An Interview with Okuma Katsuya (Director)
Untangling the World’s Longest Story, and Investigating “Inheritance”
Q: On viewing Each Story, I could see that this film is not meant to explain The Epic of King Gesar, but rather it is trying to film the bonds between the people who are connected with it, and their relationships. Did you think to focus on “people” from the beginning, or did the focus turn to “people” as you filmed? What was the process like?
OK: From the beginning, when I started filming, I was interested in the ties that bind people, and in how locals interpreted The Epic of King Gesar. The Epic of King Gesar is said to be the longest story in the world, so it’s not the sort of thing that I could just show up and ask about. When you ask old men and old women about their favorite parts of the Epic, each person’s is different, and I think that’s where you can start to feel how fascinating it is.
Q: Did you know about The Epic of King Gesar?
OK: Yes, I did. But when I say I knew about it, I really just knew the title. For good measure I went to a library and read a children’s book that summarized it, but I don’t know a great deal about the story.
Q: Was there any particular aim in starting the film with the two boys and finishing it with them as well?
OK: From the beginning I was filming with the idea in mind that the film would start and finish with the children. This film was produced as part of the “Earth Art Project in Ladakh 2014,” which had the objective of revitalizing schools, and so I wanted to make something that local people could watch and enjoy, and I wanted to make it together with the children.
Q: Did you go to the area and pick out the boys yourself?
OK: Yes, I chose them. The reason was simply that we got along well. They were so energetic, running all over the place, and I thought, “Hey, they’d be pretty good.”
Q: In previous works and in this one you’ve focused a lot on “inheritance” or “succession.” Do you have special feelings for this topic?
OK: For example, when you’re talking about some incident and someone right away says “oh yeah, I know about that. You mean this thing, right?” I don’t like it. It’s like they’re presenting a single piece of paper and saying: “it’s this, yeah?” Maybe it really is, but I think in order to get to that point there are aspects that cannot be expressed in words or discerned with the eyes, and unless you’ve come through these aspects to reach an understanding, well, it’s really not the same, is it?
Q: So for Ladakh and The Epic of King Gesar it’s not “yes, this is the story,” but rather the boys running around “inheriting” it?
OK: Yes, that’s right. I think you really have to sweat for it. Traditional craftsmen only succeed to their positions after many years, don’t they? In a way I think The Epic of King Gesar is similar—its true form is that very process of inheritance through the workings of various mechanisms.
Q: We are in the age of continuing globalization and the Internet, where information is easily obtained, aren’t we?
OK: Yes, you can get information easily online. There is still no Internet access in the village where we shot, so that’s different, but in the future there may come a time when if the question “what is The Epic of King Gesar” comes up for them, they’ll be able to look it up online immediately. Personally, though, I think that it won’t be quite the same.
(Compiled by Kano Megumi)
Interviewer: Kano Megumi / Translator: Tyler Walker
Photography: Ishizawa Kana / Video: Suzuki Moyu / 2015-10-12