An Interview with Du Haibin (Director)
The Dissonant Feel of Patriotism
Q: I heard you felt it was destiny which brought you together with Xiao Zhao, an impassionate 18-year-old who is fervently anti-Japanese. How did you find him?
DH: It was the year 2009, on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. That year was the 60th anniversary of the state, and the whole city was in uproar like a party. I was, however, feeling rather incongruous about the whole scene and couldn’t enjoy it like the people around me. That was when I met Zhao, a young man waving the national flag all across town. By filming him, I thought I might be able to understand my own feelings of alienation. Specifically, my interest was about people who were born after 1990. I also felt I would come to understand things like the state and patriotism—abstract words that are so commonly used but actually not quite understood. Obviously Zhao doesn’t speak for all Chinese people, but I did think he reflects the inner world of many people who live in this country.
Q: Through the filming, we see how Zhao’s self understanding changes over time. What did you think as you observed it first hand?
DH: This is not about Zhao’s generation alone—I think all of us take a harder look at ourselves when pursued ideals are crushed and faith is lost. In Zhao’s case too, with experience and personal change, he became not only more critical of politics and other issues, but also critical of his own beliefs. My filming of him was like placing a camera at the end of the tunnel and continuing to film, trying not to interfere with his political ideas. But I felt sparks of tension every time I was witness to his changes. Encountering those moments gave me a start. It’s probably because I myself in younger days had experienced change just like Zhao.
Q: When Zhao’s grandfather’s house is being demolished, Zhao doesn’t raise his voice like he usually did, but chooses to silently shoot the scene with his camera. It was a strong scene.
DH: After the house was torn down, I went to interview him and found that he had shaved his head. His thoughts about patriotism had changed. He understood that patriotism is something desolate that shifts over time—in other words, it is basically an empty shell. I was amazed that he had achieved that insight at such a young age.
Q: Despite its political content, the film was readily enjoyable using humor in many of the scenes. What was important for you in the editing process?
DH: I am always concerned whether a film is entertaining and understandable. I used lots of scenes that highlight Zhao’s charm and that include humor. I was hoping that humor can help audiences connect to the fundamental part of the story.
I also delivered tempo by setting up the chapters and being aware of rhythm while editing. Life goes on with a beat, so it was important for the film to be rhythmical, too.
(Compiled by Iwata Kohei)
Interviewers: Iwata Kohei, Kawashima Shoichiro / Interpreter: Akiyama Tamako / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Ishizawa Kana / Video: Kimuro Shiho / 2015-10-12