Observing the Reality Before You
Q: Theatre 1 and Theatre 2 are your third and fourth films in your Observation Documentary series. Why did you become interested in the theater group Seinendan?
SK: I’ve been living in New York since 1993 and I didn’t know them until they came to New York City in 2000 with Tokyo Notes, one of their foremost pieces. I happened to go see it. Until then, I was not fond of theater because of what I considered unrealistic dialogue and exaggerated acting. But Tokyo Notes surpassed those preconceptions of mine, and I was truly stunned. I didn’t think of filming them at the time, but later when an actor friend of mine joined the company, I decided to write to Hirata Oriza to ask for his permission to film.
Q: What is your definition of the Observational Documentary that you practice?
SK: For me, there are two meanings to “observational.” First, the filmmaker himself must carefully observe the reality before him. Often times in documentary, filmmakers already have an end-product in mind before they even start shooting. They decide what to shoot and go to locations with the final structure of the film already in mind. I call this the supremacy of the scenario. If I were to take this approach, there will always be a discrepancy between the reality in front of me and the film I’m trying to make. That defeats the cause. That’s why I start from looking carefully at the reality in front of me. I don’t do research, but just go in with my camera and discover what I can with my camera. That’s the order of things for me. In other words, my film is the result of what I observed. Secondly, I want to encourage the audience to observe alertly too. I try not to guide them by using text, music, or narration. I want the viewer to take a pro-active stance in watching the film, so I am intentionally unhelpful.
Q: Why did you choose the observational style in the first place?
SK: I didn’t invent observational documentary, the term is a common expression in the English language. The so-called direct cinema movement began in the USA in the 1960s with Frederick Wiseman, Albert and David Maysles, and D. A. Pennebaker, who chose to point their camera at reality itself and capture the world in a direct way. As I believe the allure of documentary lies there, I wanted to redefine that tradition. Some may say the direct cinema movement and observational filmmaking are old-fashioned and blasé, but as I don’t, I began a series of films in this style.
Q: What is the appeal of the living reality in front of you?
SK: In our normal lives, we don’t really observe the reality we see. We overlook most of the details of what we see. But when we look through the camera, the common scenery that everyone had unawarely passed by is suddenly not familiar anymore. That’s why the editing process becomes important. During editing, I can look at the same scene over and over again, in order to discover something captured by chance or something totally unpredictable.
(Compiled by Oka Tatsuya)
Interviewers: Oka Tatsuya, Suzuki Noriko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Miyata Mariko / Video: Nakata Ryo / 2013-10-12