An Interview with Noh Young-Sun (Director)
Guided by Yukiko
Q: The woman sitting on a beach in Nago tells stories about her grandmother, as if her grandmother had borrowed her body, and was speaking through her. How did she come to be in the film? Also, why did you choose to speak about your grandmother’s experiences in the first person?
NY: That woman is Ishikawa Yuko, a coordinator who had helped me with filming. I had wanted to speak to a woman of the same generation as my grandmother in Okinawa, but I had arrived suddenly, so it was difficult to build connections. Through Yuko, I was able to meet elderly women in Okinawa. I had felt that after my second stay there, my stay that time was not going so well. At that time, Yuko told me that her grandmother had always told her stories about the war, and what a shame it was, since were she still living, she would have given me an interview.
So I asked her for a favor, and the film was put into first person. It’s not the case that everyone’s stories are family stories, nor that all stories are interesting and important, with all stories important no matter the person. In Yuko’s case, she had heard those stories many times from her grandmother, and they had become her own. I wanted her to try drawing those stories out from inside herself. I asked her to speak not as a stand-in for her grandmother, but in her own words, in the form of a monologue, about the things her grandmother had experienced.
Q: When your mother visited your grandmother in Okinawa, did she learn her real name?
NY: My mother was able to visit Okinawa because my grandmother gave her a plane ticket. However, for my mother, it was too late for a reunion, and it was very uncomfortable to have a conversation via interpretation at the nursing home, conversations that would end after two or three words. Because of this, and I am not very clear on this myself, my mother spoke very equivocally about her name. She just always called my grandmother “the woman in Japan,” and not by her name. According to my mother, she was not her real mother, and she didn’t know her name, so she didn’t know what to call her. Because of that, I initially referred to my grandmother as “the woman” in the film. But at some point, because my mother said, “Why don’t you name her Yukiko?” I felt that she regretted being unable to call my grandmother by her name. Personally, I think there’s a part of her that found redemption in producing a name for my grandmother.
Q: I felt like there were deep bonds connecting women—mother and daughter, daughter and grandmother—beyond the historical framework of politics or war. How do you feel about women speaking about women?
NY: I think, when compared to men, women have fewer spaces to speak about their experiences, particularly those relating to war. I think what ties Korea and Japan together is a similar patriarchal system related to politics—that is, a way of telling stories built on the three generations of grandfather, father, and son. But I wanted to tell a story through three generations of women: grandmother, mother, and daughter. I don’t know if that’s a feminist perspective, but I think it would be good if women had more spaces to tell their stories.
(Compiled by Yagi Hiroko)
Interviewers: Yagi Hiroko, Morisaki Hana / Interpreter: Matsushita Yumi / Translator: Joelle Nazzicone
Photography: Nagayama Momo / Video: Nagayama Momo / 2019-10-11