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The Pursuit of Japanese Documentary:
The 1980s and Beyond

Beginning with the 1st Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 1989, the person who originally suggested holding a retrospective of Japanese documentary was none other than director the late Ogawa Shinsuke. Following his guidance, I have personally selected and screened works taken from the time of film's emergence through to the present day with this year's selection. The list provided below outlines the contents of the Japanese Documentary program thus far.

1989 The Dawn of Japanese Documentaries

From the emergence of film to the end of World War II
1991 The Post-War Flourishing of The Japanese Documentary

From post-war until the 1950s
1993 Japanese Documentaries of the 1960s
1995 Japanese Documentaries of the 1970s
1997 The Pursuit of Japanese Documentary

The 1980s and Beyond

At this year's festival, with the addition of Interview at Clean Center ("Kurin Senta homonki"1975), we will be screening Ogawa Shinsuke's work made after the Sanrizuka Series when he moved to Magino in Yamagata Prefecture, culminating with Magino Village--A Tale ("1000 nen kizami no hidokei," 1986). As a complement to this, we have also gathered the important independently made films of three directors who once worked as assistant directors at Ogawa Productions: Watanabe Takaaki, Fukuda Katsuhiko and Iizuka Toshio. Then, selected from films screened during the 80s, the unforgettable works Ode to Mt. Hayachine ("Hayachine no fu," 1982), The Innocent Sea ("Muko naru umi," 1983) and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On ("Yuki yukite shingun," 1987). Following those, a selection of unique films, whose titles are quite infamous, but yet which we don't often get the chance to see, The Moments We Lived ("Oretachi no ikita jikan," 1982), Palestine 1976-1983 ("Paresuchina 1976-1983," 1983), Yama--Attack to Attack ("Yama--Yararetara yarikaese," 1985). Mothers ("Hahatachi," 1987) and Wiping Away Tears with Fists of Anger ("Ikari no kobushi de namida o nugue," 1991). Up there with Ogawa Shinsuke, the director Tsuchimoto Noriaki is one of the leading figures of Japanese documentary. Under his guidance, Wakatsuki Osamu, Yamamura Nobuki, Koike Masato and Nishiyama Masahiro directed many powerful works. In addition to the screening of some of these works, Mr. Tsuchimoto himself will be holding a special presentation. Tsuchimoto also attended The Asia Symposium held at Yamagata in 1989 and, judging from that, this years presentation promises to be a very informative guide to present day documentary.

Whilst in the 1960s and 70s the field of Japanese documentary produced many works themed around social problems, the 1980s and 90s have seen a move towards the portrayal of self in what can be termed as "private documentary." The splendid works of some of this genre's pioneers, among them Suzuki Shiroyasu and Kanai Katsu, will also be screened. Then, as has become practice, this year's symposium features Yamane Sadao as chair of a group of directors, including Ise Shin'ichi of Nao-chan ("Nao-chan," 1995) and Kanai Katsu of Time Blows On ("Toki ga fubuku," 1991), for what promises to be a heated discussion. In addition to this, as part of our program directed toward the people of Yamagata City, we have selected a group of films themed on nature and works for family viewing. Doing away with filmic methods, Island of Light ("Hikari no shima," 1996) enables one to feel nature, and discovering new methods of natural farming, the recent film Natural Farming ("Shizen no," 1997), deals with people's very existence. As these films will be shown on Sunday, we very much hope that not only those connected with film, but also a wide variety of other people, will come and sample the delights of documentary. Finally, we will be holding a special screening of Oshima Nagisa's Kyoto, My Mother's Place (1991), a film made at the request of Scotland's BBC. Unfortunately, although highly acclaimed as a magnificent work, this film has not yet been on general release in Japan. We thus very much look forward to screening it at Yamagata.

The very last treasure in this year's Japanese documentary program is the screening of Kato Tai's The Ondekoza ("Za Ondekoza") in original quadraphonic sound. This film, completed in 1981, was test screened in Tokyo and Kyoto but, for various reasons it was then shut away. Although it has been shown at some film festivals, as far as I know, up until now it has only been screened in mono sound, and so the impressive visual and audio combination that Kato Tai envisaged has never been realized. As a particular fan of Kato Tai's work, I thus wanted to take the opportunity to adhere to his wishes at this special screening in Yamagata. I should also mention that, to mark the thirteenth anniversary of his death, this year the Locarno Film Festival has just held a special director's tribute to Kato Tai.

Ogawa Shinsuke was always saying to me that he'd like me to put together an occasion for him and Kato Tai to discuss film together. Although I consulted Kato Tai when Ogawa's A Japanese Village--Furuyashikimura ("Nippon koku Furuyashikimura," 1977) was screened in Osaka, it turned out that we weren't actually able to get the two director's together face to face. Then, by the time Ogawa Shinsuke went to Kyoto four years later with Magino Village--A Tale, Kato Tai had unfortunately already passed away. When I think of Kato Tai's untimely death, I greatly regret that I was never able to realize Ogawa's wishes for a meeting. But, even though these two directors were not able to meet together themselves, at least here, in the Yamagata that Ogawa held so dear, their films can "meet" in their place.

Yasui Yoshio
Japan Documentaries Coordinator



Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee