YIDFF 2007 New Docs Japan
The Ants
An Interview with Ikeya Kaoru (Director)

I Wanted to Film His Madness

Q: Please explain why you decided to make this film.

IK: The first time I met Okumura Waichi, I was fascinated by his face. I just knew it was the face of a protagonist. Then, I learned about the Japanese military servicemen who were ordered to stay behind and fight against Mao in Shanxi, China even after mainland Japan had surrendered at the end of World War II. When I learned about the war that still continues inside of people like Okumura, I grew embarrassed of my own ignorance and decided to make this film.

I became absolutely devoted to making this film when I heard stories that they stabbed Chinese people to death as part of their training in Shanxi. Okumura said even he himself did this. Then, I asked him, “Would you like to come with me to Shanxi, where it all took place?” He told me, “I must go back to Shanxi.” When I heard that, I knew that I simply had no choice but to complete this film, no matter what.

Q: The sound in this film made a very strong impression on me.

IK: I look for a sense of drama in sound. I think that, as long as a camera is present, even a documentary is a work of fiction. I think the oscillation between fact and fiction itself is what makes documentary films interesting. So, music is an important weapon to me as I make my films. It is a weapon I can use to express Okumura Waichi’s breath, his heartbeat. While I am aware that it is somewhat of an artistic crime to use sound like this in a documentary, it is a crime that I commit knowingly.

Q: There are certain points in the film where you get glimpses into Okumura’s madness. How did you confront that madness as you filmed this film?

IK: As I was filming it, I actually didn’t think I would be able to make a film out of it. Films, after all, are made with those who appear in them. If the people who appear in the film don’t commit to making a good film, it just won’t work out. I sensed Okumura’s quiet madness before we started filming. I imagined that, at some point, something abnormal might come to the surface. I think that the role of documentary films begins with brining these abnormalities to light. I thought the abnormalities that lie dormant within this man, who has confronted war so deeply, would become a vital part of the film’s theme of “humanity and war.”

I thought it was essential to the film that I exclude the prejudices that formed inside Okumura during the long post-war period of his life. As a result of this, I clashed harshly with Okumura at times. It was horrible. It was so awful even the film crew struggled to deal with the situation. But, the one who wanted to go through with this conflict more than anyone, the one who refused to run away from this subject was Okumura himself. We were able to bring this film to completion thanks to Okumura’s mad courage and the conviction to be filmed that courage brought about in him.

Q: When you decided to make this film, did you or Okumura himself hope that it might have an effect on the outcome of the court decision regarding a petition to release information on why these soldiers were forced to remain in Shanxi?

IK: I think that films must maintain a certain distance from politics and education. After all, film directors are artists, not journalists. So, I don’t want The Ants to be called an “anti-war film.” This is not a film about Japan 60 years ago. It is a film about Japan now, and it explores the question, “What is war, really?” So, what I really want to say is, the soldiers ordered to stay behind in Shanxi all experienced their own personal dramas. Similarly, I think that Okumura agreed to participate in this film due to his simple desire for his story to be known.

(Compiled by Takada Ayumi)

Interviewers: Takada Ayumi, Yokoyama Sara / Translator: Christopher Gregory
Photography: Nishioka Hiroko / Video: Hiroya Motoko / 2007-09-22 / in Tokyo