An Interview with Watanabe Satoshi (Director)
There Is Something about Hijiori, That’s What I Felt
Q: For me, being raised in the city, this film opened up a world like nothing I’d ever seen before. I think that the area’s system, which we could call a division of labour, is not a sight that can easily be seen at today’s tourist spots, and the scenes of the whole region participating in the school event and so on imparted the village’s sense of unity. Even though Hijiori is a small village, it somehow has a large presence, and I can feel the attraction in that. What were your reasons for choosing the Hijiori area as your theme?
WS: I’m from Tsuruoka and I grew up at the foot of Mount Gassan. Because of that, since I was small I’ve had an interest in Gassan as a sacred mountain. So this time round, because of this motivation to start investigating Gassan, I arrived at my interest in Hijiori. If you ask me why Hijiori, Hijiori is famous as the therapeutic spa at one of the trailheads leading up Mount Gassan. However, Hijiori is located in a caldera surrounded by mountains, and depopulation is advanced. The appearance of the guests at the spa, who have visited the baths in this tiny village amongst the mountains many times over, seemed to me like mountain ascetics. I instinctively thought, could there be something here (which cannot be expressed in words)?
Q: In this film it seemed that the school took the temporal role of expressing the passage of a year. How did you capture the changes in people that come with that passage of time?
WS: In this film the phrase “young people return” does come up, but in fact, because it’s a depopulated area, there are no jobs, and it’s very difficult for someone without an inherited occupation to come back. Also, there are those who, even though they do come back, cannot forget the city. But by playing in the brass band, little by little the gloomy feeling that they had cleared up, and at the ceremony marking the closing of the school a kind of bond was born. That bond also spans the villagers, and I felt that the impression that the school was “an important part of the area” became stronger.
Q: Although young people bear an important role, there is also the reality of depopulation, so that the majority of the characters were elderly people. And it seemed that many of the spectators were elderly as well.
WS: That’s right, there are lots of elderly people, and many of the spectators are in their sixties. However, I think that the elderly also have a special appeal. I would like to capture the “now” of Yamagata. In that sense I think the elderly are an important factor in this. Also, communicating with the audience via film screenings, and making use of that in one’s next production, that to me is one of the real thrills of making films. Of course, what kind of reaction will high school students and so on give, that’s also something I look forward to (laughs).
Q: Your previous film, A Movie Capital Again (2007), for which you were in charge of cinematography, has a different look from your new film, doesn’t it?
WS: Yes, because I took part in that film as director of photography, but this time my connection to the project is as director. In particular, this time round we had a wonderful man named Nabeshima come in as editor. Even if only one member of a team is different, the shape of the film changes.
Q: When you say “the shape of the film changes,” you mean that the finished piece was a little different from how you had imagined it?
WS: Yes that’s right. Nabeshima totally cut out all kinds of scenes. Even though I had a great number of scenes that I myself wanted to use, “put this line from that old lady in here” and so on, and having that cut felt sad. . . . But when the film was finished I could finally realize “oh, so this is what Hijiori is all about.” I can’t yet fully express it in words, but with this film I think we managed to express “Hijiori” as an emotionally appealing place.
(Compiled by Nomura Yukihiro)
Interviewers: Nomura Yukihiro, Takeda Yuki / Translator: Oliver Dew
Photography: Takeda Yuki / Video: Nomura Yukihiro / 2009-08-29 / in Tsuruoka