YIDFF 2005 BORDERS WITHIN—What It Means to Live in Japan
Telling the Stories of a Million Lives: Lamentation of Forced Korean Relocation and Labor
An Interview with Maeda Kenji (Director)

Looking at Human Beings Is Most Important

Q: I heard that this film started out as a proposal for a book.

MK: In the beginning, I spent seven years interviewing 126 people throughout Japan and Korea for a book called Telling the Stories of a Million Lives (Toho Shuppan). Then someone suggested it should be a film as well, since it was a pity to just turn it into a book. I started filming in 1997, and completed the film in 2000. There are seventeen people who bear witness in the film, but I actually interviewed about fifty people.

Q: Why did you go out of your way to use shoot on film stock?

MK: I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, but video lacks flavor. It’s like weak soy sauce. But when you shoot with film, there’s a good texture. So I shot it with film, but the finances were tough. We had as many as ten people on the crew, and at minimum seven or eight, so the budget was really difficult.

Q: How were you able to capture such vibrant testimonials?

MK: Basically, we didn’t just show up and film. It wouldn’t be any good if we just showed up and filmed. First, you have them understand you. Then the person you’re talking with feels like, “this is someone I can talk with.” It’s important to spend that time. With a lot of people, even if they said no I’d go back repeatedly and get their approval in the end, and then I did the filming. So they were even more open, and in long interviews we filmed for eight, ten hours, and with some people the filming went on for two days. It was heartbreaking to take what they let us shoot like that and edit each person down to five or ten minutes. That was really tough.

Q: In general, I think there’s a danger with “accusatory films” that the filmmaker’s feelings get overbearing and the film becomes one-sided.

MK: The basis of this film is not “accusations.” I really dislike agitation. To the contrary, in this film we placed value on “human beings.” How do you look at people? You have to really look at the circumstances in which someone was born and the background of the times. In other words, people who grew up in Seoul are indeed different from those who grew up in Mokpo. So you have to really look at things in their environment like that, while portraying what their mental make up is like, when and how they were taken away, and whether they were relocated by force.

In Nagasaki Prefecture there’s Gunkanjima (Battleship Island). I went there twice, and I got a pretty good idea about what forced labor must have been like there. The whole island is reinforced concrete without a single tree. There are only mine shafts that run underground, and you went down 500 or 600 meters to work. They were put in an environment like that, and have received zero reparations. But even so, they live with strength. I think we really need to learn from that.

Q: It’s true that the strength of the people testifying in the film leaves a strong impression.

MK: I think it’s like this. It’s having sufficient humanity and spiritual strength to be able to stand up, no matter how you are trampled on and victimized. That’s why they aren’t beaten down. That’s the awesomeness of Koreans. I think we need to learn from that. But, there are people who want the Japanese state to provide compensation, since they’ve been treated like that and still haven’t been given any kind of reparations. That’s why it’s important to consider how politics will get involved, for example. And that’s another meaning for making this film.

(Compiled by Kato Takanobu)

Interviewers: Kato Takanobu, Kato Hatsuyo
Photography: Kato Hatsuyo / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2005-10-05 / in Tokyo