YIDFF 2013 YIDFF Network Special Screenings
Challenge to Puccini—Takao Okamura: A Life Dedicated to Opera
An Interview with Iizuka Toshio (Director)

Filming Okamura’s Life

Q: I learned of Mr. Okamura’s activities through this film and was moved. Why did you decide to film him?

IT: I had seen him on TV before, but had always thought of him as distant from my work as an independent filmmaker. But when I worked on a biopic on the composer Onaka Megumi, I had the chance to meet him. Mr. Okamura was involved in rectifying incorrect interpretations of Japanese culture in Madame Butterfly. That prompted my interest in him. I began thinking, “He has such strong conviction, it would make a good film.” His movement required a huge budget. The initial figure was 150 million yen (around 1.5 million USD). After cutting that to half, gathering donations, and putting in his own funds, Mr. Okamura was finally ready to go to Italy. I decided, “Now we have to accompany him and make the film!”

Q: Which was your subject: Mr. Okamura’s life, or Mr. Okamura’s movement challenging Puccini?

IT: My theme was to capture Mr. Okamura’s life. Actually, I was making this film and an NHK program at the same time. The main characters of the television program were the female singers playing Madame Butterfly and Suzuki. The protagonist for this feature documentary was Mr. Okamura. I clearly differentiated the two, because the audiences are different. The TV program must be understandable to people who don’t know opera at all, while the film is made so that audiences can enjoy immersing themselves in the world of opera.

Q: The filming must have been difficult.

IT: Yes. With our limited budget, we could only take five crew members to Italy. Initially we were planning to stay for two weeks, but we eventually had to extend our stay because the singer playing Suzuki was not allowed to go on stage. Eventually she was allowed to appear in the third and last performance, so my cinematographer and I alone stayed behind and filmed her. The next day was a holiday when flights were expensive so we eventually returned to Japan after two days. On those days we filmed the footage we used in the opening of the film.

Q: You wanted to convey Mr. Okamura’s activism, didn’t you?

IT: Yes. Often in documentary, the director edits the film. But in this case I asked editor Nabeshima Jun to work with me. I agree with his theory: “The editor’s role is to make the film so that the audience can savor the experience and be entertained.” In order for a film to be appreciated by as many people as possible, I believe the key lies in the technique of innovative editing. I was captivated by Mr. Okamura’s lifestyle and had a lot of footage of him. Meanwhile, Okamura is a singer. The editor Mr. Nabeshima claimed, “If you film a real singer, you have to allow the audience to hear his song.” That’s why the film closes with his singing. Okamura is now 82 years old. Yet the caliber of his singing has not ebbed at all. As for my next film, I have no new plans. If I have the opportunity, I would love to film Mr. Okamura once again, from another perspective.

(Compiled by Yamada Kotone)

Interviewers: Yamada Kotone, Suzuki Noriko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Uno Yukiko / Video: Uno Yukiko / 2013-10-15