An Interview with Mika Kaurismäki
Music, Mainstay for the People in Brazil
Q: How many times have you been to Japan?
MK: This is my third visit. I like Japan a lot. Of course I love Ozu and Kurosawa, directors known as Japan’s masters, and Mizoguchi as well. Otherwise, in general Japan is different from Finland or Brazil, so I find it fascinating. This is my first visit to Yamagata, but of course I knew about YIDFF as a highly respected film festival.
Q: You have several films set in Brazil, but what triggered you to make this film about Brazilian music?
MK: The idea for the film first came from someone who worked on producing Buena Vista Social Club, not me. Of course I fully enjoyed making the film, but without the proposal from the producer, I would never have thought about having a Finnish person make a film about Brazilian music.
Q: Did it take a lot of time before filming began?
MK: Yes, I spent a long time preparing for the shoot. About a year before the filming started I traveled to many different places, and I decided on the basic narrative structure and flow while learning about the music. The most difficult thing was selecting the music. Brazilian music has enough depth for ten, twenty or more films.
Q: So what criteria did you use for selecting the music?
MK: The thing I decided during the very first stage was to absolutely avoid covering any famous musicians. Of course this film could have included Brazilian pop music and found a big audience. But I was interested in filming the unknown musicians. Needless to say, this is a film about Brazilian music, but at the same time I wanted to make a film about the power of the people who reside and live in Brazil, the strength of Brazilians as they take the negative aspects of their lives in a positive direction through music, and also the roots of Brazilian music and the diversity of the culture.
Q: Does the work use the format of interviews and narration?
MK: You don’t hear me asking questions in the film, but the main focus was listening to the musicians’ stories, and I conducted all of the interviews myself. Of course, it could have been me standing behind the camera taking pictures, but I thought that would make it too much of a personal film. I included narration to serve as information for people who know nothing about Brazilian music, and also to bring out my own style in the film. But as much as possible I avoided using narration and words, and used the (lyrics) of the music itself to tell the story of people’s real lives, the complexity of the mingling cultures and the roots of Brazilian music.
Q: What are your thoughts on the genre of documentary film?
MK: I consider myself to be a director of fiction films. Many of my works are fiction films using a documentary format, but shooting a purely documentary film feels much more personal, so to me that is the most interesting difference between fiction and documentary films.
Q: What are your expectations in Yamagata?
MK: The sake (laughs). Of course, just being in Yamagata is something I’m looking forward to, but I’ve heard the sake in Yamagata is delicious, so I’m quite excited.
(Compiled by Kishi Yuki)
Interviewers: Kishi Yuki, Sato Hiroaki
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2003-10-06 / in Tokyo