It has been 30 years since I first became involved in film. I traveled around Yamagata in a car loaded with a portable film projector. I met with locals in different regions and collaborated with them to organize film screenings. We’d see eye to eye, and my interest in their hometown, local culture, and environment would naturally deepen. My collaborators and I would welcome audiences to the film screenings we’d set up—people of all ages would come with eager faces and tickets in their hands. The theater would darken, I would run the projector, and the screen would light up.
I hoped the audience would enjoy themselves and have a meaningful experience. Watching a film is like being on a ship—encountering new people, talking, eating, drinking alcohol, arguing, rejoicing—your life changes slightly. It’s a simple, passionate, somewhat relaxed world—the world of portable projectors and amateur film screenings, where anything is possible. Films enter into those who watch them. In the end, I think that’s what I have been doing all these years.
Over the course of these travels, I came to hear about a film club for children that had been set up in 1945, just after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. I wondered about it for a long time, and three months ago, I finally decided to find out more about it. As I gathered clues, they led me to a certain person, a 106-year-old former art teacher in Yonezawa City named Takamori Tsutomu.
Mr. Takamori greeted me at his front door, leaning on his cane with a slightly bashful look on his face.
Liberated from the rigid controls placed on the education system during the war, Mr. Takamori and his fellow teachers had immediately embarked on artistic and cultural activities as part of a new audio-visual education. He performed bunraku-style puppet shows with a life-size puppet of an old man named Aozora Kumoemon, made from wire, paper, and clay. Takamori’s colleague, the late Aoyama Yaichi was most enthusiastic about film. While “Natco films” were being promoted as part of the U.S. military’s postwar democratization process, Mr. Aoyama made and screened 8mm films based on Hamada Hirosuke’s children’s stories. In some of the films, Kumoemon, who was born during the war years, would press his head against the windows of trains carrying soldiers to the front, and tell them, “Come home safe.”
In the postwar period, Mr. Takamori and his colleagues organized film screenings and puppet shows because they felt they were essential, especially in a period when it was assumed that there was no time for frivolous things. They were warmly welcomed by the neighborhoods and schools they visited. Through these activities, the teachers also began a movement to set up a children’s center, lobbying city councilors to establish a company that would build an amusement park where parents and children could enjoy themselves at leisure. Later, they formed a puppet theater troupe, published a children’s newspaper, established a children’s cultural association, and launched a theater for parents and children.
The efforts of these teachers, revolutionary at the time, have since been carried on by subsequent generations. Mr. Takamori is still an active artist, himself. As for Kumoemon, he sometimes entertains children at elementary schools, and even visits local senior citizens’ groups to warm the hearts of old people who are much younger than him.
YIDFF began in 1989, a year of tumultuous events that would change the face of the world, such as the protests at Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thanks to the support of many people, YIDFF is now marking its 25th anniversary. However, there is no time for nostalgia. We continue to hear news of conflicts around the world, to the extent that we can no longer be sure when times are changing and when times are not. We are increasingly inundated by information today, and risk losing touch with the lived experience of reality. Even in such times, this film festival still stands. And it is precisely in such times that the continuation of this film festival carries great significance.
Well, Mr. Kumoemon, what do you think?
With Gratitude Again, this Year
A biennial film festival is inconvenient in many ways.
In the course of two years, lives shift direction and move away— including those of our staff and colleagues. For those who return, we find that the details and steps required for putting this festival together have been white-washed from our short-term memories.
But even after the passing of two cycles of seasons, interesting things start to come back once we reflect a bit.
For example, what Japan was like two summers ago.
After a massive earthquake and nuclear disaster, there was much talk amidst the arts, economy, and people’s lives overall, about a major shift in values. People realized how they had been chasing ideals such as “faster,” “greater,” “cheaper,” and “more useful,” in awe of an automated system of efficiency. Many raised their voices and changed their lives.
Two years since that modest and short-lived “Japan Spring,” the fragrant olive blossoms are once again in bloom. We shift our eyes from the blinding fireworks of Tokyo’s Olympics bid and the prime minister’s “Abenomics” to return to Yamagata. Yamagata, so we don’t forget. Yamagata, so we can continue to discover.
We promise you a festival that will remind you that today’s Yamagata is inseparably connected to the past and to the world.
You will discover many threads running throughout our programs. If you see Far from Vietnam (Chris Marker), make sure you see Far from Afghanistan (Special Invitation). What do these places have in common: the border towns to North Korea in Tour of Duty (International Competition), Takae, Okinawa in The Targeted Village (New Asian Currents), and the Ganges in Char . . . The No-Man’s Island (International Competition)? Interested in the Olympics? How about a double bill of The Kumiko Mystery (Chris Marker) and Petition (Director’s Cut) (Ethics Machine)? Don’t miss Hara Kazuo (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) and Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) in dialogue! Do the rioting students in Report from Haneda (Special Invitation) and the farmers in Raging Land 3: Three Valleys (New Asian Currents) share anything with stories from the Arab Spring?
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all those who helped make this festival happen again this year. Thank you very much.