Recording Real Life: Making “The Non-Fiction Hour”
Q: Talk to me about meeting Ushiyama Junichi.
IY: Ushiyama blasted me with a three-hour lecture the very first day I started working at “The Non-Fiction Hour.” He referenced Stefan Zweig’s Sternstunden der Menschheit (Decisive Moments in History) saying, “We want completely ordinary people to come away from our show with their own unique ‘moments.’” I was mostly enslaved to his approach to things. He was even ready the first day with a project, asking me, “There’s some kids coming in large groups to Tokyo from the Joban Coalfield, how about we do that one?” We got on the train in a huge rush and frantically filmed it. Then it was shelved and I learned that even if you have fantastic footage, it doesn’t mean you end up with a proper movie.
Q: What was it like working on “The Non-Fiction Hour”?
IY: Well for example in the case of Tachi’s Family, Ushiyama led with, “Let’s go and film a really big family!” He liked the concept of making a work that would stand thematically in opposition to the contemporary trends of economic growth and the nuclear family. It was my job to work out the details.
Because Ushiyama’s policy was that it’s no good to think things out too intellectually, we would just set out and work with what we had. We went through a process of trial and error where we did things like send questionnaires to elementary schools all over Tokyo. When I came across Tachi’s family living eleven people in a four-and-a-half mat Japanese room, I got a start. This was the large family I had been looking for!
Although even with nine kids, they had an ordinary home life. Everyday it was nothing but teasing, crying, scolding. With footage like that, I was worried we wouldn’t have a movie. Ushiyama said to me “if you like them so much, why don’t you start shooting and see what happens? Pursuing your interest in a subject to see how far it goes, what you find value in; these are extremely important.” This unexpected advice really helped me.
Ushiyama used to watch all the rushes when we were working on “The Non-Fiction Hour.” I edited the rushes, and got so close to the right length on the film but Ushiyama wouldn’t give his approval. He made us go back again until we got this once nice shot of the mother and her kids. He kept a tight grip on the reins in regard to things like that. He was amazing at keeping track of the essence of the project.
Q: Directors like Oshima Nagisa and Tsuchimoto Noriaki also directed for “The Non-Fiction Hour”—what were they like to work with?
IY: Well in my case, I already had massive respect for them. It was like I was looking up to them from somewhere far away. I only worked on location with Tsuchimoto once, on A National Railway Worker. We had the luxury of working with really excellent people in each location, and Ushiyama told them “I might only use one shot each but just go ahead and film.” Tsuchimoto was entrusted with the filming the Shinagawa engine depot. He made An Engineer’s Assistant, so I imagine he knew these kinds of places well. I assisted Noda Shinkichi in shooting the Shinagawa Station section which was close by. And so I got to see Tsuchimoto at work. There was a young man uncertain of whether to attend a protest rally and Tsuchimoto went ahead and took the side in favor, urging him “You’d be wrong not to go.” And the guy becomes convinced, breaking into a run, with Tsuchimoto’s camera in hot pursuit. The feeling of admiration for Tsuchimoto I felt when I saw that really stays with me. Doing something like that would never have occurred to me though.
(Compiled by Sato Hiroaki)
Interviewers: Sato Hiroaki, Hashiura Taichi / Translator: Jeremy Harley
Photography: Kato Takanobu / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2011-10-01 in Tokyo