YIDFF 2007 New Docs Japan
The Women the War Left Behind
An Interview with Azuma Shizu (Director)

What She Taught Me About Life

Q: Please tell us why you chose this Japanese woman left behind in China after the Second World War as a theme for your first film.

AS: I just happened to meet Mrs. Kurihara as I was working in the film and TV industry. I didn’t know if it would make a film but I kept filming her, and when the opportunity came, it became my first film. When the project was finished, I finally felt like I could face Mrs. Kurihara and her family who had been so cooperative. Filmmaking is about being trusted with somebody’s life story. So you cannot be half hearted about it. When the project was finished, I was extremely pleased to present something that cleared the bar for public viewing.

Q: I have noticed that this film has a quiet spirit to it, focusing more on depicting the life of a woman than the war.

AS: It would have been just a historical record if we focused on the magnitude of the devastation. I also thought that there is a limit to describing personal anger and sadness. So, I asked Mrs. Kurihara to speak the truth plainly without using bitterness and hardship as leverage. This way, I figured the audience would be able to get more out of it.

Q: Looking in to the life of Mrs. Kurihara, what did you learn about life?

AS: I was encouraged to find out that people’s lives are not as fragile as I thought. I was able to find hope that mankind will be able to survive and pass the torch of life down to future generations. In this world centered on commodities, happiness can be found in the simple things like being together with family, having enough food to eat, and being able to sleep safely. I was reminded again as I was working on this film that simple pleasures are what life is about. I used to worry about my position in society but when I met Mrs. Kurihara and learned about her life, my burden lifted. Instead of resenting what I have to do, I learned to give my all to each and every task. I learned that a door will always open ahead when I live a life with might and main. There is something fascinating about Mrs. Kurihara’s strength as a woman and her way of life. Although I live in a different setting than Mrs. Kurihara, I would like to have the same spirit as her. I want my audience to feel the same way.

Q: What do you want the younger generation, who has not experienced war, to take home from this film?

AS: I think the young people will show interest in war if given the opportunity to learn and experience it. If this film plays a part in that experience, I would be delighted. Being able to feel the pain of people who are underprivileged, I think, is an integral part of becoming an adult. Films can deliver the stories of those nameless people to the audience. I want my audience to feel what I learned to feel.

Q: What were some of the difficulties in making this film?

AS: The theme of this film is so heavy that it was long and emotionally tough to compile all the material and put it into a presentable form. People ask me how I was able to do it, being so young. I think that my innocence actually worked as an advantage. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to make a film like this at such a young age, and I hope to make use of what I learned here in my next work. Right now I feel like I have spent everything I had for this project. In a few years, I would like to work on another project. I want to create more films that can describe lives worth living, like Mrs. Kurihara’s life.

(Compiled by Hiroya Motoko)

Interviewer: Hiroya Motoko / Translator: Paul Mikaelsen
Photography: Yokoyama Sara / Video: Takada Ayumi / 2007-09-21 / in Tokyo