For me, Yamagata is all about the encounter. In 1997, my feature-length directorial debut, 2/Duo, was screened at the festival despite being a work of fiction, while here I met Robert Kramer, who was on the jury that year. “Nothing is more tedious than asking whether a work is a documentary or fiction film. For a filmmaker, it is a totally meaningless question,” he said to me. “Your film is nothing so simple as a painting to be hung up and appreciated. It is a struggle that pushes into the depths of humanity, searching.” His words resonated deeply with me, providing a much-needed push while at the same time making me question my resolve: “Do I have the will to continue the struggle?”
I returned to Yamagata in 2001, where at a retrospective in honor of Kramer, now deceased, I met Pedro Costa. I watched his In Vanda’s Room eat away simultaneously at the tame imagery of both fiction film posing as reproduction of the world, and documentary film affecting to be reality captured as is. It reaffirmed that there is a place for filmmaking far from these conventions. I remember the deep empathy I felt, and asking myself, “Do my films, too, take the same stance?” The question still reverberates within me.
And now it is 2019. Back after a long period of making films in France, I have just completed a work in Japan for the first time in eighteen years. Though we shot in regions like Hiroshima, Fukushima, and Iwate that are stricken by disaster, this was not the reason we chose them. In Japan, everywhere you look a scarred wasteland stretches out before your eyes; and yet, this has been made invisible in the present moment, while only the images people want to look at proliferate. Perhaps the same is true everywhere in the world. However, images that shine a light from the other side of the dense fog are the kind that should appear at Yamagata. I am looking forward to encountering them, and I hope that they will provide me with new questions and lead us on unchartered paths of cinema.
A film director and professor from Hiroshima, born in 1960, currently teaching at Tokyo University of the Arts’ Graduate School of Film and New Media. After getting his start in television documentaries, Suwa won the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s NETPAC Award with his feature-length directorial debut, 2/Duo (1997, YIDFF ’97). It was shot without a completed script and experimented with an improvisational approach to directing. In 1999, Suwa’s M/Other was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival, where it took home the FIPRESCI Prize. Other major works include H Story (2001), Un couple parfait (2005, Locarno Film Festival Special Jury Prize), Paris, je t’aime (2006, omnibus segment), and Yuki & Nina (2009). Suwa’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, starring Jean-Pierre Léaud, was released in 2017. His newest work, The Phone of the Wind, is scheduled to be released next spring.
a letter from hiroshima
KOREA / 2002 / Korean / Color / Digital File / 37 min
Director: Suwa Nobuhiro
Photography: Ikeuchi Yoshihiro
Editing: Oshige Yuji
Cast: Kim Ho-jung, Suwa Nobuhiro
Production Company, World Sales: Jeonju International Film Festival
Suwa was born in Hiroshima, while Robert Kramer’s father had experienced the aftermath of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a medic in the American military. The two had begun discussing this project when Kramer passed away, sending a letter to the director just before his death. Suwa calls on Korean actress Kim Ho-jun to collaborate on the script, and she walks through Hiroshima, as do the director and his son. The process of making the film itself is a search and exposition of the point at which memory and redemption intersect among those who still remain—both victim and perpetrator.