefore not communicable like bacteria, it is often mistaken for a communicable disease. Moreover, those with fetal Minamata were considered to have a malignant hereditary disease and they were discriminated against strongly. It was stated in the film that the fetus became ill because it’s pregnant mother ate fish contaminated with mercury, that it was not hereditary. However, I thought the pace was too fast, so we’d stop and repeat it, pointing and explaining like with a slide lecture. This was really well received. In our road show, we were able to show this to over 8,000 people, and out of that 1,000 put in claims of being Minamata victims, a problem that still remains today.
But when you think about it, as a filmmaker, having to stop your own film is really pitiful. It makes you break out in a cold sweat. But, after going back to where we showed the film, I feel good about it now. Next, I’d like to ask you about the “Tokyo-Minamata” exhibition next year. Next year will mark the 40th anniversary since the official discovery of Minamata disease. I want to put together a chance for people individually to think about what Minamata disease was. What I’m doing right now is collecting photos of the departed victims who have only been thought of in terms of “total number of dead: x thousand x hundred people” and try to line up the faces of each of the people who have passed away from Minamata disease. This project isn’t a film, but I think it will mesh ultimately with the topic. Everyday the family prepares a tray for the deceased for the repose of their souls. I came to understand well the various ways each household grieves. But, how does one grieve socially? In other words, how do we etch this calamity in our memories? That’s why I made a “Memory and Prayer” corner in the Minamata-Tokyo exhibition. I plan to spend a year collecting and duplicating photographs. Unfortunately, at the time of the Yamagata Film Festival this October, I’ll be right in the last stages of my project, touring around the islands off shore, so I won’t be able to attend. I have the feeling that for the Minamata films, showing is not enough. For example, what is happening with Minamata today? If we don’t let people know about that it’s no good. This is what everyone who’s helping with the Minamata-Tokyo exhibition knows, and that’s why we’re placing such importance on the hundred some odd photos of the departed. My entrance into Minamata disease was getting angry at Chisso, asking if it was OK to have this ; a hatred towards a government that had watched the fishermen die without extending a hand to help and towards doctors who are stuck to the system ; and a loathing towards social discrimination. From now it will take at least half a century from the reoccurrence of Minamata to new developments. The Minamata-Tokyo exhibition is one step in that direction I would like to take. 107
Minamata â€“ The Victims and Their World (1971)
The original landscape of Minamata I saw thirty years ago exists only on film. It was a tragic indictment of letting people die that occurred on the dark underside to the era of high growth. But forty years after it, ironically, at least on the surface, there are signs that the glory of the era of high growth is breaking through to the surface. That people say “you don’t see Minamata disease anymore” is one sign of that. My exhibition of the photos of the deceased is what I call “the primary colours of the Minamata disease scandal.” These last ten months in my visits to the victims I have been taking pictures of the photos of the deceased with a regular camera. And right now I have managed to reproduce several hundred of them. Whether it’s Auschwitz or Okinawa, the way humans’ foolish deeds are left behind, the way things are remembered, can be found in one form through an exhibition of photos of the dead. In ancient times, there were only paintings and words. That’s the reason that the 20th century is called the century of images. At the Minamata-Tokyo exhibition, I intend to include authors, painters, photographers, and in addition doctors, scientists, social scientists, performance, arts, and goods. I think it just might be a valuable event. By the way, collecting photographs of the dead is a stress-filled job. Therefore, it makes me really want to make a movie. I think I’ve already taken about 30 hours on video already. By filming I can take a deep breath ; it’s a good change of pace. Now, here (in a room at a Minamata inn) I have three video cameras. Sometimes I run them like I’m taking a “Minamata Diary.” I’m not planning on making it a film, just a video diary. My long dormant desire to become a cameraman is at last coming through. [laughs] But shooting an interview by oneself is hard.
and when I get to the best part, I don’t want to shoot it with a camera. A thread of reaction begins to take place between the subject and myself. When that happens the mental part paying attention to matters of size and focus seems to go out the window. If I look through the lens, I do things like overuse the zoom, and so it’s only natural that I can’t get into the story. If you have a cameraman, then you know he’s going to shot the subject right. When I get to the crux of the problem, the cameraman should close in ; or I could just give him a sign. I don’t lose my concentration. But when I’m running the camera, I’m afraid I’ll ruin the climax. If I can synchronize the discoveries I make in the interview with what the cameraman finds through the lens that’s the greatest. And besides, taking a distanced stance is hard to do when you’re by yourself. It’s probably because you soon find yourself lost in the world of the frame. These days I keep rediscovering that, unlike photographs, film, with sound and action, requires several staff members. [laughs] Is it because you want to interview from a position more intimate than that of the camera? As for me, my attitude when interviewing and when shooting are two different things – they split up. I worry so much I wonder if this isn’t the very structure of the brain. You have discoveries when it’s a direct interview, one by one. But it’s hard to match those discoveries with concentrating on the visuals. If you can roll the camera while doing an interview that’s good, but I can’t. When my collection of the photos of the deceased is finished, and I get down to making my “Minamata Diary” into a real film, I’ll get my old staff together and work together with my favorite cameramen.
Gerow: But there are many young directors who do that, who do interviews while running the camera themselves. Technology has improved and one of the most convenient things about video is that you can shoot it yourself. But this is a source of unease and I’m worried about it. I especially want a cameraman when I have an interview. I interview my subject
Originally published as “Documentarists of Japan, No. 7. Tsuchimoto Noriaki,” Documentary Box, 8 (1995). Translated by Michael Baskett
“Can I Eat, Die, and Love There?”
My Private and Cinematic Experiences in a Different Culture Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1992 I have often entrusted myself to the world of another culture while working on a documentary film. A trek across Siberia, eight months on the Eurasian continent, seven in a Canadian Indian reservation, and six months in civil war-torn Afghanistan for starters, with trips to several European nations, Cuba, five ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries, and India also included. Put end to end, they probably amount to about three years since most were long location shoots. While the theme of this essay is “Can we understand other cultures?”, in cinema the difference between depth and superficiality depends on the degree of understanding found in the recorded images. This has become an age when we live as if next door to different cultures in terms of our way of life. Although passive friction has become a problem, my encounter with other cultures was something I desired, a friction I provoked. The late 1950s was an era when cinema was still powerful, television having only just started. With the announcement of the end of the American Occupation, the film medium, having been previously restricted to the Japanese island, spread its wings and headed for locations abroad. The best of the
exploration travel films like Karakoram, Mesopotamia or Antarctica were objects of envy for us new filmmakers. Let me introduce some of what I heard from the directors and cameramen of those films about their experiences on location, words that have remained with me since: “Going on location for a documentary film is three times as hard as a newspaper reporter covering a story. But it thereby becomes three times more enlightening. A reporter takes notes and that’s it, but we perform a ‘physical labour’ called filming.” “Strangely, the relationship with the locals with whom we cannot communicate becomes in the end just eye-to-eye contact. Two pairs of eyes firmly staring at each other.” The best one was: “If you step one foot into a foreign land, mutter this in your heart three times: ‘Can I eat, die, and love here?’ If you do, you’ll get the guts to go on.” Seemingly from a naniwabushi song, this last line was influential. From what I can guess, “can I eat there?”
means do you have the resolution to live there even temporarily. “Can I die there?” seems to involve ultimately asking yourself if you will have any regrets if worse comes to worse and you meet your end there. A clear touch of the martyrdom complex. “Can I love there?” does not refer to loving humanity in general, but that said, it isn’t womanizing either. I concocted a fictional case and asked if this meant taking one of the locals as a wife and falling so in love with the people of that land that you remain faithful until death. While my superior couldn’t help laughing out, “You don’t have to go that far,” he was appealing to the degree he was half serious. The saying, “It’s the eyes that tell everything in the end,” can also apply to the facial build a person was born with. At some point I had the opportunity to hear about what the late Okamura Akihiko, famous for his Vietnam War photographs, learned when he was captured by the Vietcong. He held on to a “round-faced theory of journalism” that said journalists should be limited to people with round faces. Suspected by the Vietcong of being an enemy and placed in a situation in which he could not communicate, he confessed that “If I had a thin, scrawny face, I probably would have been killed. A person with a round face is a good person – that is a face understood everywhere.” He was then persuasive to the extent he knew he owned a plump baby face that expressed in itself his good upbringing. His benevolent behaviour even during his long confinement fostered an intimate relationship with his captors who then let him take those photographs that stunned the world. But it was only later that I came to learn that, regardless of the eyes or the round face, his success was grounded in his self-confidence and in the accumulation of extraordinary experiences. I should say one more thing about the phrase, “Filmmaking is three times harder and three times more enlightening than being a reporter.” I cannot declare that there was in this none of the competitive spirit against “people who write” frequently held by film people raised as newsreel cameramen. Judging from my experiences on the location shoot across Siberia, on which a reporter from the Asahi News accompanied us, it is true that film reporting causes about three times as much trouble as the pen.
If it takes time, then the number of people involved is equally larger. A newspaper reporter can’t tag along during the time it takes the filmmaker to set up the camera, obtain the subject’s understanding and cooperation, and wait for a moment suitable for filming. It’s clearly better to go off and pick up other topics. Consequently, the comparison itself is meaningless from the start. Because the essence of the mode of expression – the so-called essence of the medium – is different. That aside, what caught my attention in what he said were the words “physical labor.” It was neither that kind of sweat-producing labor nor that which was referred to in the class-based language of workers. It was probably a term referring to the dynamism of movement during a location shoot. Filming an event is completely different from the sedate grace of working one’s intuition and insight while silently taking notes, in the case of covering it with the pen. You walk around with a heavy camera on your shoulder looking for a position, then plant a tripod, set up the lighting and fix the mike. While one takes in the same phenomenon, there is in cinema a “physical labor” which pursues the image through a machine called the camera and which is different from mere passive observation. During this planning that must look like loitering, the cameraman can think, choose, and be absorbed in the image. Even if you can’t communicate with them, the people around you will wait and watch that activity. That was probably what was meant by the “privilege” of cinema. Certainly this also means that you can also “watch people three times as much.”
Learning from my elders the know-how involved in locations abroad, I truly had fun at that point honing my filmmaking technique. Because in there lies, one should say, the original form and spirit of documentary. Just visualizing things is boring even in film. The encounter with discovery and the unknown is pregnant with suspense. In educational and culture films, however, there was a strong trend towards valorizing the screenplay. The narration and other elements were made up during the writing stage
– that is, before photography. Seeing how one’s predictions are overturned, however, is one of the pleasures of documentary filmmaking. Doesn’t a director become unnecessary if all that is involved is putting into images the “draft plan?” The so-called “travel-films” and especially the “films of foreign lands” were different in this respect. There all was left up to the quality and ability of the director or cameraman. Even Kamei Fumio’s wartime Shanghai and Tatakau heitai [Fighting Soldiers], and even the epoch-making full-length documentaries of the late 1950s I mentioned earlier were “travel films.” Isn’t it really the confrontation with the otherness of different cultures which allows one to encounter surprise and excitement and, using that as a nucleus, make the jump to being an individual artist who can wield cinematic technique? We entrusted our desire to that interpretation of “travel films.” We did that all the more to the degree our generation held a deeply rooted barricade mentality against the world. Our generation, raised as military youth along with the war, had a skewed sense of balance with regard to world geography. China and Southeast Asia appeared in maps in the newspaper as often as possible as military dominions of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, ruled over by the Great Japanese Empire. The important cities were featured so much in the war news, such as about the bombing of Chongqing and the attack on Palembang, that everyone had memorized them. The way of understanding the map of Europe was similar. The border of every nation was drawn as if in a preliminary sketch for an invasion diagram by the Axis powers, Germany and Italy, so that there was little sense that any of the nations existed independently. It was an era when the use of English was restricted and films from Europe banned. In no way could an international sense of geography develop. After the war there was the complete shift to democratic education. You could suddenly see the world, as if the scales in front your eyes had fallen off. People cried out that a sense of the international was necessary, but even that started to become warped because of the Cold War structure. The world was divided into two camps, East and West. The paeans to the new Constitution, calling for us to follow the “example of Switzerland’s permanent neutrality,” died
out. At the peak of anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiment, the Korean War broke out and Japan was placed in the Cold War map on the front line of the West’s security perimeter against the Soviet Union, the new China, and so called “North” Korea, sparking rearmament and the building of military bases all over Japan. Places like the Okinawa Islands gained an existence equivalent to that of a foreign country. We saw the world through the eyes of the United States. One’s sense of the international was measured by one’s degree of knowledge about America. Soviet films like Siberian Story were accordingly received as if they had the dazzle of another world. That’s how much we were totally steeped in the world of American culture. A somnambulistic fashion for “escaping Japan” began to rise among young people. That was from 1956, the year it was declared that the “postwar” was over. At the roots of this vitality, however, were the conditions of a country that had been half-closed for nearly 20 years during the war and after, producing a warped and bruised image of the world. It’s not like there was the inclination either to learn about another culture or just tour it as a tourist. As long as it wasn’t Japan, it was OK. This was probably the eruption of a starved spirit that wished to eat away at that barricade mentality. I too wanted to be one of these people. But I couldn’t because of other commitments.
I shouldered the campaign against the Red Purge and the Korean War within the student movement and was strongly attracted to socialism. Having then been a member of the Central Committee of Zengakuren, I was registered as an “Anti-American Communist” by the U.S. Embassy under the Occupation Army’s extra-constitutional regulation, the Group Control Order. Of course, I could no longer obtain a visa to go to America, but the same was true for Okinawa and Korea (up until a few years ago, my applications for a visa to America were always rejected). My route to another culture was then split according to the framework of the Cold War structure, inviting a result in which my passage abroad could point only towards the Eastern Bloc.
There was no shortage of subjects I wanted to film abroad. Beginning with the construction of the new China, the Cuban Revolution, and the war for the liberation of Vietnam, my heart resonated with the waves of national movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. With the death of Stalin and Khrushchev’s proclamation of the “thaw,” international cultural exchange came to life and Japan-Soviet relations were not an exception. What was planned in the wake of this was the documentary film, Shiberiajin no sekai [The World of Siberians], about traversing Siberia in Japanese-made vehicles. It was a part of a cooperative venture by Dentsu (Toyota), Asahi Newspapers, and Nihon Film Company, to create a new campaign introducing Siberia by simultaneously using the media of newspapers, film and television. The Soviet government allowed us to report on its virgin territory on the condition that the project was done in cooperation with the Novosti news service. This was the first time anyone from the Western media had entered this area in the postwar era. Not only for me, but for everyone else, the world on the other side of the Cold War “Iron Curtain” was a “mass of alien culture” we wanted to know more about both politically and culturally. Especially Siberia, which was Eurasian – that is, Asian. I became interested due to the foreign reports on the skirmishes over the Soviet-Chinese border. Be that as it may, I headed out on the Nakhodka sea route to make the film The World of Siberians in 1968, the year of the 50th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution. It was just after Brezhnev had claimed the regency and it was during the sea trip up north over the Japan Sea that we heard the news on the ship radio that the reformist Minobe had been elected Governor of Tokyo. There were four people in the Soviet staff: two interpreters, the news service chief, and a driver. On our side, beyond the film crew of four, there was a reporter/photographer from the business section of the Asahi News and two technicians for Toyota, making a grand total of cloven. For the cars, we had a Crown Corona and three of the brand-new Corolla series. While we could state it was a “5000 kilometer
drive” from Nakhodka to Moscow, we did not drive through the military regions, national borders, and other areas in between not open to foreigners. It was a journey in which we also used trains and airplanes. The filming started of with a setback. The Soviet side had intended to treat us as guests and did not know how to handle a film crew. To begin with, when the news came out that I had driven out for a location shoot in the suburbs of our first stop, Khabarovsk, taking only the film crew, I was scolded and told that that was “extremely senseless!” Then we received a severe warning from the city administration for filming without permission a high-angle shot of the city from the roof the hotel. Filming from high places was banned in the interest of preserving military secrecy. Since these incidents were the results of us overreaching ourselves, we did not put up a fight, but our previous written proposal to interview the guards at the international border did become the spark that ignited suspicions we were spies, producing a lasting affect throughout the first half of our journey. I had read a wire report on the border conflict from AFP news service just before leaving Japan. Believing at the time in socialism, I thought I wanted to confirm that reality with my own eyes. I assumed that the interviewee would be someone often seen in that region: a soldier of Asian descent. I intended to ask him the question: “Can you, as a Soviet soldier, point your gun at Chinese soldiers separated only by the Amur River who are Asian and socialist like you?” The Soviet staff was perplexed. They shrunk back, “While we can understand your aim, why must it be an Asian soldier? Won’t the voice of a citizen do just fine?” Nothing got settled. In the end, I directed my permission inquiry to Moscow. In proportion to my desire to clear up inaccuracies in the news, I had only aggravated the impasse, yelling, “And this is the land of the ‘International?’” An impasse resulted despite the fact banners were decorating the streets proclaiming the “50th Anniversary of the Revolution.” While waiting for several days, I learned that there was a film studio in Khabarovsk and got permission to tour it. Perhaps it was only grasping at straws, but I did it because I really wanted to talk to the fellow film people in that area. They would understand that
documentary needs the power of evidence, and that, because of that, these kind of cinematic tactics are necessary. In addition, I thought I could probably get some hint on how to break this impasse. But it was all in vain. The studio did not have a news film division and only produced educational films. The mode of visual expression in the films they kindly showed me was well-skilled, but they didn’t have a particle even of so-called “socialist realism.” When I asked, they said that there was a scenario examination committee set up so that only scripts that had passed the committee could be filmed. A censorship system which filmmakers in the former Soviet Union today are divulging on their own. Judging from the high standard set by Soviet dramatic films in those days, I had so much expected a documentary cinema of corresponding quality, that I almost slammed my fist on the desk, declaiming that “Documentary possesses the power to critique. To the degree that the power of images to testify to the truth cannot be expressed in words, it has a nature that cannot be administered. To snip away at it in the scriptwriting stage is equivalent to killing documentary cinema.” The conversation was no different from exchanges with friends in the Japanese film world. But the people at the film studio were more resigned to the system than angry with it. In the end, the answer delivered from Moscow was no to the border shoot. After that, I was treated as a dangerous individual. The impossible was impossible, regardless of my round face or my eyes revealing everything. We were also not permitted to film an extreme long shot from a mountain near the border. It seems it was an area adjacent to some missile base. Regardless of the “physical labour” of building up a sweat lugging the camera around, the answer was “nyet”. The buses during rush hour are extremely crowded in the capital of the autonomous republic of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude, but I was prevented from turning my camera in that direction. Then, on a mountain road in the Kolkhoz forest, I was struck by the sight of a woman expending all her strength against a car tire that had fallen into a crevice in the rock. I tried to take out my camera, but I was again roughly restrained. They said it was because it was “unsightly.” I wanted to film it because I felt a certain energy, but that was hard to express in words. They did not understand film language.
Changing my way of thinking, I decided to put a priority on filming what they wanted me to film and then do some digging around what surrounded it. If I was half-hearted about it, I could easily have only ended up filming according to their plan, but if I thoroughly pursued the object, in the end I should have been able to get a practical sense of the essence. For instance, in the case of the Mongolian cooperative shepherds of Buryatia, I went around shooting the spectacle of the collective clipping wool. While the farm tools are collectively owned, they won’t pass on their clippers to another even when they are having a smoke. Within the property of the community, only the clippers are individually owned. They were honed until they sparkled: that lustre and way of sharpening spoke of the proficiency of the individual. When I shot it in close up, the man would become delighted and more friendly. I learned to “start filming from what they want to show you and then delve into it later.”
There were days I spent muttering in half desperation, “Can I eat, die, and love here?” The differences over our filming toned down, but the sense of suspicion over our shooting weak points was never completely wiped out. Moscow (I later learned) had reached the fork in the road of either cancelling our filming or letting us continue. The man in charge was fired and a female chief arrived from Moscow. While filming was later allowed to continue based on her judgment, location shooting was interrupted in the meantime, leaving us stranded in Irkutsk. It was then that the “incident” occurred. On one short arctic night, I took a stroll in the park on the banks of the Yenisei River to sober up after drinking vodka. There was a ring of male and female students enjoying summer vacation by singing along to an accordion. I too introduced the theme song to Siberian Story and received a round of applause. At that moment, I was embraced on both arms as if in a friendly gesture. Following the two men who were persistent in their invitation, I was carried away into the shadows and suddenly punched, the two laying their hands on my watch and wallet. Hearing a couple beneath a nearby tree, the two fled clutching my watch. Through somebody’s report, I was taken to
the hospital in a speeding ambulance and received treatment for a wound on my cheek and a bloody nose. Returning to the hotel, I only told the staff who were worried about my wounds that I had fallen down. When you think that there are thieves and muggers in any country, it wasn’t that big an incident. The next morning, the interpreter told to me to go to the police, but “keep it secret from the others.” It seems there were KGB-like men taking turns watching the hotel. The police treated me extremely politely at first. One man, surely a veteran, began the questioning. It was fine when he broached the subject by saying, “You are the first foreigner to fall victim to a robbery in Siberia,” but then he asked me: “What did you say to the other Japanese?” “I said I fell and got injured,” I answered, suddenly becoming awkward. I thought, no, he doesn’t believe me. I continued, “I can’t guarantee if you came to Japan that you wouldn’t fall victim to a crime. But can you then say that Japan is a land of thieves? There is a newspaper reporter in our entourage. If this got into the newspapers, it may have caused lots of problems, so I didn’t say anything.” The KGB man didn’t buy that story. After leaving the room for a moment, his line of attack changed. He began to stubbornly follow an indirect style of interrogation: “You didn’t do something bad to one of those women students and then just get punished for it, did you? If that got written up in a Japanese newspaper, the scandal would’ve fallen on you. Isn’t that why you didn’t tell the others? No matter how much we investigate, it seems the other Japanese staff don’t know.” That seemed to make no sense to him, so he repeatedly asked me a series of questions apparently designed to trap me. There was just no way I could love him. “What is going on with this guy?” The next day they did not stop testing me on the subject and repeated the same set of questions. The Soviet staff in the same hotel waited with baited breath for the truth to come out. They cowered with their heads down, wondering what would happen if the Japanese mass media got news of this. Three days passed but there was no change in the Japanese staff. Everyday I acted as if I was going to the hospital to get treatment for my injury. With this incident, I had ceased to be surprised whatever may have happened.
The next day, without notice, I was taken to the “governor’s villa” next to some lake. The governor pleaded, “Please excuse the insults you have suffered. I know that you are a Japanese who loves the Soviet Union from the bottom of your heart.” He then held out a gold watch and said, “This is my nation’s finest watch. We will without fail recover your watch from the criminals, but until then, please make do with this.” I was delighted that trust in me had been restored. The mood suddenly became gentler and I looked around thinking, “So this is a villa of the privileged class.” I got dead drunk drinking as much highclass liquor as the ebullient and beautiful hostesses encouraged. With that one night marking the border point, the Soviet side’s idle suspicions about me disappeared as if they were a dream. While there were some small difficulties in filming after that, the words of my predecessors quietly lived on. Within the conflicts of the first half of this journey existed a set of mutual prejudices and dogmas born of a wall that surpassed the cultural differences: the artificial divisions created by the Cold War. Although it may be old fashioned, the sense of a relationship with another culture began with that utterance, “Can I eat, die, and love there?” Even if that understanding was full of “misunderstanding.” Incidentally, the film The World of Siberians won a prize at the Mainichi Film Concours. The plan was to release it in theaters that summer, but with the storm of criticism whipped up over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, its release was postponed. The film had not been shown publicly to this day.
Published in Japanese Documentaries of the 1960s [Catalogue] (Yamagata: Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, 1993), 47-52.
Minamata – The Victims and Their World (1971)
Statement on Minamata – The Victims and Their World Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1972 We filmed every day, and after nearly 140 days of shooting our memory of each single day is vivid and precise. What we filmed was not a daily journal, but the climax of problems that accumulated while waiting for a solution.
One day, the factories steaming in the sun. Another day, frames of mullet fishing. Sick children and the environment surrounding them. At the town hall with movie cameras and recording devices. That is how we filmed Minamata and the Minamata disease.
Sometimes we filmed people we had already filmed. With the same lens we tried to capture the same chimney stack – we had no choice but to find out and understand more in depth. We thought we would make the movie within four months, but I felt it was not enough. I wanted to place more emphasis to the sick people dying, the disgraced victims of illness and, especially, the children born with abnormalities. Even if there were divergent opinions and controversies in regard to the disease in the families we visited, every time we saw the ill we were struck by the terrifying reality of that suffering ; every time, even though we were calm, we were overwhelmed with despair. Each of these families suffered for ten years and more the heavy burden of the disease ; even if neglected, the victims are still there, as terrifying evidence, should we be prepared to forget that the disease and the accusations, so easily forgotten about, still implacably exist. “Poor” victims, “horrible” disease. It was so easy to find these words to describe the Minamata disease, and it was so easy to forget, in everyday life, the reality these words hint at. A little girl cannot go to the bathroom without an enema and her mother explains how, in shame, the girl still feels like running, and the ensuing struggles and difficulties. She suggests there are things she can't even discuss with her husband.
This experience plunged me into the void of the desert. I vomited, upset by the haunting of evil and, at times, while going back home, up the hill, with the recording device on my shoulder, I fell to the ground, sickened by the psychological tension. It is a shared experience for all the crew members: whenever we see the factories and the sewage or the faces of the inhabitants of the town, we realize all we have filmed is not enough ; other images come to our mind, and then we feel we should start over to portray everything each of us has seen and heard. We all had our own personal thoughts, at night, about what we were to film the next day ; we all had our own reality. And there was no relief, at night, from the painful burden of what we were doing. But during the day, during the shoot, even if we all had our own precise task, we would feel a sort of physical intoxication, as if we were one. We filmed every day with our eyes wide open ; we shot over twenty hours of film. By examining the footage, things have become clearer, they had to, considering our constant contact with the reality of Minamata. Minamata had been forgotten for 17 years. This abandonment, this silence, was perhaps a symptom of the power of capitalism, of non-caring authorities, of disengaged citizens. Wasn’t I one of many disengaged citizens? The shame I felt pushed me to shoot this movie, and through it, I hope to ease my guilt. Everything will start by looking at the reality of Minamata, and everybody will be able to see it.
The father is in the background, quiet. The little girl, scared, casts a glance at her mother. And the movie continues, leaving these moments of suffering behind. My fingers clasp the microphone. This experience does not come from the world of literature, it does not belong to the world of imagination, it is the very world of victims, looking into the movie camera, and in cold blood we commit the atrocity of reproducing in film what we should not even be allowed to see.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972), 115-116. Translated by Giulia Galvan
On Minamata An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki Gérard Langlois, 1972 Originally, Minamata was a small fishing village, and it remained so until the end of the Meiji era. In 1910 a factory producing fertilizers was established there, which led to the growth of the village and to the employment of half of the population, which is 30,000 now. The vast notoriety of the factory inspired a long-lasting trust in the inhabitants of Minamata. In 1932 the first transformation happened. The factory started to produce an acid from which vinyl is derived. The waste that was thrown into the sea water included organic mercury. Until 1947, the war brought the activities of the factory to a halt. Later, the discovery of vinyl gave impetus to the manufacturing of this acid. In 1952, the production had already increased a hundredfold. In 1953, a fisherman died. From 1954 to 1959, several fishermen were struck by a mysterious disease. 40% died. A higher rate than cholera. They were said to be victims of a lack of hygiene and malnutrition. Many fish were found dead. The same happened to cats and seabirds. Even if the fish tasted good, the fishermen no longer trusted the sea. They did laboratory testing on the water used and discharged into the sea by the factory. The results were unmistakable: the cause of the disease was organic mercury. Whereas normal mercury burns the skin, in humans, organic mercury has an impact on the nerve cells of the cerebellum, which leads to a loss of balance and partial paralysis of motor functions.
And yet the people continued as usual and still ate fish. The company managing the factory requested doctor Hosokawa to conduct tests. It is the cat experiment you see in the movie. The result was identical. Doctor Hosokawa decided to keep it secret and just had a filtering system installed. Then the fishermen rebelled against the factory, but got no support from the factory workers, who feared for their jobs. The state, on the other hand, requested other tests from scientists in the capital, but these refused to deliver a final verdict. They provided all sorts of reasons, they accused the fishermen of poor hygiene. For two months the fishermen demonstrated in front of the factory. In the end the factory accepted to indemnify them, but nothing had been solved. I went to Minamata for the first time in 1965 to make a television documentary. The local authorities and the hospitals refused any collaboration because there had been no final verdict from the physicians yet. The local authorities feared this would divide the general public. The ill people, on the other hand, refused any collaboration, both out of shame and out of fear. I could only film a child with the disease. Indeed, the organic mercury also has an impact on 3- or 5-month- pregnant women. But even there, this was said to be due to poliomyelitis, to inbreeding, as always when a subnormal child was born, without even suspecting that it wasn’t. When I left, I was very discouraged, but at least I had managed to meet the scientists. In 1968 the government acknowledged that “Minamata
disease” existed. Later there were attempts from the Ministry of Health, but they got into a conflict with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, whose main objective was the economic development of the country. The ill people at that point were divided into two groups: those who accepted the compensation and those who decided to fight to the end for the acknowledgment of the factory’s responsibilities. The latter, a minority, founded a kind of citizen’s committee also operating within the Kumamoto university. I decided to shoot a new movie in Minamata. But even before that, I founded a solidarity committee in Tokyo, which caused me some troubles with the police. Little by little, I was accepted by the village population. In June 1970 the shoot started ; it would last five months. 1970 is the decisive year: new solidarity committees were founded, a sort of pilgrimage to gather money, which I show in the movie, along with the shareholders’ meeting, which was also attended by fishermen having the disease, who were allowed to attend the meetings after purchasing company stock. They did so in order to demand that the company president should admit his responsibility (as shown in the last sequence of the movie). In Japan, cinema is a social issue. By screening the movie all over the country, by hiring, day after day, theatre after theatre, we have already managed to mobilize 220,000 spectators. In some towns, after seeing the movie, people founded solidarity committees, because what happened in Minamata can happen somewhere else too, considering the current period of major industrial growth in Japan. And everywhere a factory is built, people buy the movie to use it as a weapon. Even if I am not an expert in pollution, I have chosen this topic to show, point by point, that in order to solve cases such as Minamata’s, cases that, like I said, are in danger of happening somewhere else too, a total change of the common good is needed. The solidarity committee demands 100,000 dollars as compensation for each victim, whether they are alive or deceased. Currently there are 580 of them ; these are the cases the state had to acknowledge. But as soon as the investigations are completed, in the whole region there will be 15,000 of them, because we cannot neglect the fishermen’s descendants. The global sum to be paid as compensation should be equal to the one needed for a war.
One remark, first of all: Paruchizan zenshi [Prehistory of the Partisans] (1969) came to a contradictory conclusion, whereas Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] comes to a clearer one. It is absolutely unmistakable. In Prehistory of the Partisans a few students had understood that there could be no global conflict as long as they remained within the closed university walls, as long as they did not join the people. I believe that was the case with Minamata. Anyway, I wish to continue filming the people who think there is no way out with the current parliamentary politics. As far as the editing is concerned, the idea that guided me during the shoot changed over time, as I got into deeper contact with the described events. I tried not to lose these things during the editing stage. The editing needs to be the reflection of the path that goes from the concept to the reality that surrounds us. The movie is but a maturation of the problems and issues I have always been dealing with. As the owner of the camera and the tape recorder, I can never be equal to the people I film. I refuse to be the filmmaker of my film, which was made independently and in accordance with the reality that spawned it. That is why I tended to edit the film in chronological order.
Published in “Cinema giapponese degli anni ’60,” Quaderno informativo, 41 (Pesaro: Mostra Internazionale del Nuovo Cinema di Pesaro, 1972), 117-119. Statements collected and edited by Gérard Langlois, originally published in Les lettres françaises. Translated by Giulia Galvan
Setting Out for Documentary’s Virgin Territory Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1986 There are three 1 types of scenes that cannot be captured in what we call documentary film. 1. A violent crime scene. 2. A death scene. 3. A scene of a man and a woman making love. Perhaps these could be shot with a robot camera or using a self-timer, but there would be no drama in it. We would be left with impersonal images conveyed by the mechanism of lens and microphone. Which is why these three situations are always crucial to fictional drama. So why do I think they are impossible to film? If I were to face a violent crime scene, I could either interfere, watch or flee. One way or another, I would be rendered incapable of filming. In case I were to witness someone’s dying moment, I would close my eyes, and if I stumbled upon a couple making love, I would rather not disturb them. I guess because people experiencing heavenly bliss raise my spirits too. Perhaps we can only film what went on before and after. When filming unarmed farmers killed during the Vietnam War, I managed to charge the images with documentary spirit, but I would fail to muster the same spirit shooting live-action pornography.
filmmaking. The desire to dig my hoe into this soil gave me the idea for making a cinematic scrapbook entirely made out of newspaper clippings from articles on the nuclear plant. 2 Whenever I measure the wide gap between intention and result, I’m always left feeling hungry for more. Although it was asking for trouble, I went along with the suggested plan to make my filmography the centre of a film course. When I declared to be “unprolific”, they replied that I was “very prolific”. This discrepancy also felt odd to me. In which case, I thought, let’s tear up the discrepancy and the hunger and create a space for films that hurt. Setting out for documentary’s virgin territory.
2 Genpatsu kirinukichō [Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Nuclear
I venture to say that these three human realms can be depicted in a documentary only by way of objective portrayal, or so the theory goes. I learned that there is still a lot of unexplored virgin soil in documentary 1 In the original text Tsuchimoto first says “two types” and
then states three.
Pamphlet published on the occasion of “Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Filmography Exhibition” (December 1986). Translated by Stoffel Debuysere, Elias Grootaers, Geert van Bremen, Aaron Vande Mergel and Ingeborg Verplancke
An Exchange of Letters
Minamata – The Victims and Their World (1971)
Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Claude Lanzmann, 1996
My dear and honourable Claude Lanzmann, On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the official discovery of the Minamata disease, we have decided to organize a screening of a series of my films on this theme. On this occasion, we have asked the permission to screen your film Shoah and you to come and present it to the audience. I thank you for having accepted the invitation. Why show Shoah in this kind of context? Because this film, a 20th-century monument, has long been ignored in Japan, of course, where it was neither shown in theatres, nor available on video. [...] Nevertheless, what happened to Shoah doesn’t seem so exceptional. Most of my films haven’t yet been sufficiently shown in the city of Minamata itself and, more generally, in the region of the Shiranui Sea. I wonder if more than a couple of thousand people in total have seen them over the last thirty years. With regard to television, neither the prestigious NHK, nor any local channel have broadcast them. Only an independent screening campaign has made it possible to show my films. The possibility of foreign distribution has been almost non-existent. But the demand has never stopped: if we take into account the number of video copies we have made available to popular movements in Asia, where industrial pollution was and is still rampant, and the number of pirate editions, we may estimate that hundreds of thousands have seen my films. With regard to my difficult experiences with each screening session, I could not help smiling bitterly when I read your response in an interview in the magazine Asahi: “When I finished the shoot, I was expecting 3000 spectators at the very most.” In fact, 60 million spectators have had access to your film over the course of ten years, either in the cinema or on television. I must say that the score of my films is a lot lower. If we think the screenings of Shoah and your interventions have to be a fundamental pillar of the festival, it is not only because of our shared moral and political determination: “No more Minamata disease!” or “Let us never forget the Holocaust.” The main goal of our project is to study your way of making films. I also wish that you address my films in all honesty in front of the audience. I am convinced that it will provide those who would like to make films with some good ideas and that it will encourage them.
It is now 1996. We are four years away from entering the 21st century. Posterity will undoubtedly consider this century, which is coming to a close, as the one in which the pride and madness of humanity will have culminated. A century with a record that can only turn out negative, marked by the Shoah, the atomic bomb, the North-South problem and pollution (of which the Minamata disease is one of the main examples). But alas, time forces us to forget everything. After they have been the place of extermination of the Jewish people, the sites of the camps of Chelmno, Treblinka, etc. have been transformed into forests. The same goes for a part of the mercury-saturated Minamata bay, which was the cause of the disease and has now been backfilled in order to look like regular fields. That way, all the visible traces will have been destroyed, all the witnesses will sooner or later be dead. The time will come when the traces will be visible and the oral witnesses will be heard only through our works. The 20 th century saw the birth of an art called cinema. If we, who are committed to this art, have been able to record whatever small part of what has happened during this century in the form of film, we can say we have accomplished something, compared to our ancestors, who only had writing, painting and photography to pass down their stories to us. Nowadays, a new and gigantic madness is happening. But, overwhelmed by hyperinformation, we do not have the time to learn. New sensations are lashing at us like tsunamis, the news is out of fashion in a day. The media are always chasing after new drama, as if to reach “the current maximum speed of the wind”. When you had the courage to choose, or rather to create a form of cinema, a form of education against the grain, to me this gesture represented a virulent critique of the very dangers of our time. Shoah gave me the impression of hearing you state the following: “Here is a kind of film that you need to look in the eye, even if it takes an entire day.” Which really represented an eye-opening event, after forty years of filmmaking. In the autumn of 1995, Kuroki Kazuo, who has been a friend of mine for the last forty years and is a filmmaker himself, sent me a videotape of Shoah, recorded when it was aired by the NHK. At the time, I was spending a year in Minamata. Because he knew I was
terribly lacking in information there, he sent it to me with a note: “It is an extraordinary film.” I was spending entire days looking at backfilled wastelands in the Minamata bay and taking mortuary photographs, images of victims, with a view to a Minamata exhibition in Tokyo. Inspired by similar efforts found in Auschwitz, Cambodia, Okinawa and Hiroshima, I undertook this work in order to establish and pass down the representation of a group of people who died in Minamata. I had first sent 2000 leaflets to the families of the victims. Many responded, “I would like to forget”, “Leave me alone” or “We’ve had enough”. Even if I understood these reactions, I insisted: “Engrave the dead into memory before praying for the peace of their souls.” If you keep on praying for them, you will accelerate the process of forgetting them. Towards the end of Shoah, Yitzhak Zuckermann murmurs bitterly: “If you could lick my heart, you would get poisoned.” His state of mind is more or less the state of mind of the Minamata survivors. In short, for me, deciphering Shoah has been a way of deciphering myself. Many people have talked about your great interview technique. I would rather talk about the role of silence in your film. For example, if you had cut the scenes in which the witnesses wait for the interpreter’s translation, I would have lost sight of every meaningful change of their expressions, and I would not have felt any affinity, on a human level, with the characters. Along similar lines, the off-screen testimonials set to landscapes that concern them lead us to listen to the consequences. In the famous hair salon scene, the silence lasts for three and a half minutes, apart from the sound of the scissors and the witness’s often broken words (it is said that on television a silence of more than fifteen seconds is not allowed). I had never seen a film in which you feel so close to death and so face to face with death, thanks to the eloquence and the tension of silence. Attentive spectators will be able to find short moments of silence inserted into your film at any given time, and these moments carry along their imagination towards the dead. Which could be called absolute peace. Through the unsayable silence, the imagination of the spectators ends up penetrating
every scene and they are led to believe that it now finally becomes comprehensible for them. From the opening scene to the end of the film, you are at the same time a clinician versed in psychology, a clairvoyant deciphering the situation and a conductor conducting wavelengths as he wishes. Shoah is a film composed with time for meditation. The silence between one testimonial and the next, the suggestive force of the landscapes, the movement of the locomotive, the travelling shots in three dimensions. All of it contributes towards giving us the space and time to ruminate and rethink. In Japanese, we have an expression, “chinshi-mokkou”, which means “to plunge into the depths, to remain silent in order to think”. Diametrically opposed to the space and time of regular films, the idea can consist of meditating on the dead. Without this concentrated silence, you could not engrave them into your own memory. Shoah helps me to rethink my films on Minamata. It helps me to re-examine the possibilities of cinema. Mr Lanzmann, I would like to take you to Minamata. There, the best treat would be to watch the sunset over the sea. An invariably beautiful landscape since the beginning of time, it questions, so to speak, the people who enjoy it. When you will behold the Shiranui Sea, you will maybe envy us and say: “How lucky you are to be able to shoot a film against such a beautiful landscape!”
Dear Tsuchimoto Noriaki, How to express my feelings! At the other end of the world a filmmaker whom I had never met, whose films I had never seen, whose name I didn’t even know, asks that I be invited to Tokyo and associated with a celebration organized for him, demanding that Shoah be screened at the same time as his own films, that the two works – his and mine – be discussed and confronted by him, by me, in public, before an audience, with our questions and theirs. This co-celebration – which is all at once recognition and generosity – overwhelms me. Tsuchimoto Noriaki saw Shoah last year in Tokyo and, straight away, with the eye and experience of a great artist, with his profound vision as a fighter and political militant, understood what ties of creative kinship existed between us, which identical problems of an ethical, aesthetic and technical nature we had had to confront, each for himself, which same pivotal questions we had asked ourselves, which answers we had provided: how to transmit, how to instruct, how to interrogate, how to remain dispassionate while, as we each desperately strove to do, methodically unveiling a hell ; how to remain calm in the face of grief and tears, without letting oneself be carried away by the emotion which would preclude all work ; how to denounce, in the truest manner, injustice and crime? A thousand questions, a thousand paths! Today I have the right to say – I can state advisedly – that Tsuchimoto Noriaki is a great artist because, since February, since I received the letter of invitation, I have been locked into a long and attentive têteà-tête with two of his films (two only, alas, because I had no more at my disposal): The Message from Minamata to the World, in English, and, above all, Minamata – The Victims and Their World, in Japanese, without subtitles. What an event! Of course, I had closely studied the documentation that I had been able to gather on the illness of Minamata and its history – this other crime against humanity – but Tsuchimoto is such a marvellous filmmaker, such a rigorous creator, that I followed the film passionately, without ever losing the thread, from the first image to the last. I did not understand the words, I heard the calm, precise voice, both human and neutral, of Tsuchimoto himself ; and every time I was about to
have doubts, to hesitate as to the sense of what was actually being said, the image intervened to comment, support, underpin, assist the words and, literally, illuminate them. Images, in Tsuchimoto, do not chatter, as is the case in so many of today’s films, where they proliferate in order to mask the emptiness of the thought. They are rare, precious, heartrending and enigmatic with beauty, always meaningful. I am thinking of the opening shot of the film, a long, fixed silent shot of a fishing boat, motionless on a smooth, hard sea reverberating flashes of sunlight. That boat is both close by and far away from us: its distance from the camera, the centring, the duration of the shot are of such perfect accuracy that the imminence of disaster is immediately perceptible. A deceptive image of peace and beauty, this sea is dead, this sea is deadly. I could not, of course, refrain from conjuring up in my mind’s eye the opening scene of Shoah: not a fixed shot, but a slow panning shot which glides with the small boat of Simon Srebnik, the child singer, on the calm waters of a Polish river, transporting us, from the very first minute of the narrative, to the boundaries of the world to step through the doors of Hades and make us enter the Kingdom of Death. But there are so many more unforgettable images in Tsuchimoto’s film, the last one, for example, an intricate jewel of enormous clouds in black, grey and white, a cancroid growth which spells out the interminable menace ; or even the flight of the bird, imprisoned as far as the horizon by the camera, a sheer arrow in the sky ; or the curve of the bare shoulders of the old, octopi fisherman from Minamata bay, sunk into the sea up to his armpits, who, through a wooden framed primitive mask, watches for his prey and suddenly spears it with a single stroke of his archaic Neptunian trident ; or the same man, straightened up, with the brilliant smile of the universal proletarian despite the wrinkles of life and worries engraved on his face, who walks up the shore, neck and waist belted and garlanded with tentacular octopi, forming a train behind him like the quivering mane of hair of Botticelli’s Venus. But, in Tsuchimoto, there are not only “images of beauty”, beautiful images. There are also boom mics, faltering travelling shots, insistent, brutal zooms of
a camera completely immersed in the action, combat camera, a didactic tool which obeys a single law: instruct, teach, show, prove, convince, mobilize, denounce, describe. The camera of a topographer and a land surveyor, preoccupied with the most exact details, espousing here again the thought processes which were mine during the eleven years of the making of Shoah. The theme of the festival which will, in a few days, reunite us in Tokyo is “The World of Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Claude Lanzmann”. It is a vast subject: it would be necessary to dedicate not just a few pages to it, but a whole book. Several perhaps. In front of the attendance in Tokyo, with the help of Tsuchimoto and that of our films’ audiences, I will speak at some length on the subject of Shoah. You must realize that here, while talking mainly about him, I have also spoken about myself. He knows it: he has recognized me. I have recognized him. We have, without knowing each other, recognized each other centrally through and in our oeuvres, recognized each other as brothers. We both speak the same language, that of cinema, of truth and of justice. Truth and justice which require the work of art, all its power and subtlety, to be summoned and passed down so that each human being becomes their witness. Sublime work of Tsuchimoto, patient examination of martyred bodies and faces, close-ups of faces caressed, hollowed out, scoured – mostly horizontally – by the camera (I was thinking of Eisenstein or Pudovkin): the mad eyes, rolled upwards, of the adolescents of Minamata ; the heartbreaking compassion of the mothers or “counsellors”, magnificently caught by the director’s gaze, a gaze of anger and of kindness. And the joy, the creative force, the absolute necessity to create in order to tell the truth, to replay if necessary (as such a film is not, cannot be, a dull “documentary” which would confine itself to a simple reproduction of “events” or to a dull recording of “what’s happening”), in a word to stage (mettre en scène), since lost occurrences, when one tackles such undertakings, do not repeat themselves nor are they ever recaptured. Thinking about my own work during the shooting of Shoah, I called this form of mise-en-scène “fiction of the real” ( fiction du réel) and I declare with pride that ordinary fictions
– those which the professionals of the film industry, specialists of settled categorizations, call “fictions”, contrasting them with “documentaries” – are weak compared with ours. No “metteur en scène” of fiction will ever achieve the force and imaginative inventiveness, the empathy displayed by Tsuchimoto as he transforms the status of the characters in his film from protagonists in the real story to actors of the story played, replayed ; nor will such a director ever achieve Tsuchimoto’s precision in directing scenes, the true hallucination in which he plunges himself and plunges us with him, crossing all the borders that separate the imaginary from the real. I have in mind these extraordinary sequences of confrontation, in a huge amphitheatre, between the victims of Minamata and the sinister bevy of the tie-wearing managers and directors of the Chisso conglomerate, who are responsible for the crime ; I have in mind the storming – organized by Tsuchimoto – of the bosses’ rostrum by the fishermen who demand all at once their rights, the recognition of the fault committed and reparation for the irreparable. So violent an attack that it sweeps away, jostles and madly knocks about the director’s camera. The camera, literally, becomes crazy because Tsuchimoto, to show us the truth, has dared to take the risk of giving up control. I will close therefore on this scene which is unparalleled in the annals of the cinema. In a few days, I will know Tsuchimoto Noriaki, an admirable man, my brother, of whom, three months ago, I knew nothing. I do not apologize for this: since 1973 I have been steeped in the world of Claude Lanzmann. The world of Shoah. A different world. The same world. See you soon Noriaki. See you soon, in Tokyo. See you soon, in Minamata.
© Claude Lanzmann, La tombe du divin plongeur (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2012). Translated by Sis Matthé The translation of Lanzmann’s letter is partly based on the English text published in: Mark Cousins and Kevin Macdonald (eds.), Imagining Reality. The Faber Book of Documentary (London: Faber and Faber, 1996).
An Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki Éric Vidal, 1999 When I began Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World], I didn’t know Claude Lanzmann’s method based on interviews and testimonies. My main concern was to express the tragedy of Minamata exclusively through images and cinematographic means. So I tried to keep the interviews to a minimum. I wanted to assert the presence and existence of the victims. At the time, the synchronization equipment in Japanese documentary film was lagging behind. All of the teachers of my generation of filmmakers taught us, in the 1950s, to shoot a film under the conditions of silent cinema. So I learned that montage was paramount and that it had to be done by the director himself, or at least by someone who had followed the shoot. In Minamata – The Victims and Their World, there are approximately ten times more hours of footage than the final film. Eight months of preparing, five months of filming, plus three months of finishing were needed. Talking about Minamata no zu – Monogatari [The Minamata Mural], this wasn’t my first film in colour. The painter couple Iri and Toshi had already painted other tragedies, most notably sixteen paintings about Hiroshima. They also went to Auschwitz, and from that point on started looking into Minamata. I helped them by introducing them to victims. These painters could only paint and draw in realist style. On that basis, there was an entire process of abstraction in my film: I wondered how to describe the tragedy of Minamata through a painting. When I saw their canvases, I wondered if it were possible to bring out the tragedy in a more profound way. That being said, I think there’s a limit to paintings. When it comes to
the large fresco exhibited in Tokyo, Toshi started by drawing extremely fine lines, which are either characters or landscapes. Then, the strokes were provided with a certain thickness by using Chinese ink. I knew the way in which these painters worked and, once the fresco was finished, I wanted to reassemble the time of the creation process. That’s why I filmed certain line details in close-up, for example. I worked a lot on time. The painting darkens through successive layers, and the process of the fabrication of time interested me a lot. Both painters had a completely different approach, so they really struggled to actually finish a painting, both on the level of motivation and of plastic method. To return to Minamata – The Victims and Their World, the amount of archival images included in the film was minimal in relation to those filmed by the doctors who were taking care of the victims of Minamata. This trilogy on Minamata, called Igaku toshite no Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease – A Trilogy], was contemporaneous with Shiranuikai [The Shiranui Sea], my first film in colour. They were filmed simultaneously. Under the pressure of foreigners questioning me about the disease, I gathered all of the more properly scientific findings into these three films. In 1965, I made a television film. At the time, in order not to reveal their private lives, the victims couldn’t be identifiable on screen. In 1971, I started filming those who least suffered psychologically. I spoke with men and women who had lost their fathers or husbands. Later, I could film adults – I wasn’t allowed to film children who had lost family members. Adult victims, aware of the drama, knew that broadcasting their image
Minamata – The Victims and Their World (1971)
would contribute to the sensitization of public opinion and power. It took me four months before I could film children. I waited impatiently for someone to ask me why I wasn’t filming them ; that was the precise moment I was able to film them. I attached a lot of importance to this tacit, mutual consent. But I allowed myself to film anything, with the exception of victims facing the challenges of puberty. Only rarely did someone come from Tokyo to film in Minamata. I was the first person who did after 35 years. But precisely because of my being from Tokyo, I was able to film the victims: for years, the inhabitants of Minamata didn’t have the courage to tell their relatives that they were ill. They confided in me, knowing that I wasn’t going to report them. For certain people, it was an opportunity to relieve their feelings. Before going to Minamata, I had been profoundly marked by a factory worker who had filmed the tragedy. I wrote an article to pay tribute to him and to explain how he had taught me to first approach the victims and then to film them. 128
Minamata haunted me endlessly. I suffered greatly at the thought of only having filmed Minamata. At that very moment, I learned about Shoah, which I first saw on video. It was a shock: there was someone in France who had obstinately filmed this tragedy. I was greatly encouraged by Claude Lanzmann. I consider him a true friend, and I brought him to Japan. There are sixteen hours of film about Minamata ; but unlike Shoah, my films can be watched in a fragmentary way. Today, I am still interested in Minamata: I am finishing a film about the recently deceased leader of the victims’ protest movement. I really wanted to pay tribute to him, as today the youth of Minamata hardly knows about him anymore.
Extracted from Eric Vidal, “Corps à corps. Entretien avec Noriaki Tsuchimoto,” Hors Champ. Le quotidien des États généraux, 6 (1999). Translated by Sis Matthé
Notes on the Struggle for the Sea On Umitori – The Stolen Sea at Shimokita Peninsula Tsuchimoto Noriaki, 1985 First of all, why the theme “Shimokita” at this very moment? We who live in the megalopolis of Tokyo and make films live a problematic life. We sometimes want to address the people in Asia or Africa, while there are people here in Japan that we absolutely have to take note of. The nuclear-powered ship Mutsu, that gigantic project, the peninsula Shimokita that has been confiscated for nuclear reasons, the military restricted zone around it – the people from Shimokita have to accept all of that, and they are the people we absolutely have to take note of. When I found out about them, I thought: “It is a colonized area inside of our own country ; it is the Third World in Japan.” The case of Minamata was the result of the reckless industrial handling of highly toxic mercury. We do not know the effects of the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes yet. But the intention of producing, using and stocking lethal plutonium, which has a half-life of 24,000 years, on Shimokita has become increasingly clear over the past year. This intention can be read in the fairway of the Mutsu, which is supposed to have its home port on the peninsula now. I thought fishermen were people who were not afraid of the sea. They laughed at me and said: “Even when we do not say it, our fear is growing every day.” They know the depths of the sea, they know the times for catching fish. And every day, they read the colour of the sea, the shape of the waves, read in the sky and the
clouds, listen for the rustling of the wind. Only then do they decide if they will go to sea or not. Instinctively, I discover in them one of our old ways of life. People like that are always the first to suffer in the modern world. The intruder in the peaceful village starts by stealing the sea. The sea thief ignores these ways of life. Only theft interests him. Then gigantic corporations follow, which take over the land. The nuclear-powered ship, the diluted radioactive waste of the oil refineries and the military restricted zone at sea – to all of this, they will add a reprocessing plant for the hated, to be avoided plutonium on the northern side of the peninsula. Shimokita has been chosen to sacrifice itself for the Japanese government and the prosperity of the corporations. The fishermen suffer. They say: “Since they have stolen the sea from us, we know even better how valuable it is to us.” But the sea is still deep blue. “Maybe we can take back the sea,” they struggle to think. This thought provided me with the impetus to call the film The Stolen Sea.
Published in Informationsblatt (Berlin: 15. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, 1985). Translated by Sis Matthé
130 Umitori â€“ The Stolen Sea at Shimokita Peninsula (1984)
When Movies Are Born Tsuchimoto Motoko, 2019 Behind each and every movie there is a story of its making. Let me tell the story of Umitori – Shimokita hanto Hamasekine [Umitori – The Stolen Sea at Shimokita Peninsula] (1984). Making the film was difficult. Unlike the financial agility of the video age, creating The Stolen Sea exceeded the power of one individual.
He also continued to follow the story of the nuclear ship Mutsu 1 from the shipyard to the graveyard. The Stolen Sea is a movie that brings into the open the circumstances of its demise and the way in which the sea was stolen from the fishermen. Furthermore, the movie clearly exposes the Shimokita peninsula as a military base.
Tsuchimoto Noriaki told me during our first meeting, “I want you to purchase a set of cameras totalling 20 million yen.” The reason was, “If I borrow money from you, you will be in trouble if I cannot return it, so buy the cameras and let me use them freely.” However, also after that, the financing of the movie was arduous, and it wasn’t Tsuchimoto Noriaki but the producer who borrowed money from me. And until now, the money hasn’t been paid back entirely. Therefore, without those two occurrences, this movie would probably not have been possible. For the Minamata Series, there was a generous man named Kimura. Because of him, the crew working under the director was able to purely think about filmmaking and, because of that, make good movies. Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s movies were made this way.
The story as told in the “monologue” of Matsuhashi Yuzo whose birthplace is Hamasekine, the graveyard of the nuclear ship Mutsu, was only the first step. Thereafter, the movie grew larger and larger. I was on the set during the severe winter period in the Aomori Prefecture. I was able to see the life of the people in the snow season as well as the traditional performance art of Aomori. And I saw Tsuchimoto Noriaki editing the film. I think that people of the video age don’t understand that anymore, but working with film is heavy and its presence is overwhelming. I saw the painstaking job of watching such a large quantity of film, watching it multiple times, organizing it, and watching it again.
The origin of The Stolen Sea goes back to the period of the 1970s when Tsuchimoto Noriaki took his Minamata Series to the Aomori Prefecture where he showed his work to mayor Terauchi of the village Rokkosho, who was a nuclear power plant opponent. From that time onwards, Tsuchimoto Noriaki kept documenting the story of the Shimokita nuclear power plant site, using newspaper clippings.
Unfortunately, Tsuchimoto Noriaki passed away, but his work for The Stolen Sea continues to live on in my present work. 1
Japan’s first and only nuclear-powered ship.
This contribution was written especially for this publication. Translated by Elias Grootaers, Annelies Smet, Ingeborg Verplancke
My Kind of Fire John Gianvito, 2019
In the autumn of 2002 I wrote to Tsuchimoto Noriaki for the first time. Having myself been invited to serve as the Guest Curator for the 49th Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, to be held in upstate New York in the summer of 2003, I felt my initial task was to anchor the program with the work of a filmmaker who exemplified the values and aspirations I sought to champion. In securing the position as Curator, my proposal to the Board of the Seminar was a rather straightforward one – I wished to focus on the traditions of so-called “committed cinema,” “cinéma engagé,” cinema unabashedly aimed at provoking political and social change. What resonance might these practices still offer for the world as we were experiencing it in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the ongoing US assault and deployment in Afghanistan, and in the advent of what soon would be the second US invasion of Iraq? What lessons had elder filmmakers gleaned and confronted? What new strategies were emerging filmmakers taking up? And around what concerns? Simultaneously I reached out to two directors who I’d long admired and whose work I felt could invigorate such an exploration, work still too little known by the predominantly North American attendees of the weeklong seminar. One was the legendary Bolivian filmmaker Jorge Sanjinés. While Sanjinés had occasionally travelled to North America (and I interviewed him once in Montreal) he has never been inside the United States. While I wondered if his past political agitation might have placed him on a watch list, Sanjinés explained to me that a relative of his had recently travelled to the US and had been so
disrespected passing through customs that Sanjinés was disinclined to travel at that time. The other first invitation went to Tsuchimoto Noriaki. I recall that it took some time before I received a reply but then there it was: Thank you very much for your courteous invitation. I truly apologize that my whirlwind work schedule delayed my responding to your kind words. I have known of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar for a long time. However, on account of my English illiteracy, the exciting seminar seemed to be happening somewhere in another world to me. Therefore, the invitation was more than a happy surprise. I am very honored and delighted and I sincerely accept the invitation for the seminar next year. At 74 years of age, Tsuchimoto conveyed to me that complications from diabetes did put some restrictions on his health and stamina and by doctor’s orders necessitated the accompaniment of Tsuchimoto’s wife (as well as collaborator and film editor), Motoko, who I am pleased has remained a friend through the intervening years. Immediately discussions ensured about which films either of us thought might best be included, what condition film prints were in, which had subtitles, etc. Beyond the canonical Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] and Shiranuikai [The Shiranui Sea], Tsuchimoto, along with consulting scholar Markus Nornes, introduced me to Tsuchimoto’s early
public relations documentaries. “Since my recent approach to filmmaking has increasingly become closer to the approach I took in the 1960s, I believe that these early works are crucial texts to understand the multi-faceted methodology I applied to my filmmaking throughout the last four decades of my career.” I was sent copies of Aru kikan joshi [An Engineer’s Assistant] (1963) and Dokyument rojo [On the Road – A Document] (1964), the latter having been suppressed for nearly 40 years, and came to understand how these works subverted the intentions of their sponsors. While Tsuchimoto had wilfully pushed against the imposed strictures, enabling a freer, more associative shooting and editing style, it was also this experience that crucially propelled him into independent documentary production. I hadn’t previously understood that works such as Ryugakusei Chua Sui Rin [Exchange Student Chua Swee-Lin] (1965) literally birthed independent documentary production in Japan as well as new distribution methods connected to political movements. Nor was I familiar at that point with Tsuchimoto’s singular body of work chronicling life and culture inside Afghanistan during the final phases of Soviet withdrawal from the country in the late 1980s. When I saw Yomigaeru karezu [Afghan Spring] (1989), a new edition of which Tsuchimoto was revising at that moment, I saw its potential to offer a unique window into a people decidedly absent from the view of the then-imbedded journalists and gave the film the closing night slot. With Tsuchimoto’s work taking central stage, the remainder of the week’s program began to fill out, with guests including the formidable Vietnamese documentarian Tran Van Thuy, Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi, African-American activist filmmaker Matthew McDaniel, Canadians Peter Wintonick and Katerina Cizek, actor Paul McIsaac introducing work by the late Robert Kramer, Holly Fisher, Eryk Rocha, new media artist Paul Chan, young Argentinian filmmakers Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito, and Juana Sapire, widow of the “disappeared” Raymundo Gleyzer. In my humble opinion, it would be hard to overestimate what a fertile meeting of minds and methods this experience generated. For those unfamiliar with the Flaherty Seminar, which bills itself as the longest continuously running film event in North America, it can be envisioned somewhat as a cinema boot camp. Neither a
traditional festival nor an academic conference, the Flaherty as it is simply referred, is a rigorous, immersive, aspirationally non-hierarchal exploration of variant forms of documentary practice (usually). With formal screenings morning, afternoon, and evening, and formal and informal discussions surrounding every waking moment, by week’s end most attendees feel as equally enervated as enriched. Given Tsuchimoto’s professed health concerns I assured him from the start that he and his wife should not feel in any way obliged to attend every program but it soon became manifest that Tsuchimoto was as desirous of partaking in the work and conversation of the other invitees as he was taking the floor to discuss his own journey. Beyond what anyone else may have taken away from the experience, what surely proved most personally edifying was having had the opportunity to spend so much concentrated time with Tsuchimoto’s work both in advance and during the Seminar, from which I still draw inspiration and sustenance along my own on-going path as a filmmaker. When something goes in that deep, halts you in your tracks so that you sit up and take notice, hits you just in that special way you wish to be struck, it can be hard to find the language that conveys why. With hesitation, I will attempt it. Backtracking. In the autumn of 1993, I had the poignant experience of attending the American premiere of Derek Jarman’s final film Blue at the New York Film Festival. Jarman, blind and in failing health, was in attendance and I recall at the end of the screening someone in the audience asking him what he might say to someone who felt that the film was not angry enough – this, given that the film chronicles Jarman’s deterioration from the AIDS virus while also mourning a generation of friends and lovers swept away by the plague of the disease. Jarman’s response as I recall was that he would not disagree with such a critique. He acknowledged that in fact “anger is the motive force that propels all of my films off the ground” but then went on to say that he felt as an emotion anger could take one only so far and that it had its limits as a tool. “And the truth is,” Jarman concluded, “it is not really how I feel these days, but rather, I am melancholic.” Four months later Jarman would pass away.
Tsuchimoto Noriaki at Vassar College during the 2003 Flaherty Seminar (photo: John Gianvito)
Having long argued with those who characterize anger as a fundamentally negative and unhealthy emotion (recalling the quote I inserted in one of my earlier films from Native American poet and activist John Trudell – “Never trust anyone who isn’t angry”), by contrast I find it to be an absolutely necessary, vital spur to all kinds of action. Long before I met Tsuchimoto, before I read any of his writing, when the only films of his I’d seen (though only should really be in quotes) were Minamata – The Victims and Their World and an unsubtitled bootleg copy of Paruchizan zenshi [Prehistory of the Partisans], I connected not only with the deep indignation on screen but recognized in its rendering the presence of a kindred soul. It was no surprise when years later I read an interview where Tsuchimoto recounted how his “entrance into Minamata disease was getting angry at Chisso (Corporation), asking if it is OK to have this ; a hatred towards a government that had
watched the fishermen die without extending a hand to help and towards doctors who are stuck to the system ; and a loathing towards social discrimination.” Art’s task, songwriter and labor organizer Joe Hill once proclaimed, is “to fan the flames of discontent.” Tsuchimoto’s films served the cause as well as any I knew. Yet it wasn’t just a fury-fuelled cinema that moved me so profoundly, there were reasonable other examples. If I would have to characterize Tsuchimoto’s most distinguishing characteristic as a filmmaker, undoubtedly recognized by many, it has to do with an ethics of representation – put more plainly, the consideration he took in looking and listening to the world. That the corners of the world where Tsuchimoto chose to venture were places where people struggled to be heard, struggled for some measure of dignity, sought relief from their hardship and suffering, is also an ethic. But it
extends further. Centrally what Tsuchimoto brought to these encounters was the quality of his attention. Perhaps this sounds a commonplace, an obvious and simple requisite for the documentary filmmaker, but it is only deceptively so or we would encounter it more frequently. French philosopher Simone Weil famously ascribed attention as being at the heart of the world’s most serious problems, something she grappled with repeatedly in her abbreviated life: The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing ; it is almost a miracle ; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough! In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous vessel that satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated Host) belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by the most painful wound, “What are you going through?”. The love of our neighbor in all of its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is a recognition that the sufferer exists not only as a unit… or a specimen from the social category “unfortunate”, but as a man exactly like us… For this reason it is enough… to know how to look at him in a certain way. It is Tsuchimoto’s ability (along with, I should add, that of his crew) to engage with those in front of his lens “in a certain way” that elevates these films to a place of such personal esteem. That Tsuchimoto frequently included himself within the frame should also be seen as part of the horizontal ethic of the work and not a display of egoism. Add to this, Tsuchimoto’s “persistence of vision” – determinedly revisiting the plight of the community of Minamata, decade after decade, even after the community itself seemed to want little more than to suppress its sad history. All of that said, I do find myself wondering if these aspects still come through, if films of such unfashionable visual modesty, patient inquiry, forthright sincerity can still resonate with today’s audiences fed on such a very different media diet?
Deep into The Shiranui Sea, there is a 12-minute sequence which, every time I see it, devastates me beyond my powers of description. Visually the scene is comprised of principally two extended takes, filmed from behind and zoomed in from a distance, the camera employing only the subtlest of adjustments of composition throughout. In it, Dr Harada, a psychiatrist from the neighboring city of Kumamoto, sits along the Minamata coastline with a young teenage girl and boy, both congenital victims of Minamata disease. Hesitantly the girl seizes the opportunity of speaking with the doctor to test her theory as to whether surgery to her brain might cure her of the disease. With evident empathy and care, the doctor explains why this is not a viable option. Eventually the girl begins sobbing and reveals her incapacity to find beauty in anything around her. The girl is trapped within her disease and knows it. Had the camera intruded any closer upon the intimacy of this moment, had Tsuchimoto edited only the key verbal exchanges and omitted the pauses and hesitations, it is certain that none of the shattering power of this conversation would exist. There is in fact far more to this sequence than I have described, more mystery, more grace, more unfathomable sorrow. I pray such a cinema can continue to be seen. I hope it can continue to be made.
This contribution was written especially for this publication.
Tsuchimoto Noriaki Aru kikan joshi [An Engineer’s Assistant] 1963, 35mm/16mm, colour, 37’
Part 3: Daisanbu: rinsho-ekigaku hen [Clinical Field Studies] 1974, 16mm, colour, 91’
Dokyument rojo [On the Road – A Document] 1964, 35mm/16mm, b/w, 54’
Shiranuikai [The Shiranui Sea] 1975, 16mm, colour, 153’
Ryugakusei Chua Sui Rin [Exchange Student Chua Swee-Lin] 1965, 16mm, b/w, 51’ Shiberiajin no sekai [The World of Siberians] 1968, 16mm/35mm, colour, 99’ Paruchizan zenshi [Prehistory of the Partisans] (produced by Ogawa Pro) 1969, 16mm, colour, 120’ Minamata – Kanjasan to sono sekai [Minamata – The Victims and Their World] 1971, 16mm, b/w, 167’ (original) Minamaata ikki – Issho o tou hitobito [Minamata Revolt – A People’s Quest for Life] 1973, 16mm, b/w, 108’ Igaku toshite no Minamatabyo [Minamata Disease – A Trilogy] Part 1: Daiichibu: shiryo-shogen hen [Progress of Research] 1974, 16mm, colour, 82’ Part 2: Dainibu: byori-byozo hen [Pathology and Symptoms] 1974, 16mm, colour, 103’
The Message from Minamata to the World 1976, 16mm/video, colour, 45’ Shibarareta te no inori [A Prayer from Bound Hands] (with Katsuhiro Maeda, Masato Koike) 1977, slides, colour, 29’
Hajike hosenka waga chikuho, waga chosen [The Jewelweed Is Ripe] 1984, 16mm, colour, 48’ Hiroshima o mita hito: Genbaku no zu, Maruki bijutsukan [They Who Saw Hiroshima] 1985, slides, colour, 25’ Hiroshima – Testimony Through Paintings Slides 1987, colour, 32’ Minamata sono 30nen [Minamata: Those 30 Years] 1987, 16mm, colour, 43’
Shinobu – Nakano Shigeharu sogi-kokubetsushiki no kiroku [Remembering Nakano Shigeharu – A Record of His Funeral and Wake] 1979, 16mm, colour, 55’
Yomigaeru karezu [Afghan Spring] (with Hiroko Kumagai, Abdul Latif) 1989, 16mm, colour, 116’
Umi to otsukisama tachi [Fishing Moon] 1980, 35mm/16 mm, colour, 50’
Arisihino kaburu hakubustukan [Traces – The Kabul Museum 1988] 2003, 16mm/video, colour, 32’
Minamata no zu – Monogatari [The Minamata Mural] 1981, 35mm/16mm, colour, 111’
Mohitotsuno Afuganisutan [Another Afghanistan – Kabul Diary 1985] 2003, 16mm/video, colour, 42’
Genpatsu kirinukich [Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Nuclear Scrapbook] 1982, 16mm, colour, 45’ Umitori – Shimokita hanto Hamasekine [Umitori – The Stolen Sea at Shimokita Peninsula] 1984, 16mm, colour, 103’
Minamta nikki – Yomigaeru tamasii o tazunete [Minamata Diary – Visiting Resurrected Souls] 2004 , video, colour, 100’
Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro Seinen no umi: Yonnin no tsushin kyoikuseitachi [Sea of Youth – Four Correspondence Course Students] * 1966, 16mm, b/w, 56’ Assatsu no mori – Takasaki Keizai Daigaku toso no kiroku [Forest of Oppression – A Record of the Struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics aka The Oppressed Students, Forest of Pressure] * 1967, 16mm, b/w, 105’ Gennin hokusho – Haneda toso no kiroku [Report from Haneda aka Eyewitness Report – Chronicle of the Haneda Struggle] * 1967, 16mm, b/w, 58’
Sanrizuka: daisanji kyosei sokuryo soshi toso [Sanrizuka – The Three Day War aka The Three Day War in Narita, The Third Struggle against Forced Surveying] 1970, 16mm, b/w, 50’ Sanrizuka – Daini toride no hitobito [Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress aka People of the Second Fortress] 1971, 16mm, b/w, 143’ Sanrizuka – Iwayama ni tetto ga dekita [Sanrizuka – The Construction of Iwayama Tower aka The Building of the Iwayama Tower] 1971, 16mm, b/w, 85’
Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu [The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka aka Japan Liberation Front: Summer in Sanrizuka, Summer at Sanrizuka, Summer in Narita] 1968, 16mm, b/w, 108’
Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku [Sanrizuka – Heta Village] 1973, b/w, 16mm, 146’
Nihon kaiho sensen: Sanrizuka [Winter in Sanrizuka aka Front for the Liberation of Japan, Japan Liberation Front, Sanrizuka – Winter] 1970, 16mm, colour, 141’
Dokkoi! Ningen bushi – Kotobukicho: Jiyu rodosha no machi [Dokkoi! Songs from the Bottom aka A Song of Common Humanity, A Song of the Bottom, Song of the Humans] 1975, 16mm, b/w, 121’
* Produced by the collective Jieiso
(Independent Screening Organization).
Eiga-zukuri to mura e no michi [Filming and the Way to the Village] (directed by Fukuda Katsuhiko) 1973, 16mm, b/w, 50’
Kuriin Sentaa homonki [Interview at the Clean Center] 1975, 16mm, colour, 57’
Sanrizuka – Satsuki no sora sato no kayoji [Sanrizuka – The Skies of May, the Road to the Village aka Narita: The Skies of May] 1977, 16mm, colour, 81’ Magino monogatari – Yosan-hen: Eiga no tame no eiga [The Magino Village Story – Raising Silkworms] 1977, 16mm, colour, 112’ Magino monogatari sono 2 Toge – Zao to Makabe Jin [The Magino Village Story – Pass] 1977, 16mm, colour, 43’ Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village aka A Japanese Village – Furuyashikimura] 1982, 16mm, colour, 210’ Sennen kizami no hidokei – Magino-mura monogatari [The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Story aka Magino Village – A Tale] 1986, 16mm, colour, 222’ Kyoto one ichiba – Sennen shiataa [Kyoto Demon Market – The Theater of a Thousand Years] 1987, 16mm, colour, 18’ Eiga no miyako [A Movie Capital] (directed by Iizuka Toshio) 1991, 16mm, colour, 93’
COLOPHON Published on the occasion of the programmes dedicated to Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro (CINEMATEK Brussels, 1 April - 5 May 2019) and Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Courtisane Festival Ghent, 3 - 7 April 2019). Programmes curated and produced by Ricardo Matos Cabo, Stoffel Debuysere (Courtisane) and Céline Brouwez (CINEMATEK). This publication was compiled, edited and published by Sabzian, Courtisane and CINEMATEK. Compiled by Stoffel Debuysere and Elias Grootaers Coordination: Pepa De Maesschalck Translations: Sis Matthé, Giulia Galvan, Ingeborg Verplancke, Lisa Spilliaert, Geert van Bremen, Yuichiro Onuma, Annelies Smet, Britt Stuckens, Aaron Vande Mergel Copy editing: Rebecca Jane Arthur, Sis Matthé Design: Patrice Deweer Printed by: Grafikon NV, Flin Graphic Group Thanks to Ricardo Matos Cabo, Tsuchimoto Motoko, John Gianvito, Markus Nornes, Aaron Gerow, Oki Masaharu (Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival), Matsumoto Toshio (Athenée Français Tokyo), Kubota Yuri (Japan Foundation), Yamagami Sakiko (Siglo), Sato Tokue (Kanatasha), Ikoma Yuki (Embassy of Japan in Belgium), Quinten Wyns, Ingeborg Verplancke, Rebecca Jane Arthur, Lisa Spilliaert, Annelies Smet, Tom Arents, Britt Stuckens, Aaron Vande Mergel, Geert van Bremen, Yuichiro Onuma, Nele Noppe, Luk Van Haute Images courtesy of Athenée Français Tokyo, Japan Foundation, Siglo and Kanatasha Cover image: edited woodcut from Ogawa Pro’s brochure for Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura [“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village] The publisher has sought to observe the statutory regulations in respect of copyright, but has been unable to ascertain the provenance of the reproduced documents with certainty in every case. Any party believing he retains a right in this regard is requested to contact the publisher.
With the support of the Japan Foundation
Sabzian is supported by Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, KASK / School of Arts Ghent, Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie and Beursschouwburg www.sabzian.be Courtisane is supported by the Flemish Community and KASK / School of Arts Ghent www.courtisane.be CINEMATEK is supported by
This publication aims to trace the trajectories of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, who film critic Hasumi Shigehiko respectively call...
Published on Mar 25, 2019
This publication aims to trace the trajectories of Ogawa Shinsuke and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, who film critic Hasumi Shigehiko respectively call...