An Interview with Anke Haarmann (Director)
Seeing the Individual
Q: What led you to choose to film a documentary about the homeless in Japan?
AH: When I lived in Japan, I was surprised at how few parks there were. Also, I did not see those parks as public spaces. There are many public spaces all throughout Germany where many people assemble and interact with each other. These public spaces are where political issues and social problems are discussed. Given that, I wondered where exactly people were able to talk about these issues in Japan today. I then began to think that, due to this lack of a concept of public spaces, Japanese people do not have a chance to talk about the often overlooked issue of the nojukusha, homeless individuals who live together in camps they have set up in parks. Also, as a non-Japanese person, I was very surprised by the sheer number of homeless people in Japan, which I did not think had such a significant poverty problem. I was very interested in the attitudes toward life held by these people who lived in tents set up side by side in parks. So, with all that in mind, when I heard about a plan to forcibly remove the homeless from parks in Osaka I felt compelled to begin filming, alongside college students who actively worked to support the homeless.
Q: I thought the use of text in this film was very distinctive.
AH: I have always felt a sense of dissatisfaction about the use of text in film. I thought it wasn’t interesting enough. Also, I wanted this film to present a modern Japanese aesthetic sensibility, not a traditional one. I wanted Japanese mass culture to be a part of this film. So, I chose to include manga influenced text in Public Blue. I thought that by taking something as familiar and deeply ingrained into Japanese culture as manga and linking that with the homeless via my documentary, I might be able to draw out the connections between the homeless and Japanese culture. I hoped this would portray the homeless in a respectful, dignified manner.
Q: I felt that the film did not particularly emphasize any sense of sorrow for the homeless. Could you tell me about why you made that decision?
AH: I didn’t think I could properly represent their situation simply by showing sorrow or trying to evoke sympathy. If anything, I thought it was important to communicate the self-awareness of the homeless to society at large. They are ashamed for themselves of the position they are in. Self-awareness is essential in the arts, and it is essential in philosophy, among other fields. Their self-awareness is what links them to the rest of society. So, I wanted to emphasize cynicism directed at them by society and the way they laugh at themselves through black humor. I absolutely did not want to show pity for the homeless. Rather, I wanted to depict them with dignity.
Q: I felt that this film was not simply about the homeless, but about society at large viewed via the homeless. Would you agree with this?
AH: I am always doubtful of the ability of the culture and media we encounter in our daily lives to truly see individuals. I think we are simply passively taking in mass culture and mass media. What we were trying to do in this film was the opposite of that. We hoped to reevaluate society by examining the individual. We planned to reexamine the concept of “the public” and the way we think about politics in general by showing the drama of the homeless. By focusing on this one aspect of society, we reevaluate “the public” via the individual.
(Compiled by Takada Ayumi)
Interviewer: Takada Ayumi / Interpreter: Imai Isao / Translator: Christopher Gregory
Photography: Suzuki Takashi / Video: Kusunose Kaori / 2007-10-05