YIDFF 2009 New Asian Currents
Ximaojia Universe
An Interview with Mao Chenyu (Director)

Why I Make a Film

Q: I hear that you made this film after a big operation. What kind of feeling do you have for Ximaojia Universe?

MC: I emphasized the fact that I am still alive and how precious a life is. I am still alive here and now. It is such a phenomenon to me.

Q: There is a great element of literature in this film. Is that right?

MC: It’s essential to this film. There were few films with this style of expression in the past. Since I had a severe illness, this film commemorates the fact that I am still alive. If you were a sparrow in a cage, you couldn’t fly away and make a film. This film also offered me a chance to acknowledge my hometown again. As for the pictures, I painted them myself. I tried to express my feeling and intangible ideas which were hard to express by words through those pictures.

Q: There are a lot of scenes shot over rice paddies with a camera fixed on a tripod.

MC: I’ve made films about rice and rice paddies, and they are in a series. There are already nine films and I named the series as “paddy films.” The concept of this series is to emphasize the background of rice culture. The first film in the series, Human, Ghost, God also has a lot of rice and paddies scenes. I basically love rice and paddies though it’s nothing to do with the concept of beauty. By shooting from rice paddies, the scenery of the village can be described more exquisitely. As for the fixed camera, I often use it because I like to focus on essential movements and it helps catch the peaceful rhythm of the life at the village and make the film atmospheric.

Q: You make narrative films as well as documentary films. What is your intention in doing that?

MC: All the narrative films so far were shot in my wife’s hometown, around the upriver of Dongting Hu. I think a narrative film is suited to express clear images and has a lot of possibilities. On the other hand, a documentary film requires a filmmaker to deeply understand the location and people including their body language, such as their gaze and sigh. Let me tell you an impressive example. It’s a well-known scene from Magino Village—A Tale directed by Ogawa Shinsuke where a dragon fly is sitting on the back of an old man. Why is it there on his back? That’s because that old man has become a part of rice fields after working there for many years and the dragon fly perceived him as something solid and fixed like a stone. That said, I need to obtain that kind of deep understanding about the custom of local people to make a documentary film. The understanding should not be superficial.

Q: Can you tell me about your next project?

MC: I hope to continue shooting films about rice and paddies for the series. It could go on for ten or twenty years. I might make a narrative film about the present situation of Chinese farms since I’m really eager to focus on and express our present—where we are now. To do so, a narrative film, a filmmaker’s creation, can sometimes be more effective than just delivering facts straight to an audience.

(Compiled by Suzuki Hiroki)

Interviewers: Suzuki Hiroki, Xie Mingming / Interpreter: Xie Mingming / Translator: Okazaki Ikuna
Photography: Morito Satoko / Video: Chiku Hiroko / 2009-10-11