An Interview with Oda Kaori (Director)
Journey by Chance and the Mayas’ Gaze
Q: This film contains a wealth of life stories and opinions from many people from the local region. In what ways did you first meet and interact with them?
OK: We started with interviews, which ended up being about 30 people. We would talk to one person, then they would introduce us to the next person; that’s how we met them all. Then that person would say, “There’s this guy living in the village who knows a lot about the cenote (natural underground springs), why don’t you ask him?” and keep it going. And so we were able to speak for 30 minutes to an hour to people we were meeting for the first time about the cenote.
In the midst of all that, we just happened to meet someone who was involved in a play that was being put on to pass down Maya traditions, and in the middle of the interview, they suddenly quoted a line from the play. We used that line at the end of the movie; the male narrator says it. I really think this movie was made up of all those chance meetings.
Q: Did anything influence this film as you were making it?
OK: I really like Le Clézio’s novels and was reading them as research for this film, and it turns out he also wrote about Mexican Native Americans. There’s a translation he made of the Mayas’ version of Genesis, or at least their mythology, and while it’s pretty intensive reading, I feel like that worldview influenced the film.
He wrote a preface to that book with his thoughts. He said something very interesting, that we aren’t discovering and reading about Mayan mythology or the Mayan people, but rather that we now exist inside their stories and in their eyes. I don’t know if I understand it completely, but I still really liked that. I’m not looking at them—I’m existing as media inside their gaze. I decided that it would be nice if I could accomplish that and that I wanted to make a film like that.
Q: What did you keep in mind during the editing process in order to tie everything together?
OK: I don’t typically begin projects thinking something like, “I absolutely must convey this.” Things get started from a more abstract place, like, “I want to know more about this, I want to film this.” I start filming without really knowing what I want to say yet, and as filming goes on I begin to get some idea, while there will also be things I still don’t know. When we cut the film, I take some time to think over why I filmed this and reassess everything. There has to be a reason why I filmed this, after all. For example, once I understand that I filmed this because I felt drawn to it, I can think about why I felt drawn to it, and then start connecting the fragments together and knowing that something is going to rise to the surface naturally. It’s kind of like conducting experiments, and that’s what happened this time too. I look at what I have in front of me, and, like it’s a puzzle, I look at the shape and consider how this and this don’t work, and do a lot of trial and error. That said, I can’t explain perfectly in words why this or that combination works or why it doesn’t. I work very much on instinct.
Q: Did anything happen during filming that left an impression on you?
OK: Actually, even though I used to be a very bad swimmer, I got my diving license for this trip, put on a tank and went diving. Once we’d gotten to Mexico, made the reservation, paid for it and could no longer take it back, I felt very nervous.
(Compiled by Yagi Hiroko)
Interviewers: Yagi Hiroko, Nagayama Momo / Translator: Sarah Tangney
Photography: Oshita Yumi / Video: Oshita Yumi / 2019-10-12