An Interview with Kobayashi Shigeru (Director)
A Film for Everyone Has Arrived
Q: The change from scene to scene depicting the introduction of people, animals, plants, the view of the mountains and woods by the village, and day-to-day life is just like leafing through a picture book. The film made my heart dance. How did you create it?
KS: Kogure is a companion with a common interest in photography that I met at a photo exhibition of Ugandan children I held in 1996. He was previously a cameraman that trekked around world. While frequenting Niigata Prefecture once of many times on a job, by chance he became lost in the village of Matsunoyama. There in the evening Kogure saw glittering gold terrace rice fields and thatched roofs of private homes and was surprised that Japan had such an amazing landscape. By a series of chance events, he came to inherit one of those village homes and lived there.
In 2002, I collapsed from a cerebral infarction and was on dialysis, and Sato Makoto, who I had collaborated on films with, suddenly passed away in 2007. I was struck by an intense sense of loss. I had given up on being able to make films, and in the midst of this Kogure and a friend from Osaka came and stayed at my home. The July morning sun shone on the evening dew that clung to the vegetation. The moment I saw that sparkling light I thought that I might be able to create a film if it were here. For the next five years, I told myself that I wasn’t about to die until the film was finished. I feel that I was able to overcome these hardships thanks to the existence of the film.
Living is burdensome for everyone—day in and day out burning firewood, heating the bath, preparing and eating meals. In the course of making this film, it invoked feelings of when I helped in the rice fields as a child. Everyone did this to live, including my mother and father, and amidst this I carried on living as well. Kogure is practicing this even now. The act of living was burdensome during the latter half of filmmaking, but this was connected to my reason for living and I became to sense that this was enough for me. Nowadays all things for living have become easy, and others and myself are valued based on schooling, achievements and the like. With this film, I want to communicate that it is not these things, but simply the act of living itself that is what’s amazing.
As I relied on the sense of touch to create this, I didn’t know what kind of film it would become when I was shooting—just like when looking at a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle and not knowing what the image is. But after filming, each of the staff members worked hard from an objective perspective at their own parts such as editing and sound, created the film and the pieces came together. The result was a film that is everyone’s. At the end of the day, a director is a film’s representative. I think all of the staff can say with confidence that this is really their own film.
Q: I think the scene at the end with the woman singing is marvelous.
KS: Amano just so happened to be the daughter of an acquaintance. She moved to the village and works at an abolished school that was converted into an art museum. Amano sang as a guest at an acquaintance’s film screening. Her singing was so wonderful that I asked her to create an original song for this film. When I first listened to it, I was very surprised that such an amazing song was able to be made.
Q: The scene of the moonlit fox slideshow using the old-style lantern and the play within a play performed by the children was very memorable.
KS: In Niigata Prefecture, this is called “shimiwatari.” The appearance of the fallen snow looks firm enough to walk upon and the moon bathes the world in blue light. When I saw this, I associated it with the fox lantern slideshow in author Miyazawa Kenji’s Snow Crossing. I wanted to reproduce that and shot this scene with the cooperation of the local children and theater group.
(Compiled by Oki Kayako)
Interviewers: Oki Kayako, Masuya Shoko / Translator: Kat Simpson
Photography: Yamane Hiroyuki / Video: Hirai Mona / 2015-10-08