An Interview with Sato Koichi (Director)
The Lights of the Green House in Everyone’s Hearts
Q: The subject you take up here is one that has thus far been difficult to discuss. Did the filming of the witnesses go smoothly?
SK: Thus far, there hasn’t been footage that seriously takes the Green House as its theme. I think that because it was the cause of the Great Fire of Sakata, no one was able to really get into it. I thought there would be a bit of resistance, even if it’s been 41 years since, but once we actually tried to interview people, they were unexpectedly welcoming. I had initially planned this to be a twenty- to thirty-minute piece, but everyone gave suggestions like “There’s also this person,” or “There’s also this story, and these documents,” so I ended up extending it to 67 minutes. While filming, it felt like the film was being made by some unseen power. We were able to proceed smoothly with filming through a series of coincidences, such as a helping hand being extended to us at just the right time, or our shooting schedules aligning with the busy performers.
Q: You are of the generation that didn’t know the Green House in its day, but in the presence of the witnesses, what kind of relationship did you sense between the Green House and the residents of Sakata City at the time?
SK: For the residents of Sakata City, the Green House was a special, admired presence. I think there are people who carry complicated feelings about it because they let it burn down in the Great Fire of Sakata, but there are also people who think that that is not all there is to it. This highly elaborate, luxurious movie theater, built by its first manager, Sato Kyuichi, was in Sakata, a port town in the Showa era. Nowadays, in the era when movie theater complexes generally have the same lineup, when every movie theater screens popular films, there are fewer and fewer movie theaters that are committed to creating interesting lineups even at the cost of customers not showing up. So I’d like people to know that in the past, there was a movie theater that had this kind of drive.
Q: Was Sato Kyuichi a key figure as well?
SK: When I look at the details of Kyuichi’s actions, I feel like embody the idea that “There are no ranks in culture.” I think he wanted to create a culture that would not differ so much depending on whether it was in the capital city or in Sakata. In that light, I guess you could say that he wanted to create an ideal city in the regional countryside. There is a port in Sakata, so it’s a merchant town of cultural exchange, and has a stylish culture of its own. Among the people of Sakata, I feel a sturdiness that undaunted, brought about growth even after the fire. I think that will carry on even now. Even if the lights of the Green House are physically gone, I want them to take root in everyone’s hearts, and I want culture to remain, though it might be presumptuous to say so. Presently, there is no established movie theater in Sakata. I think it would be great if a movie house that inherited the spirit of the Green House could further expand film culture from hereon in.
Q: If the Green House were still around today, would you want your own films to screen there?
SK: Of course. First, I’d like them to screen this film. The ideal environment for experiencing it would be if they played “Moonlight Serenade,” and then screened this film. As a creator, I wonder whether I could make a film suitable for that environment. Currently, the screening environments are largely the same, so I think there are only a few people who make films wanting them to be screened at a particular theater. If the Green House were still around, there might be more creators who come out to say, “I definitely want my film to be screened at the Green House.”
(Compiled by Sato Tomoko)
Interviewers: Sato Tomoko, Satsusa Takahiro / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Nahata Fu / Video: Nomura Yukihiro / 2017-10-01 in Yamagata