YIDFF 2013 Cinema with Us 2013
TSUMUGU—Students of Yuriage Junior High School
An Interview with Ono Daisuke (Director)

Fading Memories of a Disaster, Preserved in the Words of our Youths

Q: It was inspiring to watch the Yuriage Junior High School students as they courageously strove to overcome their profound grief over the loss of family members and friends. Can you tell us what things were like at the beginning of the filming?

OD: In the days immediately following the earthquake and tsunami, people were buoyed by a strong desire to help one another. They were very accepting of me, especially after I explained that I myself was from an area close to Yuriage Junior High School. I also sensed that the students felt a need to let the rest of society know what they were going through in the wake of the disaster, for they spoke freely to me when I approached them. On the other hand, my position was different from that of a volunteer who was there to provide help, and I did feel guilty about just aiming a camera at them.

Q: What motivated you to spend over a year documenting these students?

OD: I first spent a month putting together a program about the many people in the Yuriage Junior High School shelter who had lost family members and friends. It was later, when the second-year students went in to receive their report cards at the end of March, that their teachers informed them that seven of their classmates had died. Seeing the students being joyfully reunited with their classmates—while also shedding tears for the friends they had lost—inspired me to spend the next year documenting how they managed to move forward in their lives, and that is how I came up with the idea for this film.

Q: You had the students describe the experience of losing their friends in their own words. How did it feel to interview them?

OD: To gain a sense of how they would be able to move forward, I first had to understand what they had suffered, but it took time for me to steel myself to ask the necessary questions. When, about two months after beginning filming, I approached the students who seemed ready to talk, I felt as nervous as a kid getting ready to ask someone out for the first time. It was quite shocking to hear what the students had to say, and I’d often feel my voice shaking as the interviews went on—but since I felt a professional duty to make sure their stories were heard, along with a personal desire to know more about these young people, I made myself ask all the questions that needed to be asked. To give the students the respect they deserved, I incorporated all the stories they shared with me into the film, and to allow viewers to form their own impressions, I decided against using any narration.

Q: The title of your documentary is TSUMUGU—Students of Yuriage Junior High School. Can you elaborate on the meaning behind this title?

OD: As memories of the disaster began to fade, I wanted us to look back once more on everything that had happened, using words to “tsumugu,” or “weave,” these memories into a lasting record. Before this film, I also produced three programs under the title Honto wa kanashii keredo (“Laughter through Tears”). On the day after the earthquake, some students were up on a rooftop, laughing as they threw a baseball around, and this title was an expression of the way in which their ability to smile in spite of their sorrow provided hope and courage to the adults around them.

Q: Have you received any feedback from the students who appeared in the film?

OD: Some of the parents and teachers have thanked me for giving them a new window into what the students were thinking, but I’m still not ready to ask the students themselves what they think of the film. Maybe we’ll be able to talk about it over drinks when they’re older.

Q: As a director, what is your approach to filming a documentary?

OD: For a filmmaker making a documentary, it is important to be completely open about what you want to know as you build a relationship with the film’s subjects. To portray the subjects of my films more vividly, and to succeed in conveying their sorrows, adversities, and joys to the audience, I need to be fully honest about my desire to understand them. I’d also like to say that since I don’t incorporate my perspective into my films, “director” may not be the most appropriate title for me.

(Compiled by Matsushita Sho)

Interviewers: Matsushita Sho, Uno Yukiko / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Iwata Kohei / Video: Nakata Ryo / 2013-10-14