YIDFF 2015 Perspectives Japan
Under the Cherry Tree
An Interview with Tanaka Kei (Director)

The Weight and Warmth of Life, Validating Lives

Q: The migrant workers who came to the cities in the period of post-war economic growth are the benefactors of today’s Japan. But the younger generation doesn’t seem to be aware of this. What do you think?

TK: As a native of Kawasaki, I feel that the home-grown population here is really small. Most people moved here from the countryside to make a living, married, grew families here, and decided to remain here. My parents are a good example. Maybe that’s why I don’t attach sentimental nostalgia much to this city. I took it for granted that this was what this place was about, and then noticed the solitary elderly who were getting left behind. I chose to film at the Nogawa West Public Housing Complex because the subject for a student documentary I once made lived there. As I visited there repeatedly, I began to see how the old men and women walking around the compound were so vibrant and strangely full of energy, and found that atmosphere interesting. I decided to start shooting there.

Q: How do you regard the people of the housing complex?

TK: My grandmother who I live with used to be a very active and carefree person, but after an injury forced her to start going to adult day care, she seems to have lost some of her energy. In contrast, the elderly at the housing complex were full of life, despite being as old as her. They know that they have to provide for themselves because no one else will, and they are strongly determined to persevere under those conditions.

Q: This project was invited to the Yamagata Roughcut! Program in 2013. What kind of an experience was it for you?

TK: I’m so glad I submitted the project. Filming by myself and reviewing the footage with three staff members of the same age group, I was not sure if the work would communicate to wider audiences. The forum was a very good opportunity to get feedback from people of different age groups and backgrounds. Moreover, making the project public put pressure on me. People offered me encouragement, telling me “I look forward to its completion,” “I enjoyed it.” This became the incentive for me to complete the film and submit it to the next Yamagata Film Festival.

Q: All your characters seemed to be aware of their impending death. One spoke about donating her body parts to medicine after her death, another questioned whether his life had been of benefit for anyone. They shared the belief that being helpful to others was an important value in life.

TK: I also felt that during my filming. That was a generation who had had to work hard, above anything else. Today, perhaps more people would choose to live for oneself than to provide for or support others. But the older generation had to put their own desires on the sideline and devote their time to working for a living. I strongly feel that they are a people who really have faith in others.

(Compiled by Harashima Aiko)

Interviewers: Harashima Aiko, Kimuro Shiho / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Yamane Hiroyuki / Video: Yamane Hiroyuki / 2015-10-06 in Tokyo