YIDFF 2009 New Docs Japan
Hongara—Sacred Torch
An Interview with Nagaoka Noa (Director)

Documenting the Hongara Sacred Torch Festival Revival Becomes a Village Revitalization Project

Q: What inspired you to make a film about the torch festival in Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture? The expressions on the faces of the local people were priceless.

NN: An acquaintance living in Shima Village in Omihachiman asked if I could video the “Hongara Sacred Torch Festival,” which had been resurrected as part of the region’s revitalization. Prior to the festival itself, the harvesting of the rapeseed was already underway so I had to start shooting quickly. During the shoot one could really sense the incredible motivation of the elderly men in the village so I thought it’d be interesting to depict more of the sense of community in Shima and proposed making it into a feature-length documentary. In thinking about the reasons behind why the Hongara festival had originally come to an end, I heard that it stopped 50 years ago meaning that nobody younger than their mid-60s had witnessed it, so I thought it would be nice if I could trace their memories of the festival. I wanted to capture the village residents’ feelings, the outcome of the revived event and what kind of future it might have.

Q: The residents seemed to speak as if they were unconscious of the camera being there.

NN: The people who had experience with the festival way back then were filled with motivation and had a lot to say about it, which made things easier. And the younger people were really cooperative and open to what the elders had to say.

Q: The huge torches at these festivals differ depending on the region. Does the shape hold any kind of significance?

NN: I’m sure it does, but there are no written records remaining and even if you ask the local residents they’re not certain or don’t know. But each village has their own style, which is handed down from generation to generation.

Q: From what I’ve heard, in many regions across Japan young people are not participating in these festivals which makes it hard to sustain them. What has been your own view on festivals up until now?

NN: I grew up in a modern residential area so there were no such traditional festivals. In the case of the Hongara Sacred Torch Festival, I suppose it became obsolete due to a lack of communication between the younger and older generations. Festivals can only be realized if a village is functioning normally. Having a festival means people coming together from different generations and cooperating as one to make it a success. One of the elderly men stated “If there’s no festival, it’s not a village. It’s just a place to live.” Village life is quite busy with assemblies and events. There are people who think such socializing is troublesome but through these activities are able to build relationships with their neighbors. In a nearby village I heard about a young shut-in who was able to begin communicating with others little by little after being invited to participate in the preparations for a festival.

50 years ago, people under 70 years old were occupied with going into town to work. At the time they felt the festival was an inconvenience, which was the reason the Hongara Torches became obsolete in the end. Making this film of the festival’s revival was the final testament of the village’s senior generation in a way. In fact, several villagers passed away after the film was shot.

Q: What do you hope audiences carry away from this film?

NN: I hope that the people who watch it feel the value of connecting across generations to preserve traditions, even a little. I think the camera played a role in bringing people together.

(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)

Interviewer: Kusunose Kaori / Translator: Jason Gray
Photography: Shibata Sei / Video: Shibata Sei / 2009-09-22 / in Osaka