Ten Trips Around the Sun: Sato Makoto’s Documentary Horizon Today

Ten years have already passed since the sudden death of Sato Makoto, one of the leading Japanese documentary directors. Altering the methodology for each of his films, Sato consistently aimed for new and innovative film expression, while his written works probed the history and philosophy of documentary filmmaking—thereby consistently positioning him on the cutting edge of thinking about cinema. In the ten years following Sato’s death, it has become ever more clear how intricately his life in film was connected with this film festival. And while the younger generation of filmmakers may not have known him personally, an increasing number have found themselves strongly influenced by his films and writings. We hope that these special screenings will help in building on what he did, with a view to the future.

Hata Takeshi

Living on the River Agano

(Aga ni ikiru)

JAPAN / 1992 / Japanese / Color / 16mm / 115 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Photography: Kobayashi Shigeru
Sound: Suzuki Shoji
Sound Editor: Kubota Yukio
Recording Advisor: Kikuchi Nobuyuki
Music: Kyomaro
Production Company: “Living on the River Agano” Production Committee
Source: Kasama Film
Distribution Company in Japan: Uzumasa
World Sales: Siglo

This film documents both the richness and the tragedy of those living along the banks of the Agano River, known as the spot where Niigata Minamata disease broke out. Filmed by a staff of seven individuals, including the director, who lived in the community for three years, this work quietly documents both the hardships and the warmth of these residents’ everyday lives along the river. Capturing poignant moments of daily life, the film offers a different perspective from that framed by social problems. This documentary, which may be likened to exposing film to the light, is a masterpiece in terms of the dynamics between camera and subject, among other factors. It took a Runner-up Prize in the YIDFF ’93 International Competition.

Diary of Our Daughter’s Birth

(Wagaya no shussan nikki)

JAPAN / 1994 / Japanese / Color / Blu-ray (Original: SD) / 45 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Co-director: Miyazaki Masao
Photography: Iwata Makiko
Editing: Wada Yoshiyuki
Producers: Saito Yugo (TV Tokyo), Kamakura Etsuo (International Television Films)
Production Company, Source: International Television Films, Inc.

“I wanted to document a normal life that you would see anywhere; and I realized that this was my own family. I half-jokingly submitted a proposal to a television station, and it was accepted. I began filming a diary of my family’s life using 8mm video that same day.” And so begins the hysterically tumultuous weeklong experience of this helpless father left behind at home with his unsuspecting two year-old daughter Mio, while his wife Niji is hospitalized to give birth to their next daughter.

- The Brightness of the Day

(Otentosama ga hoshii)

JAPAN / 1994 / Japanese / Color / 16mm / 47 min

Photography, Lighing: Watanabe Sho
Narrative Structure, Editing: Sato Makoto
Producer: Sadasue Mayako
Production Company, World Sales: Motherbird Factory

Just when film lighting technician Watanabe Sho is preparing to enjoy his well-deserved retirement, his wife Tomiko begins showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Borrowing a 16mm movie camera from a friend, Sho begins filming his wife. Sato Makoto went on to structure and edit the numerous shots, exposed to sunlight, that portray Sho’s tender love for Tomiko. This film perfectly encapsulates the basis of Sato’s philosophy that “films are born in the editing room.”

Artists in Wonderland

(Mahiru no hoshi)

JAPAN / 1998 / Japanese / Color / 16mm (Original: 35mm) / 93 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Director of Photography: Tashima Seizo
Photography: Otsu Koshiro
Music: Inoue Yosui
Producers: Yamagami Tetsujiro, Sho Koshiro
Production Company, World Sales: Siglo

This film features seven artists who are mentally disabled. Shot on location at a Nishinomiya workshop; a painting studio in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture; and a youth dormitory in Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture; the film looks at each individual’s own unique approach to their craft in order to explore the essence of artistic expression. Shown at YIDFF ’99.


JAPAN / 2000 / Japanese / Color / 16mm / 53 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Photography: Tamura Masaki
Editing: Miyashiro Shigeo
Sound: Kikuchi Nobuyuki
Music: Kyomaro
Narration: Nishijima Hidetoshi
Producer: Horikoshi Kenzo
Production Company, World Sales: Eurospace

Photographer Gocho Shigeo passed away in 1983 at the young age of thirty-six, leaving behind three volumes of powerful, soul-stirring photographs that delve deep into memories. Through a collage of drafts and letters that Gocho left behind, along with his photographs and recordings of his actual voice, this film brings to the screen a shockingly sharp portrayal exploring the “absence” of the late photographer. Shown at YIDFF 2001.



JAPAN / 2001 / Japanese / Color / 16mm (Original: 35mm) / 60 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Photography: Otsu Koshiro
Sound: Tsurumaki Yutaka
Editing: Hata Takeshi
Associate Producer: Ogawa Mayu
Producer: Yamagami Tetsujiro
Production Company, World Sales: Siglo

Hanako, who lives in Oyamazaki, Kyoto Prefecture, goes each day to a care center for developmentally disabled persons. After dinner, she lays out food items atop tatami flooring as if she were painting on a canvas, which her mother then photographs as “food art.” This home movie documentary depicts the rich and often dramatic life of Hanako with her family. Shown at YIDFF 2001.

Memories of Agano

(Aga no kioku)

JAPAN / 2004 / Japanese / Color / 16mm / 55 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Photography: Kobayashi Shigeru
Sound, Sound Design: Kikuchi Nobuyuki
Editing: Hata Takeshi
Music: Kyomaro
Producer: Yatabe Yoshihiko
Production Company: Kasama Film
World Sales: Uzumasa

Ten years after Living on the River Agano, Sato again turns the camera on the same people and places appearing in his previous film—interweaving traces that have been left behind, together with his own filmmaking memories from a decade prior. These elderly individuals covet their memories like precious treasures, and this delicate and yet bold documentary poetically traces the passage of time through past, present and future as it confronts the memories and vestiges of people and landscapes. Shown at YIDFF in both 2005 and 2009.

Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said

(Edward Said Out of Place)

JAPAN / 2005 / Japanese, English, Arabic, Hebrew / Color / DVCAM (Original: 35mm) / 137 min

Director: Sato Makoto
Photography: Otsu Koshiro, Kurihara Akira, Sato Makoto
Editing: Hata Takeshi
Sound Editor: Tsurumaki Yutaka
Assistant Directors: Najib El-Khash, Yayama Kumiko, Ishida Yuko
Translator, Supervisor: Nakano Makiko
Production Manager: Sasaki Masaaki
Co-producer: John Junkerman
Producer: Yamagami Tetsujiro
Production Company, World Sales: Siglo

Edward Said was an scholar and activist actively involved in the Palestinian movement. Rather than focusing upon the identities of nationality, ethnicity and religion, Said positioned his work in terms of the ongoing trend of Palestinian self-definition, continuing to advocate the path of reconciliation and co-existence. Carefully tracing Said’s journey, this ambitious road movie aims to reposition his ideas in the context of diverse peoples’ daily lives in the Middle East today. Shown as a Special Invitation Film at YIDFF 2005.

Post-Screening Talk Guests

Oct. 6 (Fri) Living on the River Agano
Hiraiwa Fumiyuki (Meido no miyage kikaku / vice-chair, Water and Land Niigata Art Festival 2018)
Oct. 6 (Fri) Artists in Wonderland, Hanako
Wajima Kotaro (film director)
Oct. 7 (Sat) Diary of Our Daughter’s Birth, The Brightness of the Day
Konno Yuichiro (stage director, filmmaker)
Oct. 8 (Sun) SELF AND OTHERS, Memories of Agano
Kotani Tadasuke (film director, visiting professor at Musashino University)
Oct. 10 (Tue) Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said
Komori Haruka (filmmaker)


Related Events

[Venue] Kuguru (Tongari Bldg. 1F)

Discussion Living on the River Agano and Yamagata

Date: Oct. 7 (Sat) 14:00–16:00

During the first YIDFF in 1989, the staff of Living on the River Agano lodged underneath a bridge and watched various films from around the world. During the second festival, the staff screened a preliminary rush version of the film. Finally, the final version was completed after much discussion and debate, and it won the Runner-up Prize when the festival was held for the third time. Witnesses of the events will take a look at rare video footage of that time and discuss what kinds of things have been made possible at YIDFF.

Hatano Hideto (Initiator of the Living on the River Agano project)
Kobayashi Shigeru (Cinematographer of Living on the River Agano)
Masuya Shuichi (Board Member, YIDFF)
Kurata Takeshi (Author of “Yamagata eigasai o ajiwau”)

Discussion after the Screening of Rushes from “Living on the River Agano” at YIDFF ’91
JAPAN / 2017 / Japanese / Color / Digital / 23 min
Photography: Masuya Shuichi
Narrative Structure, Editing: Kawakami Takuya

Discussion Sato Makoto Seen from Abroad

Date: Oct. 8 (Sun) 14:00–16:00

Director Sato Makoto was active not only in Japan, but also abroad. However since his time, few Japanese documentary filmmakers have become known internationally. How are Japanese documentaries seen in other countries? In this discussion, we will hear from Markus Nornes on recent Japanese documentary trends, and his unique take on Sato Makoto; as well as from Akiyama Tamako, and about Sato's friendships in Chinese-speaking countries.

Markus Nornes (Professor, University of Michigan)
Akiyama Tamako (Lecturer, Rikkyo University)

Performance Everett Ghost Lines version B—Faces <Yamagata Special Edition> (Director: Murakawa Takuya)

Date: Oct. 8 (Sun) 19:00
Entrance Fee: 2,000 yen

A documentary performance about the loss of Sato Makoto by Murakawa Takuya, a student in Sato’s first ever seminar class at Kyoto University of Art and Design. First performed two years ago in Kyoto, it caused quite a stir. Students of his seminar class re-enact on the stage their discussions at the time of Sato’s sudden death. A special Yamagata version, featuring some new cast members.

Discussion The New Generation Sato Makoto Met

Date: Oct. 9 (Mon) 14:00–16:00

It has now been ten years since Director Sato Makoto’s death. Recently many of a generation too young to have ever met him have taken on the challenge of following in his footsteps in their filmmaking. What is it that draws their interest and makes them feel his methods have potential? We will explore the possibilities in the future Sato has pioneered for us, with each of the participants discussing their own work, their encounter with that of Sato, and why his work appeals to them.

Kawasaki Tomoe, Komori Haruka, Wajima Kotaro, Okamoto Kazuki, Agatsuma Kazuki, Kawakami Takuya, Ishida Yuko, Kotani Tadasuke, Kobayashi Chikako, Oda Kaori, Hayashi Kenta
Moderators: Hata Takeshi, Kiyota Maiko