YIDFF 2013 Cinema with Us 2013
Sewers Recovery of Sendai
An Interview with Takano Hiroyuki (Director)

Seen and Yet Unseen

Q: Although your documentary was a dispassionate record, free even of subtitles, of the restoration of sewage pipes, I found myself lost in admiration of the beautifully filmed scenes which detailed each delicate step in this process. You have been recording footage related to the disaster for some time now, but what made you decide to focus on sewage pipe restoration in this film?

TH: Not many people appreciate the “beauty” of sewage pipe work, so I appreciate your comments. One of the reasons I made this film is because I work in a construction company. In addition, I’ve already documented the clear outward signs of the disaster, such as scenes of rubble being cleared, and this time I wanted to turn my gaze away from the coast and further inland. When I witnessed the piles of rubble slowly changing shape as the removal work proceeded, I realized that I needed to get to work quickly. I made independent films when I was a university student, and have also worked on the production of commercials, and I’ve reached the conclusion that it is my mission to document things on film. When I decided to turn my attention inland, I thought that this would also be an opportunity to view the construction work I’m involved in from the perspective of the disaster. These are the reasons I decided to make a documentary on the sewage pipe restoration.

Q: This below-ground work was performed by workers who went about their business silently and unemotionally. On the other hand, when work is performed above ground, workers talk to each other, and appear to enjoy what they are doing more. I was struck by this marked contrast in work styles.

TH: Below-ground work requires quite a bit of concentration. There are vehicles driving by in the vicinity, it’s dark, and you have time limits. Also, disaster restoration work on sewage pipes is somewhat specialized and different from ordinary sewage pipe construction work. Sewage pipes are laid at an angle so that water can flow from the mountains towards the ocean. However, in a large earthquake like the recent one, many of the pipes end up at the opposite angle or become bent, resulting in the serious problem of household wastewater building up under manholes. Ordinary sewage pipe work involves such things as making pipes more earthquake-resistant, replacing old pipes with new ones, and laying new sewage pipes under new towns, during which time pipes cannot transport wastewater. In the case of the disaster restoration work that has been carried out on sewage pipes since the earthquake, pipes that are currently being used to transport wastewater are temporary removed and bypasses are constructed. Then the damaged pipes are replaced. During this process, wastewater leaks onto the workers, with the smell permeating their bodies, and it is a very labor-intensive job.

Q: I see construction areas on a daily basis, but after watching your film and hearing the things you have to say, I realize that I “see” construction on some levels, but not on others. In the film, you didn’t interview any workers—what was your reason for this?

TH: This time, I simply wanted viewers to see the work that was being performed, which is why I didn’t try to explore any further issues. At the moment, there is a serious shortage in workers, especially younger ones. After the earthquake, there were so many restoration jobs to be done that local firms couldn’t handle all the demand, and because of a lack of workers, much of the restoration work remains unfinished. Subcontractors have raised their prices, but the amount of money Sendai city has budgeted for this work remains unchanged, and I think this will cause more construction companies to go under next year. Also, it is now common for workers to be in their 50s and 60s. Restoration work is behind schedule because of a lack of manpower, on-site work is a delicate business that requires workers to deal with the natural elements, and more young workers are needed—these are some of the many messages I tried to incorporate into this documentary.

(Compiled by Nagata Kanako)

Interviewers: Nagata Kanako, Nishiyama Ayuka / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Saito Risa / Video: Ukai Sakurako / 2013-10-12