An Interview with Tanaka Fumihito (Director)
An Alternative Film History: The Story of Kim Hak-seong
Q: It was unfortunate that you were unable to interview Kim Hak-seong’s good friend, the cinematographer Okazaki Kozo.
TF: I met Okazaki the first time I worked on a movie set. I’d often heard from him about how “there used to be an assistant cinematographer named Kanai Seiichi [Kim Hak-seong] back in the Shinko Kinema days.”
Before that, when I had a part time job organizing materials at the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, I once stumbled across a cardboard box full of materials related to prewar Korean film. Apparently nobody had touched it for sixty years. I thought, “Wow, I’ve found something big.” At the time no one was talking about prewar Korean film, and I had a feeling it might become a valuable resource one day. As I listened to Okazaki’s stories, I suddenly remembered that box. When I looked through it again, I saw that the cinematographer for Homeless Angel was Kanai Seiichi. I was surprised and thought, “Someday, I’ve got to turn this story into a film.” But I thought if I started the project right away, I didn’t have the skill at the time to film it well, so I decided to shelve it.
Last year I discussed with Okazaki about finally starting the project, but while I was requesting photographs from him and making other preparations, Okazaki’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse. I spoke with my friend Nagata Yuichi and he agreed to do the photography for the film. Okazaki’s health was getting worse day by day, and we rushed to finish preparations to shoot the film. Unfortunately, however, he passed away this January.
Q: The print of Homeless Angel was discovered while you were filming, correct?
TF: While I was shooting in Seoul at the end of April this year, I was told that the print of a lost film had been discovered in China. The materials I took from Japan to Korea were all new to the researchers there. I thought it was very important to cite Homeless Angel in this movie, so I decided to establish a cooperative relationship with the Korean Film Archive, which found the film. A fortunate result was that I was able to find Son Hwan-chang, who acted in Homeless Angel. He learned about the film’s discovery from an article in the Asahi Shinbun, and wrote a letter to the article’s author, Yomota Inuhiko, saying that he was an actor in the film. That’s how it started.
Q: Are there other people whose personal history resembles Kim Hak-seong?
TF: I’m sure there are many people who studied film in Japan and then became successful after returning to their country, but I don’t know their Japanese names so it would be difficult to identify them. I heard from Yu Hyeon-mok that the people who had done excellent work on the representative films of the 1960s had studied at Japanese studios. The producer Kim Sung-Chun, who was the lighting technician on Yu’s An Aimless Bullet (1961), was one such person.
One thing that surprised me about Kim Hak-seong, whom everyone told me so much about, is that he seemed to be just like Okazaki. A true cinematographer is not someone who just films pretty images, but someone who captures the essence of a subject.
When the man and woman fall into illicit love together, the river behind them murmurs and trembles. That’s the kind of cinematography he does. The feelings of the subjects become the image on the screen.
As far as I know, Kim Hak-seong photographed twenty-one feature films, but only seven of them exist today, and most of those exit in incomplete versions. I do think more of his excellent work should have been saved. It was unfortunate that he retired in 1968 at fifty-five years old.
(Compiled by Kato Takanobu)
Interviewers: Kato Takanobu, Sato Hiroaki
Photography: Kato Hatsuyo / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2005-09-24 / in Tokyo