An Interview with Xu Xin (Director)
Like a Landscape Painting
Q: When I watched your film, it felt like I was traveling along the quiet current of the great Yangtze River. The entire film is in black and white—what did you have in mind?
XX: I made a short film a while ago, and ever since, I’ve shot in black and white. The very first films were entirely in black and white, so I think that style is very well-suited to expressing the essence of film. What’s more, I originally studied traditional Chinese painting. It has a style for scroll paintings, much like Japanese painting. Chinese landscape painting also has its own representative style. I wanted to portray the Yangtze like a scroll painting. Also, there isn’t a single scene I shot while I myself was in motion. I started out in painting, so I attempted to work without using cinematic manipulations, and instead, in a direct and simple manner, filmed in a way that brought me back to my starting point. There are a lot of horizons, both earth and water, in this film, and I picked a composition that put them in the center of the frame. Maybe I’ve been influenced by the cinematography of the cameramen from all those Japanese films I watched in the past.
Q: It was really striking to have the developed Chinese cityscape contrasted with the faces of the poor. Did you have anything particular in mind when setting up these scenes this way?
XX: I was born in 1966, and when I was a child, the Yangtze was a symbol of patriotism, and people spoke of the river as our mother. However, I think the reality of the Yangtze is that it is marred by sickness, and is staring death in the face. I come from southern China. I was born and raised on the very banks of the Yangtze, and my bonds with it run deep.
Q: Why did you decide to use the subtitles to insert bleak news or events from each region of China?
XX: Tourists might go, for example, to Shanghai, and be delighted by the cityscape’s glistening neon lights. However, whenever I went there, I would remember the incidents and accidents that occurred there in the past. In particular, there was an accident where a boat sank in the Yangtze and many people died, and every time I pass through the site of the accident, I remember that past event. At first, I thought about inserting images from that time, and reminding people of the accidents and incidents, but I didn’t want to ruin their impression of the entire film, so I decided to include subtitles.
Q: The scene at the temple in the autonomous region of Tibet has a very solemn feel. What were your thoughts on this scene?
XX: I’m not particularly religious myself, but I was, to some extent, influenced by Tibet’s spiritual way of thinking and its faith. I wanted to leave my hopes at the end of the film, so I expressed them by using the mountain range, which borders the source of the Yangtze, as a symbol of hope. In the final scene, I used a recording of a musical performance from an event at a famous temple in Tibet. I think if you have some understanding of Tibet, you will know why I chose to go with this ending.
(Compiled by Okuyama Shinichiro)
Interviewers: Okuyama Shinichiro, Kusunose Kaori / Interpreter: Nakayama Hiroki / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Nagayama Momo / Video: Toba Rio / 2017-10-06