An Interview with Mikami Chie (Director)
We Shall Overcome
Q: After the screening, you greeted the audience by saying “I’m home.” What kind of film festival is “Yamagata” to you?
MC: “Yamagata” is a place I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would attend as a director. But when I received the golden baton-shaped trophy for the Directors Guild of Japan Award from directors Hara Kazuo and Sai Yoichi at the awards ceremony in 2013, I felt like it was a baton encouraging me to become a proper filmmaker.
Q: I saw the film with English subtitles for the first time in Yamagata. Why did you choose We Shall Overcome as its English title?
MC: This is the title of a gospel song that was sung during the civil rights movement for black freedom in the United States. It was sung around the world as an antiwar song during the Vietnam War. In Korea, it was sung by people who were felled by authority in the movement for democratization. It’s the same in Okinawa. Okinawa is by no means a special case. When this song is sung, it means there are people struggling against power. The song is close to the oppressed people around the world and connects them with its message of grassroots, human rights and antiwar. I believe the song will narrate the thoughts of Okinawa to the world.
Q: What changed after you quit your job in television and became a freelance director?
MC: I get asked this a lot. Since my days as a television announcer, I’ve been filming documentaries in Okinawa on the theme of the American base and war, so my feeling on location hasn’t changed. The problem is that in the world of television, if you film the protesters you have to also film the supporters. They call this being neutral. I really detest this concept of neutrality.
Q: In the film we see all sorts of Okinawan people, including those on the opposition, those who are sympathetic, and those who are caught up in complicated situations that don’t allow them to take sides. There’s Obaa (an affectionate word in Okinawa for an elderly woman) Fumiko, who survived the battle of Itoman despite being burned by flamethrowers; Takekiyo and his family, who have been fighting against the relocation of the base to Nago City for seventeen years; and Nakamura, a fisherman in Henoko who dislikes the protest movement against the base, among others. In portraying these people, did you aim to depict the multilayered problem of Okinawa?
MC: I thought by getting close to them, the audience will understand their feelings and see things differently. This is because there is a difference in historical perspective between Okinawa and mainland Japan regarding the issues surrounding the base. For example, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga used the governor’s approval of the construction of the base from two years ago as grounds for justifying reclamation work. But in Okinawa there is a seventy-year history of opposition against the base. I can’t comprehend how two years can be considered as basis for policy. That’s why I chose to portray “Obaa” Fumiko, who has lived throughout the seventy-year post-war timeline, Takekiyo’s family, who have over seventeen years continued protesting the base relocation, and thus the history of Okinawa.
Q: In the film, we see the people of Okinawa being trampled on repeatedly, but getting back up in tears and going back to fight with a smile. What do you think is the source of their strength?
MC: For seventy years, the people of Okinawa have been at the front lines struggling to maintain peace. They have a wisdom that allows them to fight the long fight. They sing and dance. And even when their point of view is different from someone else’s, they don’t leave any one behind. They realize that other people feel differently and try to coexist with them.
Now, Tokyo has passed new security legislation and peace in the hearts of even the mainland Japanese is crumbling. In such times, perhaps the struggle of the Okinawan people would provide a useful prescription.
(Compiled by Numata Azusa)
Interviewers: Numata Azusa, Daimaru Hinano / Translator: Kat Simpson
Photography: Ishizawa Kana / Video: Hirai Mona / 2015-10-10