An Interview with Chitose Chihiro (Director)
The Powerful and Positive Way of Life of a Second-Generation Japanese Woman from China
Q: What made you decide to become a filmmaker?
CC: I had the opportunity to study at Cinema Juku, a year-long workshop for young people, under the supervision of director Hara Kazuo. I simply thought Mr. Hara’s works were good movies, since I’ve always enjoyed fictional films. When I was awarded a prize at the Mito Short Film Festival for a film I made as a student, one of the judges, Mr. Shinohara Tetsuo, asked if I wanted to be an assistant director, and that’s how I got into this field.
Q: What were the circumstances behind your debut work being a documentary?
CC: What happened first was that we stopped production on a different film, which was a fictional drama, and the producer of that movie sought me out. I don’t often take taxis, but by chance, the driver happened to be Ms. Yamada Shizuka, and I was left with a profound impression from the stories she told. I had my heart set on making fictional movies, so it took me a while to change my mind. Although I spent about a year, starting in 2009, listening to Ms. Yamada’s stories at her home, I really didn’t know if this would make it as a commecial film to be shown in a theatre.
Q: The persecution of Japanese people in China after Wold War II, the Cultural Revolution, the growth of the economy, the current state of China and Sino-Japanese relations—these events emerged throughout half of Ms. Yamada’s life, didn’t they?
CC: I didn’t think I could make her story into a film just because her life had been so full of ups and downs. The reason I was able to continue filming was due to her character. Although I myself am more of an introverted person, she is positive, optimistic, and open—a powerful woman with guts, so to speak. I was inspired by her personality in the sense that she is able to face difficulties head-on. She puts others ahead of herself, which is a trait that I feel I lack.
Q: For the chronological record, did you start filming after her surgery?
CC: Although we officially started filming in February of 2010, the turning point was what she said during her recovery: “Since I haven’t visited my family’s grave, my mother is probably angry with me.” So we decided we would all go together, and the cameraman and I travelled with her for two weeks from Dalian to Shanghai. I didn’t know what it would be like, spending that length of time in such close quarters, but I kept the cameras rolling for as much of it as I could. It was after returning home to Japan and watching the footage that I first thought, “We might be able to pull this off.” This trip is the core of the film. And I thought that this type of road movie was appropriate to summarize the life of this woman who has never been confined to one place.
Q: There are some family members who do not appear in the film, aren’t there?
CC: Her first husband and her second-eldest son, Makoto, turned down being in the film. At first, I was set on covering all four of her children equally, but then I thought I had enough material to consolidate it into one film.
Q: Did you get permission to film in Shanghai prior to arriving?
CC: To start with, I contacted her two sisters-in-law from her second marriage. They said that “Their brother might run away if approached.” Afterwards I dropped in on the grandparents’ house and the hospital without warning. Whether any of it was true or not, I’m sure that her ex-husband had some things he wanted to say, and that’s why he agreed to being interviewed.
Q: Was it the first time you heard the words that she spoke in the last scene: “I want to build friendly relations between Japan and China?”
CC: No. Actually, her words of being a “cultural bridge of friendship between Japan and China” really brought up feelings of doubt in me. But after our trip, I heard her say that and it went straight to my heart. It may have been because I had changed myself. It was only my first time in China and I wasn’t conscious about any problems among their people or between our two countries. If it weren’t for the production of the movie, I probably wouldn’t have been so concerned. It was rewarding for me, having only worked on fictional movies up to this point, to experience something new. Even now, I frequently get phone calls from her. Her reaction to the movie is, “I’m really a more optimistic person.” I digress, but it sounds like she got married again.
(Compiled by Muroya Toyoko)
Interviewers: Muroya Toyoko, Fujikawa Kiyohisa, Kato Noriko / Translator: Hayashi Kanako Connie
Photography: Uno Yukiko / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2013-09-29 in Tokyo