An Interview with Oguma Eiji (Director)
I Did It Only Because Nobody Else Did
Q: Watching the film reminded me of the intensity of the early days of the protests in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. The film was easy to understand because most of the events were told in a chronological order after March 11, 2011. This reminded me of your books. It isn’t as zealously pushy as first-time filmmakers’ works often are.
OE: I knew it was doable from the start. It never bothered me that this was my first go at filmmaking. All my interviewees were people I had met through the movement. In general I understand it can take a documentary filmmaker two or three years before becoming familiar with a community, a subject. But in my case, since I was participating in the PM’s Office protests from the earlier months of 2011, I was able to share a trusting relationship with my subjects.
Q: Why did you become interested in the anti-nuclear movement in the first place?
OE: The first demonstration after the nuclear disaster broke open the dark and heavy atmosphere that overshadowed Tokyo. It was fascinating. As a historian with knowledge of what’s happened worldwide, I understood that this was the kind of movement that erupted only once in 50 years, and that it represented a turning point for this society. Issues like growing labor problems and rising uncertainty for the future were there, even though I didn’t explicitly deal with them in my film. The Fukushima accident just acted as a trigger to unleash the whole string of social activist movements that followed. Japanese society as a whole is entering an era of instability. The society itself has changed form and is reaching another stage. I believe the footage of my film successfully captured this crucial moment.
Q: You have also written academically about this movement. What was possible with filmmaking that you could not do otherwise?
OE: Indeed, there are things one can only do with film. The Japanese often say they are amazed with the activism in Hong Kong and Taiwan today, but they don’t realize that there’s also something much closer to home. If articles and statistics are not conveying what’s happening, why not use film? Facial expressions and voices can tell us so much about the tens of thousands of people who rushed to the PM’s Office to vehemently protest. I wanted to make a film that was visually expressive—to show people angry, crying, overjoyed, emotional from the bottom of their hearts. Those visual keys were the most important for me. As long as the film had a general storyline underlining the structure, the spoken word was not my priority.
Q: I was reminded of Ogawa Shinsuke’s documentary series depicting the anti-airport struggles (of the 1970s). Do you intend to continue filming the movement like him?
OE: To tell the truth, no. The sudden outburst in 2011 broke open the shell of a barren landscape—this was the reason documentation was necessary, through scholarship as well as filmmaking. However, what followed afterwards—the continuity, the perseverance, the emotions—this is something else. From my perspective, the 2015 protests against the national security laws in front of the National Diet Building were, in form and location, a continuation of what had erupted in 2011 and 2012. Though I may write academically, I won’t be filming any further developments. In fact, I only made this film because nobody else was doing it. It’s something television networks should have done. But if nobody did it, the fact would evaporate into thin air, people would not remember it, it would not be written in history or be carried on further by Japanese society. That was unacceptable for me, and so I didn’t have a choice but to make the film.
(Compiled by Numazawa Zenichiro)
Interviewers: Numazawa Zenichiro, Harashima Aiko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kat Simpson / Video: Satsusa Takahiro / 2015-10-12