An Interview with Ito Ken (Director)
When the Artist’s Monstrosity Awakens
Q: I heard that you had previously made a documentary film about Yoshimasu Gozo. Why did you decide to film Yoshimasu again, and what’s more, in the aftermath of the disaster?
IK: In March of 2011, the gruesome Great East Japan Earthquake struck. However, by the end of the year, I began to sense that people living in Tokyo were starting to forget about the disaster, and, as someone who also lives in Tokyo, I felt that we had to think about how to come to grips with the disaster, and carry out our responsibility. At that time, I learned that my feelings aligned with the stance taken by Yoshimasu, who was trying to carry out his responsibility as a poet by experimenting with renaming the event, using words that could express the big picture and the details, which can never be fully explained solely by pervasive terms like “3.11” or “the Great East Japan Earthquake.” That is the reason why I decided to film him. It’s been about fifteen years since we met, and the accumulation of time between the two of us has produced a unique space.
Q: You saw to the narration yourself, but did you experience any conflicts in interpreting and, through the narration, verbalizing Yoshimasu’s poems, which transcend language?
IK: Not at all. Rather, I wanted to oversee the narration myself, so that I might declare, “I interpret Yoshimasu’s poems this way” in this film. One of my ambitions has been to talk about the people who appear in my films with feeling, the way Ogawa Shinsuke did. So, I think my interpretation of Yoshimasu’s poems was not necessarily a mistake. I did worry about putting narration in the film. This is because I think a film is that which avoids narration, and expresses by sound and image. But it wasn’t like I could completely forego speaking and ask people to watch this film, and I thought it wouldn’t work even for a television program. While making television programs, I was grasping for a form of expression that would extend to film, and in the midst of that conflict, I decided to speak myself. I guess that’s also one way of recording.
Q: What was on your mind while you were making this film? It seemed like you were particular about the camera work.
IK: I think that, for Yoshimasu, the moment when words, colors, scents, sounds, tactilities, and his fantasies merge is poetry, so, at any rate, I sought to show Yoshimasu’s body, his fingers, the tip of his pen, his paper, and the expressions on that paper. I was confident that if I could connect these things, I could turn his body into a medium and have the audience get a sense of Yoshimasu’s form, which draws words from something quite large. With regards to filming the images, I didn’t really give any special directions. My work is to bring my perspective as the director and that of the cameraman together, and make them into one whole. Come to think of it, there was a point where Yoshimasu’s writing was far smaller than we’d predicted, so the cameraman went to a stationery shop, bought a big lens, wrapped it round with vinyl tape, and made an improvised close-up lens.
Q: Did you see any changes between Yoshimasu before the Great East Japan Earthquake, and Yoshimasu afterwards?
IK: When I reunited with Yoshimasu, he told me, “Mr. Ito, I’ve finally begun.” It looked as if he’d encountered something that should truly be expressed. Is there even anyone who can say, “I’ve finally begun” at the age of seventy-three? In this world, there are people who delve into the depths of their own selves, who hold onto the moment when their monstrosity as artists awakens. Perhaps, by meeting Yoshimasu, my own monstrosity has awakened.
(Compiled by Yoshioka Yuki)
Interviewers: Yoshioka Yuki, Sato Hiroaki / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2017-09-28 in Tokyo