YIDFF 2007 Special Invitation Films
Cinema Is about Documenting Lives: The Works and Times of Noriaki Tsuchimoto
An Interview with Fujiwara Toshi (Director)

Documenting Lives, The Camera’s Eye

Q: This film emphasizes the gap between the past and the present. Why is this?

FT: When I started filming, I became aware of the gap between the present and the time Tsuchimoto Noriaki shot his famous works about Minamata and Minamata Disease in the 1970s. Over thirty years have passed since then, and Minamata looks completely different than it did at that time. Not only is Minamata Bay no longer polluted, it’s one of the most beautiful coastal areas in Japan. Furthermore, Tsuchimoto himself has also changed tremendously over the past thirty years. So, I can’t just think about how I want to make a film praising the director Tsuchimoto Noriaki and expect it to turn out that simply. Films aren’t that straightforward. Cameras are cruel. When a camera takes in Tsuchimoto’s face, what appears on film is the Tsuchimoto of the present speaking about the past. Due to this, a variety of meanings and themes end up in films that were not necessarily the original intention of the director. The nature of the camera dictates that I can’t make a film that just simply admires Tsuchimoto Noriaki. I film the Tsuchimori Noriaki who lives today, but the subject of the film is the past. There was simply no way to avoid that gap.

Q: How did you feel when you filmed the scene with the patients?

FT: Tsuchimoto understood from the beginning that he could never truly understand the perspective of these patients, and he struggled with how to deal with that from the start of his films about Minamata and Minamata Disease. Then, I ended up in the same position as he was at that time while making my own film. I was lucky to be able to have Tsuchimoto guide me around Minamata, but the first time he originally went to the area must have been incredibly difficult. When he was filming back then, one of the mothers of the patients got really angry with him. She was saying things like, “Even if you film him, my son won’t get any better!” I think making documentaries is a fundamentally sinful act. No matter what you do, you will hurt someone. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them. I think what documentaries do is meaningful, even if some sins are committed in the process of creating them. On the other hand, the people in Minamata really like Tsuchimoto’s films. I think that is incredibly important. It’s really them in that film, not some artificial image of them that Tsuchimoto created. On the surface, Tsuchimoto’s films appear to be activist films. But, the other aspects of his films are what is really interesting. The reason that Shiranui Sea is one of his best films is that it’s not actually a film about Minamata Disease. It’s a film about people living their lives and what that means. That’s how I hope people will watch it.

Q: I hear that you’re dedicating this film to your parents and the other Japanese people who lived through the post-war period.

FT: Tsuchimoto and my own father are both typical examples of people who lived through the destruction of the immediate post-war period. I was interested in the struggles this generation faced due to their incredibly serious outlook on life. Also, my father became ill while I was making this film. This influenced me, even if only subconsciously. Now that I look back on things a year after completing this film, I realize that, in some ways, I see Tsuchimoto in much the same way as I see my own father. I think they’re a lot alike. It may be rude to say this, but Tsuchimoto is getting older, and his legs aren’t as strong as they used to be. I think that I was able to express in this film how people react to someone close to them going through old age, something that happens to everyone. When this film opened, a woman in my mother’s generation really enjoyed the scene where Tsuchimoto walks through the reclaimed land in Minamata. She said it reminded her of the scene in Tokyo Story where the old couple walks along the coastal levee in Atami. I hope the people in my parent’s generation in Yamagata will also watch this film.

(Compiled by Kubota Keiko)

Interviewers: Kubota Keiko, Takada Ayumi / Translator: Christopher Gregory
Photography: Takada Ayumi / Video: Takada Ayumi / 2007-09-25 / in Tokyo