YIDFF 2019 Perspectives Japan
Tokyo High Tide
An Interview with Murakami Hiroyasu (Director)

Social Structures: Nature and Civilization Reflected in the City’s Tidal Flats

Q: In the film, the old man’s range of facial expressions was very charming. There’s a scene where he talks about his own past, but were you very conscious of building up trust while filming?

MH: When we first met, it wasn’t me who reached out to him, but rather, he who reached out to me. I’d been walking along the Tama River, thinking about making a film featuring the tidal flats, and when he saw me point my camera to the ground, he asked me, “Are you from the Ministry of the Environment?” He told me he wanted to file a complaint about the overfishing of freshwater clams, and I began to wonder about this man who lived by the Tama River with his cats. At first, I asked him to let me film him with regards to the problem of overfishing freshwater clams or of abandoned cats, but after digging for clams, we would drink and talk together, and in the process, he began to tell me of his past as well. More than six months later, we were drinking and talking on the way home after a festival, and I told him that I wanted to make the documentary about him. In response, he gave me a very good-natured “Okay,” and even told me that if I was going to film him, I had to film more scenes of fishing. When I spent time with him, I would bring him little gifts of food, and he would cook tripe stew or beef tendon stew for me.

Q: Were there any scenes that, while striking, had to be cut?

MH: Actually, the old man had a family, and I had wanted to include scenes of them, but for the sake of time, those scenes had to be cut.

Q: The close-ups of the freshwater clams were rather mystical images. From a technical point of view, was there anything you were particular about filming a certain way?

MH: For documentary film, I put the emphasis on film over documentary. I want to make a picture first and foremost. While filming the old man as he fishes, I also want to show his environment, to capture the airplane in flight behind him, the highway, and the symbolic environment around him. If I don’t capture the environment at the same time, the audience won’t be able to see certain things, so while my equipment is just an ordinary video camera, I try to see and film from a distance as much as possible. By doing this, the scenery becomes more prominent, and can be put into one frame, so I paid particular attention to that.

Q: Development for the Olympics is ongoing. It felt like there was a contrasting perspective between this hectic development, and the old man, who has lived through various changes over time. While making this kind of film, what sort of outlook did you have on Japan?

MH: Various things—such as garbage from the urban areas, from people and pets—wash up onto the tidal flats, the lowest levels of the city. The first time I went to the tidal flats, planes were crossing each other in the air, smoke and flames were rising from the industrial areas, and I felt like I was standing on the boundary between nature and civilization. In contrast, when you come here, right in the middle of Tokyo, I think you can see a different Tokyo, or even, present-day Japan, from the perspectives of both civilization and nature. I came to see various things, such as the fact that changes in the environment, changes in civilization brought about by construction—for example, the common tern disappearing, or becoming unable to collect freshwater clams or ragworms, due to mud accumulation from construction—have as their inverse, various social contradictions, like the abuse of pets. I don’t know what will happen from hereon in, but over the four years of filming, I saw things that I had not initially expected.

(Compiled by Yagi Hiroko)

Interviewers: Yagi Hiroko, Sato Hiroaki / Translator: Joelle Nazzicone
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2019-10-04 in Tokyo