YIDFF 2011 New Asian Currents
On the Way to the Sea
An Interview with Gu Tao (Director)

A Place Beyond Tears and Sadness

Q: This is an experimental work that intermingles symbolic and documentary images from during and after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. I was deeply affected by their beauty, and would like to ask your reason for using 8mm film.

GT: Today you can make images cheaply with digital, but I think the tactility of 8mm, its rattle and wonderful tone directly connect with memory. When you convert 8mm to 16mm, you have to reprint it with an optical printer, which is the same as shooting it again. In that process, there is an opportunity to choose again from what you have shot. I think that most of the experimental elements in this film came from restructuring at that stage. I go frame-by-frame, and it takes a great amount of time.

Q: The sound was also impactful. Was there anything you were particular about in editing it?

GT: The relationship between sound and image is almost like dance. Editing sound is an experience that resembles choosing a partner from many dancers. I produced and edited sound by myself, and played to make sound and image dance together. I ended up with a rich soundtrack with 50 to 60 layers. Sounds are freer than images, and they can further expand space. For example, in the scene walking through the rubble after the disaster, you hear children’s voices, but those are the sounds of them playing before the earthquake. By using the sound of memories, I wanted to awaken peoples’ emotions and imagination. In this way all the sounds have a purpose, and call to spaces outside the screen. By awakening memory, I sought to gradually expand that space. I also used documentary images recorded by survivors at the time of the disaster and sounds from that footage. In the end I tried to evoke the sea, using the sound of waves without showing the ocean.

Q: Was the title On the Way to the Sea also meant to expand peoples’ imaginations?

GT: Yes. It is a journey of nostalgia for all mankind that awakens the imagination. After the Sichuan earthquake there were many other disasters throughout the world. These events occur frequently as we live out our lives. But I think we have to get to a place beyond the disasters, a place beyond simple tears and sadness. The world is now in an extremely severe state. People must realize the things happening on Earth, the environmental destruction and disaster, and comprehend them sufficiently. Everyone is losing their homes and wandering. We need a home. The sea is a metaphor for home, and I wonder if now might be the time for mankind to return to it. I think these disasters may be cautioning mankind about this.

Q: What do you think about screening this work now in Yamagata, Japan, after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake?

GT: I am very happy to screen at Yamagata. I was invited by Japanese directors to see the Great East Japan Earthquake Recovery Support Screening Project “Cinema with Us,” and audience interest was incredibly high. However, there is something I would like to propose to the directors as well as audiences: I don’t think things should end with emotions; more thought needs to happen on a higher level. With this film, I provide another point of view. 

(Compiled by Tanaka Kayako)

Interviewers: Tanaka Kayako, Ichikawa Eri / Interpreter: Keino Yutaro, Watanabe Kazutaka / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Uno Yukiko / Video: Tsuchida Shuhei / 2011-10-11