YIDFF 2011 New Docs Japan
True to Myself
An Interview with Doi Toshikuni (Director)

Recording Lives, not Social Issues

Q: This film addresses issues in the education workplace, such as the compulsory hoisting of the national flag and singing of the national anthem at school assemblies. What brought you to these topics?

DT: I have long shot in Palestine, and when looking back at my own country I felt that a rightist wave was surging over Japanese society. I feel uneasiness, fear and anger toward that side of Japan, and I thought that, as a Japanese journalist, I should issue a warning. My wife is a teacher, and I was particularly aware of the despair shared in the education workplace. I distrust the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, but that didn’t bring me to make a film against the enforced raising the Hinomaru (Japanese national flag) or singing Kimigayo (Japanese national anthem). “Movement films” like that inspire negative responses in young people.

Q: Why did you choose these three teachers as subjects?

DT: What the three people covered in this film have in common is not just that they stand up and face their respective problems, but also their attempts to live their lives as they want to. I’ve lived a life of setbacks and often worry about the way of life I’ve chosen. So I am moved by Ms. Nezu, who sits with determination when the Kimigayo is sung. This production started from a sense of mission; I had to tell of this person who goes against society’s flow, holding her convictions to the end. Likewise, Ms. Sato, a music teacher who refuses a piano performance of the Kimigayo, appears to have a meek atmosphere at first. But her core is strong; it will never collapse, like a willow. I think the strength of their conviction was the source of their words, “I want to be true to myself,” the same as those used in the title. Focusing on these two would have bent this into a movement film against enforcement of the Hinomaru and Kimigayo. So I changed the viewpoint by including Mr. Dohi, a principal and middle-level manager. He senses danger as freedoms of expression for teachers are encroached upon on school grounds, and even at the risk of punishment at his current job, he insists on the importance of these rights. In Dohi’s case, we were very thankful that he was able to grant us permission to shoot on campus with his authority as principal. We weren’t able to do that in Nezu or Sato’s case, and for what we were not able to shoot with their students, we interviewed former students and filmed textbooks and written materials as devices to show Nezu and Sato teaching.

Q: Do you mean you made this film from an objective viewpoint?

DT: Basically I wanted to communicate my emotions at seeing these teachers’s lives, their stands against the school administrations that hold power. But simply mediating the anger of the weak doesn’t give you a film. In order to communicate to many people as a journalist, you have to remain calm. I didn’t cover their anger and sadness to support my opinion, but rather thought those emotions should show themselves. I think it’s alright for me to remain off-stage, where audiences can’t see me. Rather than showing the issues from my perspective, I wanted to make audiences enter the situation themselves. That’s also why I did not include narration or music. They weren’t at the scenes.

I don’t make social documentaries to change the world. If I can communicate what moves me to viewers through a film, and have them feel something, that’s enough. I am sometimes told that I am benefitting from the misfortune of others. I will try to keep that criticism in the back of my mind, and keep on shooting.

(Compiled by Hirose Shiori)

Interviewer: Hirose Shiori / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Katsumata Erika / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2011-09-22 in Tokyo