An Interview with Onishi Nobuo (Director)
Not a Pitiful Scene But the Reality of Life Today
Q: Why did you focus on the people of Higashimatsushima?
ON: During the course of covering the broad region affected by the disaster as a journalist, I happened to visit the city in August 2011. I heard that the local residents were just moving into the temporary housing facilities. Someone at the residents’ association told me that they needed more bedding, so I went home to my own neighborhood in Gifu and called for donations of new bedding. We eventually provided a total of 380 sets of futon to the people of Higashimatsushima. And since I didn’t want to end the commitment there, I started organizing meetings in Gifu after each trip I made to Higashimatsushima, to report on what was happening. The idea was to bring the people in Gifu, which has no coastline, closer to the people of Higashimatsushima, which had been totally engulfed by the tsunami. That, you could say, became the beginning of this film.
Q: Your interviews don’t seem pre-scripted, but allow us to feel as if we are actually there listening in to a real conversation. How did you create such an atmosphere that lets the interviewees speak naturally?
ON: The earthquake was of such immense scale that everyone, including media professionals, went through a period of difficulty, uncertain how to address the survivors. I too experienced an inner conflict. It was so hard to figure out how building a relationship with them would initiate a step forward, I was only able to start interviewing them one year after the disaster. Volunteering oneself in work that required verbal exchange or some kind of interviewing was a major emotional commitment that demanded intense thinking. I needed a lengthy preparation period to learn about the people and the town and to stabilize trust before I was able to summon up the courage to knock on doors, enter homes, to eat and drink alcohol together with the locals.
Q: What was important for you in the filming and editing?
ON: I wasn’t interested in scenes of commiseration—I wanted to film their present life. Words like loneliness and sorrow were not really appropriate for my film. Let me tell you about two children who lost their mother. They were among the ten people from Higashimatsushima who came all the way to Yamagata to attend today’s screening. The two children saw the film in its entirety for the first time today, and agreed to appear on stage after the screening. I don’t think they enjoyed having to talk with me at first, but the relationship that we developed over time allows me now to judge whether they are ready to see this film or not. Their family and I made a promise that I would record how and in what kind of environment the adults raised the children, and in exchange they would make sure I would have total access. Their grandmother asked me to show them the film again when they turn 18. No doubt their thoughts after the screening today and their responses as adults would be different. In the film, there’s a woman who was the last person to see their mother alive—if I talked to her ten years from now and asked her what kind of person their mother had been, she would probably not be able to speak in detail. You can understand that this film is something I was able to make now, and only now.
Q: What kind of support can be given, by those who were not directly affected by the disaster?
ON: Everybody has their hands full these days, don’t they? Even if they were not directly affected by the disaster, people always have baggage to carry in their lives. That’s why I believe only those who feel comfortable contributing should do so, and to do it together with others. It’s not fair to demand something of people who are not ready for it. It would be tough on both parties. For example, a support system that allows a percentage of a movie ticket to be donated to the disaster zones—that sounds like a good idea if someone could put it into practice.
(Compiled by Satsusa Takahiro)
Interviewers: Satsusa Takahiro, Abe Aya / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Inagaki Haruka / Video: Fukushima Nana / 2015-10-11