Films about Yamagata

Part 1   The Man Who Shot Zao: Tsukamoto Koji

Part 2   A Look at Prewar Yamagata

Part 3   Yamagata Venusography

Part 4   Yamagata Odeon

Part 5   The Future of Yamagata and Film

Part 6   Sawato Midori’s “Sawa-Talkie”: Listening to Ah, My Hometown

A Profile of Yamagata

If you’re picking up this catalog and turning its pages, it means you’re probably visiting the festival as a member of the audience, or as the director of one of the films playing. Or perhaps you’ve been living in Yamagata for many years. Welcome to the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival! Instead of introducing ourselves, we’d like to ask you a question.

How much do you know about Yamagata?

It will soon be twenty years since the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival was first held. However, there have been few opportunities to let everyone know about our host, Yamagata. That being the case, we want you to gain a better appreciation, through films and their images, of the character of Yamagata and the people who live here. With this thought as the genesis, “Films about Yamagata” was born.

Our theme for the first incarnation of this program is “Prewar Yamagata”: home movies and documentaries as well as narrative films and newsreels from pre-World War II, more than a half-century ago. Here is Yamagata before the war, in a variety of footage, perhaps seen this way for the first time even by its current inhabitants.

In 1935, there was a director who filmed the juhyo (“frost-covered trees”) that are a naturally occurring phenomenon on one of the symbols of Yamagata, Mt. Zao. His name was Tsukamoto Koji. His film Mount Zao received a number of prizes at foreign film festivals and made the juhyo and Yamagata known to the world. The long-unseen Mount Zao and other films by Tsukamoto will be screened as the opening section of “Films about Yamagata.”

In “A Look at Prewar Yamagata,” we show films of prewar Yamagata taken by a variety of people. In valuable footage taken of Kaminoyama City, we can see the splendor of the racetracks of that era and a resort of bygone days. In the 8mm footage that Ishiwara Kanji took in Manchuria, and in interviews with him immediately following the war, we can hear the actual voice of historical testimony about World War II and postwar Japan.

In the “Yamagata Venusography” program, we show films connected to two Yamagata natives, one a famous actress who graced the silver screen prior to the war, the other a popular singer who was one of the originators of modern Japanese popular music. In “Yamagata Odeon,” we’ll be screening films shot on location in Yamagata, with major stars who played their parts for all they were worth. In “The Future of Yamagata and Film,” we step away from the prewar era to determine the worth of continuing to film in Yamagata by looking at the work of those who are currently doing so. And in “Sawato Midori’s ‘Sawa-Talkie,’” katsuben film narration is used in a completely unprecedented way to recreate for the 21st century a no-longer-extant film that was shot in Yamagata.

Of course Yamagata can’t be deciphered in its entirety by this Festival’s “Films about Yamagata,” but we think watching the films we’ve selected provides a chance for you to get to know it better, and an opportunity for you to find your own personal Yamagata. We truly hope that after watching “Films about Yamagata,” you will like the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and Yamagata itself even more!

Finally, to everyone at all the town, city, and village reference libraries and media centers that were involved in this project, we’d like to take this opportunity to express our overwhelming gratitude for responding good-naturedly to all our troublesome and hurried requests.

—Saito Kenta (dc3 inc.)