YIDFF 2017 Perspectives Japan
Almost Ghost
An Interview with Onishi Kenji (Director)

The Nostalgic Codification and Future of 8mm Film

Q: Your family served as the subject of Ghost, but were you at all uncomfortable pointing the camera at your own relatives?

OK: Not at all—it was a home movie, after all. A private film is different from a film that wants to convey something to the audience. This kind of private film will be screened at Yamagata, and what’s interesting about screening others’ intimate moments as if it were an everyday practice is also what’s interesting about 8mm film.

Q: Why have you been so set on producing 8mm films?

OK: I guess the biggest reason is simply that it’s a beloved toy. Also, I attempt it because it’s the only area where I can exhibit some craftsmanship, which cannot be bought by money. That said, there is no line of work only in 8mm film, so I insist on keeping my 8mm pieces to about a third of my total output. That’s something that I’ve maintained in the flow of everything I’ve done as a filmmaker over the last twenty years. Currently, we’re in an interesting situation where it seems like 8mm film might die but doesn’t. That situation itself can become a kind of mechanism for films, and you increasingly see themes along the lines of, “It’s interesting to film this subject with this equipment, which is now in this situation.” What happens when a dying person is filmed with dying cameras and expired filmstrips? That might be one of the themes of Ghost.

Q: What was your objective in using expired film?

OK: There’s something interesting about learning that a film is physically unusable, and still daring to use it. It’s crucial to point the camera at your subject from that standpoint, and to consider how you’ll film the situation before your very eyes. Unlike digital film or video, an 8mm reversal film is a particularly interesting medium, because images are recorded on the filmstrip that was physically there at the time of filming. That is, even if images don’t turn out well, what becomes crucial is that there is a piece of evidence pointing to the film being physically present at the scene. It would be a hassle making a film if you get neither images nor sound, but if you are able to catch some muffled sound using a sound film, that would prove the camera’s presence at the location. Even if you don’t get any images, so long as you have sound, you can use a completely black or completely white film however you like—I guess you could say that’s one way for 8mm films to tell a story.

Q: In the preview version of Ghost, there was a scene where director Murakami Kenji appears with a digital camera. Was that meant to criticize digital culture?

OK: It wasn’t a criticism, and I think digital films are good. But when the film The Kirishima Thing (Kirishima, bukatsu yamerutteyo) came out a few years ago, it had a film poster where the popular actor Kamiki Ryunosuke held a Fujica Single-8 camera. When that poster was put up just about everywhere, I thought 8mm film was being turned into a convenient, nostalgic symbol of schmucks. I didn’t think it was a good situation.

It’s been said that 8mm film is dying, but I guess we’re kind of doing an “end-of-times scam.” That is, 8mm filmmaking is not actually ending, and I will definitely be filming with 8mm equipment for another ten or twenty years. At the end of Ghost, I inserted the end credit year of “2043.” I did so as a way of declaring that, although I may be dead by then, my plan is, at least, to make 8mm films ten, twenty years from now, and to build the set-up for those future titles and credits in the present day. Let’s see what happens next, shall we?

(Compiled by Morisue Noriko)

Interviewers: Morisue Noriko, Okawa Akihiro / Translator: Morisue Noriko
Photography: Nagayama Momo / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2017-09-26 in Tokyo