An Interview with Makino Takashi (Director)
Their Trust in Cinema Made Tears Flow in the Dark
Q: You were asked to be juror on your first time attending Yamagata Film Festival. It’s a typically great idea for YIDFF to choose someone like you, known for your experimental films, and I’d like to include questions about your own work in this interview. First of all, tell us how you felt about attending this film festival?
MT: From the moment I accepted the invitation to be juror, I felt pressure and anxiety because I am not a documentary filmmaker. YIDFF shows a lot of films about social and political issues, and I assumed there was a proper definition of what a good documentary was. Being on the jury seemed like a pretty heavy responsibility for me.
Q: Once you were there, did your impression change? Please tell us frankly.
MT: Many Asian film festivals today lack a distinctive perspective in the programming. Yamagata was totally different. The selection of films in the International Competition was extraordinarily challenging and diverse. As a juror, it was very difficult work. At the same time, I found it so exciting that all four jurors were filmmakers. Each of us makes films from our respective beliefs and therefore our opinions were totally at variance. As for me, I just made sure I kept my mind open when watching the films, and that my judgment took into consideration the filmmaker’s intent and the technical structure of the film.
The documentary film is too often defined by ambiguous values and frames that seem to exist but actually aren’t real. It was a joy to discover that there is an audience for this more creative kind of film festival. I hear that some of the YIDFF films are regularly shown in Tokyo, too, and I am convinced that more people should see them. Filmmakers believe in their films, regardless. Watching the films in the program, I felt their trust deeply inside me—so much that it hurt. At times I found myself crying in the darkness of the theater. I felt a comradeship connecting us and was glad to know that these filmmakers believed in the cinema they produced and showed. It was truly a rare experience.
Q: The lineup of the International Competition was full of variety. The jury discussion must have been heated.
MT: It’s true there was debate whether Horse Money was indeed documentary or not. But in the end, we recognized its approach as a film, and its philosophy and originality in constructing cinema. The discussion was not about whether the film was fiction or nonfiction. There was a strength in the art of filmmaking that went beyond such dichotomies. I’m sure there are people who disagree with our decision, but that is often the sign of a good film. We wanted to acknowledge the challenge that the filmmaker was attempting. We also commended Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) and Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait because they were films we wanted more people to see. Meanwhile, I do think some filmmakers should realize that there is something that technical craft in editing and camerawork, high production value cannot replace.
Q: How do you yourself acknowledge documentary film?
MT: The question “what is documentary?” has been around for ages, and I think the answer should be constantly renewed. Genre has collapsed in this day and age. I myself am not interested in making “experimental” films. Nodding within the conventions of genre will never bear fruit to truly innovative work.
Ever since we entered the 2000s, it’s become possible for anybody to make films using the same high level of equipment as commercial films, without having to deal with celluloid. I was personally hoping that this opening up of individual filmmaking would lead to a liberation of cinema. When filmmakers can make films in the same way painters can paint, or photographers can take pictures, you’d think that some kind of unprecedented movies would emerge. But look what’s happened—filmmaking did not become any more exciting. I didn’t see anything emerging around me. So I told myself I’d be the one to do it. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
Q: Documentary filmmakers often take real life and real people as their subjects. In contrast, Mr. Makino, what is the approach you take in your filmmaking?
MT: The most important for me is the relationship between the screen and the audience. I seek to work within that relationship as freely as possible, to create independent images. This is completely different from creating a narrative—“the story.” I’m searching for something that has substance but no coherent meaning, and which is just absolutely moving. For example say you stay up all night and see the glow of the sky at sunrise—it’s terribly beautiful. Yet the sunrise itself has no meaning. I’d like to incite this kind of emotion, something like the act of nature. That is something I’ve been obsessed with since I was 17. A simple flower on the roadside looks different according to who sees it, and when. In fact, if a film leads you to a singular answer, that’s not art. I aspire to films that go in the face of “understanding.” How can anyone understand cinema, when no one understands why people are born? I want to continue making films that are free and uninhibited by preconceptions like documentary or fiction.
Q: Are you suspicious of “preconceptions”?
MT: I believe that film art can expand conventional preconceptions and stretch the imagination. That’s why I hate political propaganda films to death. I myself am not an apolitical person, but I choose not to express my political ideas and thoughts in my films. I don’t want to be controlled by political movements or be swayed by popular opinion. In fact, I have a tendency to question all group activity.
Q: Why are you so amorous of freedom? Were you ever restrained or restricted?
MT: I was raised in a happy household. But when I was 5 years old, I was in a car accident and almost died. My skull and spine were broken, the flesh ripped open my feet, and a car tire landed on my hand. That moment, I saw an incredible vision—something I’ll never forget. The image I saw on death’s brink was so astounding that no film has ever come close to it. So essentially, you could say I am trying to get as close as possible to that vision. These are the images that I would like to see, to make, during my lifetime.
Q: You mentioned that your newest film cinéma concret is your challenge to pursue freedom to its limit.
MT: When I started filmmaking at 17, I became interested in multiple exposure and have been making films using the same method ever since. Nowadays I find my subject matter has increased immensely. With film stock, I could expose at the most five or six layers, but digital editing now allows me to layer images any eternal number of times. In cinéma concret I overlapped images over 200 times in some places. The challenge was to start from the concrete, go to the abstract, and then use the abstract to create a concrete abstractness.
But there’s something else. Completing cinéma concret made me convinced that I could continue on, to make new work. Before this film, I had reached a point that brought me very close to that vision I saw as a child. This made me seriously doubt what I could do further to progress my filmmaking. But then I reconsidered and decided to continue on the exploration. Maybe I’ve already surpassed that vision and am starting to enjoy filmmaking purely. Where I’m going, I have no idea. Maybe my previous films were just steps on the way to somewhere else. I want to and am determined to eventually make a truly outrageous film.
Q: Finally, I need to ask you this. Did you find anything that would make Yamagata Film Festival better?
MT: There isn’t. I just wish for it to continue as it is. Being there allowed me the discovery that this film festival, in itself, uplifts the art of cinema through documentary films. Such an artistic film festival is rare. It really is a film festival that is excessively sincere—not that I want it to rebrand itself by including popular films. It’s such a world renowned film festival already. It’s a wonderful film festival and I want the organizers to be extremely proud and confident in what they are doing and keep at it.
(Compiled by Numazawa Zenichiro)
Interviewers: Numazawa Zenichiro, Oki Kayako / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Oki Kayako / 2015-10-14