YIDFF 2013 Perspectives Japan
Tale of a Butcher Shop
An Interview with Hanabusa Aya (Director)

Depict the Individual, Not the Problem

Q: Despite your film’s focus on such heavy themes like the discrimination against traditionally low-class workers (‘buraku’) and butchers, it is quite impressive that your protagonists are depicted with such radiant charm. Perhaps one could call Tale of a Butcher Shop a “cinematic sketch of a family.” How did the themes you wanted to depict, change through the course of making this film?

HA: From the very start, the goal of this film was to consistently “depict the individual, not the problem.” This was also the case in my previous film, Holy Island. Additionally, I have long since held an interest in societal discrimination against workers of traditionally low-class jobs (such as butchers), so I believe that in the making of this film, the consideration of this discrimination is a difficult, albeit necessary theme. And yet, upon meeting Mr. Kitade, a seventh generation butcher overflowing with charm, I knew that themes of discrimination could be depicted alongside a genuine sketch of an individual and his family.

Q: How did you go about the filming process?

HA: For half a year, I continuously requested permission to film the Kitade family. Kitade Shinji, head of the household and Kaizuka branch manager of the Buraku Liberation League, remained prudent about permitting filming of his family and neighborhood. Around that time, I held a screening of Holy Island, inviting people from his neighbourhood. While watching it he began to realize that a film about the every day life of these people might serve as a starting point to loosen the hold of residual discrimination. On the day Mr. Shinji said to me, “film what you wish,” I was standing on a train platform on my way home and thought, “I did it!,” privately tasting a sweet success. In addition, my producer Mr. Motohashi, who had been taking photographs of slaughterhouses all along, had been building bit by bit a foundation of trust.

Q: What was your secret to depicting the charm of the Kitade family?

HA: Under the pretense of filming, I was really enjoying my time spent with them. Rather than being designated as a film director, Kitade Akira would address me as the “site foreman” as I moved about. During the year I spent filming, I rented a room near the Kitade’s butcher shop. They prepared extra amounts of food, so as to always be able to host guests, of which I was one everyday.

Q: There are many close-ups of hands throughout the film, as meat is packaged and cows butchered. I was very impressed by all the things hands could do, and I felt a sense of discovery upon realizing, “this is what hands are capable of!”

HA: I’m very glad to hear that. I also felt that they maintained such a gentle aura whenever they touched with their hands, something other than themsleves. The fishermen in Holy Island were the same: they treated any living thing they touched with a visible respect for life itself.

Q: I truly felt that in the ceremonial slaughterhouse scene, each individual task was depicted with great care. Do you have a special sense of emotional attachment to this scene?

HA: I did pay special attention to the edition of the slaughterhouse scene. The slaughterhouse actually possessed a quiet, austere atmosphere that is difficult to articulate. The Kitade’s dissect the cows by hand, with tender care; I would go as far as to say that if I were a cow, I would want to be made into meat by the hands of a Kitade. Nowadays, we often distance ourselves from the act of butchering, but there is much to be learned from this family, who have long since been in close contact with the practice. Until now, I had never understood how an animal raised to be eaten could ever be treated with warmth, and so I am deeply moved by how that sentiment actualizes naturally in the daily life and work of the Kitade family.

(Compiled by Matsushita Sho)

Interviewers: Matsushita Sho, Nozaki Atsuko / Translator: Jason Douglass
Photography: Ogawa Michiko / Video: Ogawa Michiko / 2013-10-12