An Interview with Iwai Tenshi (Director)
Filming in Nature
Q: I was drawn in by the powerful ethnic singing and the mysterious image of the smoothly turning stone. It’s very mystical. What was in your mind as you made this intro film for YIDFF 2015?
IT: I was initially filming this footage not for the festival but for another project of mine. I was trying to trace the memory of rituals and festivals during the prehistoric Jomon era through placing stones and natural objects in natural habitats and filming frame by frame. I was pleased to have it used as film festival trailer, because at YIDFF I was sure the international audience could get a feel and come to share in the beliefs of the ancient Jomon culture that constitute the roots of Japan’s northeast.
Q: You use Hikawakikuko’s music.
IT: I had always liked ethnic music so I was checking out Ainu singers when I found Hikawakikuko’s music on YouTube. Researching some more, I found this song of hers in a CD published together with a book called Upoponouta, released in Hokkaido. I contacted the person who had recorded her singing and got Hikawakikuko’s permission to use the song for this work.
Q: Why did you choose the stone as your motif?
IT: The world today rolls with the human being at its center. Meanwhile, humans have continually destroyed nature to this day. I think the Jomon era was the wealthiest time in Japanese history, because it was a culture that understood that nature had the upper hand in allowing humans to survive. People revered and coexisted with nature, putting nature at the center of the world. Modern society has forgotten this. That’s why it was important for me to undergo a physical experience when filming this piece—I carried the stones from the mountain, turned them, and filmed them using my own flesh and muscle. During this filming process, I was able to enter a feeling of devotion to nature and felt all distracting thoughts disappear. I reached a kind of state of meditation. Creative production isn’t as fun until you reach that stage. This filming for me was meditation. There is no particular reason why I chose stones as my motif—it could have been a twig or a leaf, as long as there was life embodied in it.
Q: What does it mean for the stone to turn and trace a circle?
IT: I did it thinking it was a message to outer space. Do you know about stone circles? Ancient people built a lot of stone circles that were maybe a prayer to the dead or prayer for the living. Anyway mine was meant to be a transmitter to things that transmit. I even set up my own rules like making sure the stones turn only in one direction.
Q: Did you work by yourself?
IT: It had to be done by myself, because all meditation is solitary. Asking for help would defeat the meaning of it all. The filming took about one week. The first day was pretty tough, but as time went one there was a sense of awakening, a sort of really getting deep into that world.
It’s like Frédéric Back’s The Man Who Planted Trees. At the very least I could pray for nature. Living in this society, I’m overcome by a desire to experience that feeling of being kept alive in the hands of nature. You can’t strip yourself to the essence until you force yourself to succumb to nature. In that sense, this film is not a work of art. It’s just action. It is the act of my meditation.
(Compiled by Suzuki Moyu)
Interviewers: Suzuki Moyu, Takahashi Nina / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kanno Mako / Video: Shishido Kenta / 2015-10-06 in Yamagata