YIDFF 2009 New Docs Japan
A Whispered Life
An Interview with Gilles Sionnet, Marie-Francine Le Jalu (Directors)

Brilliant Whining

Q: Both sides, the filmmakers and the cast, love Dazai Osamu and it transpires through the screen and reaches the audience. There are a variety of people from all walks of life in the cast.

Gilles Sionnet (GS): By shooting people with all sorts of ideas and viewpoints on Dazai, we were hoping to create his stereoscopic image and look at him through multiple perspectives.

Q: What was your intention in using the word “whisper” in the title?

GS: I told the novelist, Yu Miri, that I was going to make a film about Dazai. She then said, “Dazai’s literature has something like a whispering voice. He got his listeners (readers) more interested in his work by whispering, not speaking out loud.” It left a great impression on me. Also, Dazai actually had his wife write some of his stories down through dictation when he wrote his novels. Therefore, his voice is literally translated into his books. I thought his voice must be whispering, not screaming. That’s one of the reasons for using that word in the title.

Q: The scene, in which one of the female cast members was taking her makeup off, was impressive. Was that your direction?

GS: No. It may be the emergence of her inner side which was changing through the filming of this film.

Marie-Francine Le Jalu (MFJ): Something unexpected comes out of shooting films. It was like she was taking off her mask and gradually revealing her original face. She might look quite tired, but it was her real self to us.

GS: One way to look at a film is as a montage. By shooting a documentary, the truth of an object is gradually unveiled. That moment when the truth comes out is a wonderful part of documentary filmmaking.

Q: Why did you choose Dazai as the subject of your film?

GS: I’m intrigued by Japanese culture as a whole, not just Japanese literature. Dazai is very Japanese to me and yet he also has something universal. His novels are as appealing to Westerners as to Japanese. His work is like the monologue of a whiner, which is usually dark and gloomy, but there is also something very shiny and brilliant to it. That impressed me a lot.

MFJ: We were really amazed by the fact that Japanese readers not only read his novels, but also relate themselves to the characters and Dazai’s life, and engross themselves in them.

GS: We read The Setting Sun over and over shooting this film and, every time, we could see the variety of expression he used in his novel. If we just read the book once, we might not have been able to have that finding, so we hope that the audience of this film also see this film several times and find something new every time.

(Compiled by Abiko Harue)

Interviewers: Abiko Harue, Chiku Hiroko / Interpreter: Abe Koji / Translator: Okazaki Ikuna
Photography: Laura Turley / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2009-10-09