Documentarists of Japan, #16

Kuroki Kazuo

Interviewer: Yasui Yoshio


Yasui Yoshio (YY): I first learned about your work when I saw Silence Has No Wings (“Tobenai chinmoku,” 1966), a film the Art Theater Guild (ATG) was showing at its chain of theaters across Japan. The film made such an impression on me that I pretty much saw all of the ATG films through the late seventies, including your Evil Spirits of Japan (“Nihon no akuryo,” 1970) and The Assassination of Ryoma (“Ryoma ansatsu,” 1974) as well as Warming up for the Festival (“Matsuri no junbi,” 1975) and Nuclear War (“Genshiryoku senso,” 1978). You are a prominent director as well as one who has come to represent ATG. With that in mind, I want to take this opportunity to review your work by starting with what motivated you to make the kind of films you do and then going through each of your feature films. The Athénée Français Culture Center here in Tokyo and Osaka’s Ciné Nouveau have both held comprehensive Kuroki Kazuo retrospectives [in 1997 and 1998], and I was able to see some of the shorts that precede your feature-length films. But perhaps we could start by talking about your early experiences, from your childhood through those early shorts. For one thing, I’ve heard that you grew up in Japanese Manchuria. Perhaps you could tell us about your childhood experiences there?

Kuroki Kazuo (KK): I say I’m from Ebino City in Miyazaki Prefecture, but I was actually born in Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture. You see, my father was from Ebino and my mother from Matsuzaka. My father was working as a engineer for a German-owned electrical appliance company in Matsuzaka but the company wasn’t doing very well. He had some connections that landed him a job in Manchuria, so we went over to Manchuria before I entered primary school. The day we arrived in Changchun [the seat of government for Manchukuo, Japan’s Manchurian puppet state in existence from 1932 to 1945, renamed Xinjing, “new capital” by the Japanese], my younger sister was killed. We had moved from our Japanese house to what today we might call a condominium, and my sister wasn’t used to how things worked. When she tried to get a look out the window, it opened on her and she fell to her death. This was a real shock for my parents, and was, I think, a kind of lifelong trauma. My father was transferred to Liaoyang soon after this. We stayed in Liaoyang until my second year in primary school, after which point we returned to Xinjing. So, all told, I ended up attending three different primary schools. After about the sixth grade, my vision began to deteriorate and I couldn’t stand the idea of wearing glasses. I didn’t like having to put them on the classroom. And, not really liking school because I didn’t like having to study, I started playing hooky. I’d leave home in the morning, and, instead of heading for school, I’d head off in the other direction towards the downtown where the movie theaters were—there were eight Japanese movie theaters at that time. Seeing movies all the time and skipping school so much really meant I should have failed, but it was wartime, so they let me graduate. But I was really at the bottom of my class, so I didn’t qualify to go onto middle school. My parents were really worried what to do with me, but in the end, my grandpa and grandma agreed to take me in and make me a soldier. And so I suddenly found myself leaving Manchuria and heading back to Japan.

YY: I suspect the films you saw when you were in Manchuria must have had a big influence on you. What kinds of films were they?

KK: Movies like [the samurai period drama series] Kurama Tengu and Muttsuri Umon. And, though I could make neither head nor tails of the plot, the film that most impressed me was Warm Current (“Danryu,” 1939). I was really taken with Yoshimura Kozaburo’s Warm Current. I’m not really quite sure what it was, but something in it seemed so modern and fresh. I was impressed with how very cultural Japan was as a nation. But, besides those films, I remember seeing samurai fighting films, German films like Olympia (1938, dir. Leni Riefenstahl), as well as Composition Class (“Tsuzurikata Kyoshitsu,” 1938, dir. Yamamoto Kajiro), Matasaburo of the Winds (“Kaze no Matasaburo,” 1940, dir. Shima Koji) and A Pebble by the Wayside (“Robo no ishi,” 1938, dir. Tasaka Tomotaka) to name but a few.

YY: This was right when Japanese cinema was perhaps at its most interesting.

KK: Yes, perhaps you could say that. Now, after being repatriated back to Japan, the next big hurdle I faced was the local Kagoshima dialect, which I couldn’t understand one bit. I sat for the entrance exam for middle school, but because my scores were so bad, I was one of the three or four kids who were refused admission. So I went to the upper division of a primary school for a year, and that’s where I finally started to get the hang of the Kagoshima way of speaking. One year later, I finally was admitted to middle school, but with the labor mobilizations, military training, and then student mobilization, I hardly did any studying. In my third year, we were mobilized for factory work, and that’s when our plant was air raided by Grumman fighters. About ten of my classmates died in the attack. I think my experiences of colonialism and of the air raids were decisive events in my life. . . .

YY: Were you with your ten classmates when they were killed?

KK: Yes, that’s right. I think the Grummans must have suddenly appeared, and dive-bombed us. Well, for us, the air raid sirens were really a daily event, and my studious friends would just amble over to the air raid shelter in no particular hurry. As you know, I was not the studying kind, and so I was quick to spot the bombs that had been dropped right above our heads swooping down towards us like three crows. Instinctively I threw myself to the ground. Then, it was as if I’d gone to Hell, with the sky raining down sand, wind, and this explosive noise. One of the boys who I’d been walking with had been knocked over by the blast, and when he finally got up, thinking he had survived, his face began to split right down the center in front of my very eyes. Right above his forehead, his head was opening up as if it were a watermelon just smashed open. And there he stood extending his arm up towards the sky as his brains just spewed out the top. I was overcome with terror and shock, and I ran away just leaving him there. One of my friends dragged another of us who had lost his entire leg to the hospital, but some of us were just abandoning the friends with whom we’d been walking. This too was another traumatic moment that has followed me my entire life. In my experience of colonialism and then the language barrier I faced, I had always been some kind of tumbleweed, what [popular Japanese writer] Itsuki Hiroyuki often calls “deracinated.” After all this, I had a nervous breakdown and had to take time off school, and I ended up two more years behind. I kept thinking about what had happened to my ten classmates, I wanted a change of environments by switching schools to a high school in Miyakonojo when I was in my last year. At the school there, it just happened that Yamaguchi Seiji, the Dean of the Arts and Letters Division, was a graduate of Doshisha University’s Philosophy Department and that a good friend of his was still in Kyoto teaching at Doshisha. So he told me to go there. I’d thought I might go to Waseda, but that’s how I found myself going to Doshisha for college. I ended up disappointing both Mr. Yamaguchi as well as Okamoto Seiichi, the professor of politics who had agreed to accept me by turning to Marxism. Let’s just say that I didn’t really think deeply about things or that I was very impressionable, but whichever the case, I became totally absorbed in the student movement. Since I barely attended classes, there was no way I could graduate. Still my professor was willing to trump up a statement saying that he expected me to graduate and to give me an introduction to Toei producer Makino Mitsuo, and I sat the examination for assistant director at Toei’s Kyoto Studio.


YY: Were you hoping for a job in cinema at that time?

KK: No, not in the least. Well, I did consider it when I was thinking about getting a job, but I assumed that whatever job I took, it wouldn’t last long. At that point, I didn’t even know that movies were made by directors; I thought it was stars like Kataoka Chiezo or Arashi Kanjuro who did. (laughs) And when I went to take the test, all they were offering were assistant director positions. I had this vague idea that, after all, I had liked movies since primary school, so if I could just get a job in the movie industry, perhaps I’d be able to keep it without getting too bored and that I could just go on working somewhere in the rank and file of the industry. And right about then, they had posters up advertising for help. When I asked my professor about it, it turned out that he had gone to Doshisha’s middle school together with Makino. With his letter of recommendation in my hand, I went up to Tokyo. Despite the cold winter weather, there were eight hundred people lined up for what were only four or five jobs. I first thought I hadn’t a hope in hell and might as well go out and enjoy myself on the town. But then I thought if I don’t at least take the exam I came for, how could I possibly face that professor of mine who had put himself on the line by writing that sham letter of my expected graduation.

YY: Was the fact that there were a number of repatriates from Manchuria then working at Toei a factor in your decision?

KK: That wasn’t at all an issue for me. The Toei posters had advertised working opportunities in Kyoto and Tokyo, and I was desperate to get out of Kyoto. I’d been involved in a lot of illegal activities and I’d been in jail in Kyoto, so I thought there was no way I could live there, and went into the whole thing hoping to get placed in Tokyo. Well, with 800 people applying, I really had no hope for anything, but out of the blue came this letter calling me back for an interview. With my Makino Mitsuo connection, I was offered a kind of temporary position as a replacement in the Kyoto Studio. I didn’t want to be in Kyoto even a day longer, so I just kept on going and escaped to Tokyo.

YY: You mean you resigned from Toei?

KK: Well, I was only a substitute. And the whole atmosphere was like some yakuza (mafia) gang. (laughs) It was almost the complete inverse of what I had been doing with the student movement, and it made me want to get out of Kyoto as soon as I could. And so I went up to Tokyo. Daiei director Masumura Yasuzo, a classmate of one of my relatives who had gone to the University of Tokyo, and Takamura Takeji, who had quit his job as a newspaper reporter and had joined Iwanami Productions, were there. So I got in touch with Takamura right away and went over [to Iwanami] to visit him. He was on location at Sakuma Dam as a director of short films.

YY: This is Takamura Takeji of the famous three-part Sakuma Dam (1954-57)?

KK: I had never seen a documentary before, and when (executive) Yoshino Keiji asked me what kind of films I wanted to make, I told him I was interested in making features. Well, he told me that there was no possibility of that, that I had the wrong place, and that they had absolutely nothing to do with feature films. Documentarist Hani Susumu did go on to make feature films with Iwanami, but that was years later. I think somewhere along the way, Yoshino took a liking to me. He told me that feature films would not be possible, but that at least with a camera and film, I could make movies. He told me they were making shorts with an extremely small crew and that while it might seem like a detour at first, it was actually really good work. In actual fact, there was a big market for public relations films at the time and not enough people to make them. No doubt he was looking for young guys like myself willing to do heavy labor, and would hire any piece of brawn regardless of his academic background.

YY: So this is when you made Record of a Mother (“Hitori no haha no kiroku,” 1954, dir. Kyogoku Takahide), Tokyo Gas (1954, dir. Yabe Masao), Fuji Film (1954, dir. Yabe Masao), and All Toshiba (1954, dir. Kagami Yoichi). I heard that you got to work with master editor Ise Chonosuke, and that he was a great influence on you.

KK: Well, it wasn’t until I joined Iwanami that I learned that there were such things as assistant directors and directors and that’s how movies were made. I had encountered a world devoid of stars. Instead, I found myself in a world where the only things we would shoot were work sites and factories; it wasn’t such an easy place for me to be. At that time, people thought that not finding work in a studio meant never making a feature film. Once you were doing shorts, you would be doing them for life and never get near feature filmmaking— that was the kind of assumption there was. We worked in a team of four: the director, the assistant director, the cameraman and the assistant cameraman. As an assistant director, I was responsible for everything from backing on lights to editing, printing and taking care of the crew’s lodging, food and train tickets. I’m sure that’s how I learned the basic structure of filmmaking. At a material level, I could see how to create feature films just by adding in actors, a script, and all manner of other things. In this sense, I had my hands on the camera, the lens, and the film much more than assistant directors who had gone through the studio system, and maybe I can say that I got to understand the structure of film from a much more intimate perspective. Of course, I came to see the importance of camerawork, but I also began to realize that in documentary and in shorts editing was absolutely crucial. At that point, excluding what Hani and Haneda Sumiko did, Ise edited all of our commercial productions.

I wasn’t the best of assistant directors when we were out on a shoot, so I was sent off to be Ise’s assistant editor and to learn the “unglamorous” art of editing. At the time, standard opinion was that Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Suzuki Tatsuo and Kuroki Kazuo would never make a film by themselves. That’s why they wanted to stick us in the editing department. Ise himself was such a charismatic figure though, and I was always amazed to see how he could magically connect random fragments of film into a single form. Through Ise, I learned that while directing, screenplay, and a whole host of other things are important, editing is truly critical.

YY: How did you do your editing? Did you use a Steinbeck like editors do now?

KK: We used a Movieola to splice it all together.

YY: Somewhere I heard that you would cut your film in strips and then splice it by hand. . . .

KK: Well, when we were in a rush, we would. When film got into Ise’s hands it was like it was dancing. He would cut it just right, not too short or too long so you’d end up with too much film on your hands. It was an extremely orthodox style that had no pretensions, and that made it all the better for me. There were no avant-garde cuts, and it followed an extremely orthodox film grammar that was legible to anyone who saw it.

YY: What were power relations like between the editor and the directors. With such a prestigious editor, did the directors have to keep from interfering?

KK: Most of the time, it was almost as if the director didn’t exist. Ise wouldn’t bother thinking about what the director wanted or how to work with him. He was treated like a kind of editing god, and the director couldn’t tell him a thing.

YY: So finally you got to direct your first film. This was the public relations film, Electric Rolling Stock of Toshiba (“Toshiba sharyo,” 1958). How did your first film come about?

KK: Well, it wasn’t so much a debut film as a film that didn’t have a director. Until The Seawall (“Kaiheki,” 1959), I was still operating at the assistant director level. They let me do the film as assistant director so that Iwanami could make the client’s deadline. Usually Ise would do the editing, but I was my contrary old self, and I decided that I didn’t want Ise editing my film. It wasn’t that I wanted to assert the rights of the director, but that I didn’t want Ise to be involved in the film itself. I am terribly indebted to this extraordinary teacher of mine, but I went ahead and edited it myself. And, in the long run, Electric Rolling Stock of Toshiba fell far short of what Ise would have done.

YY: And, then we get to The Seawall, your famous docu-mentary about a steam power plant.

KK: Well I don’t know if it’s famous, but this film is another of the ones I made as an assistant director. Kuwano Shigeru, the eminent documentarist who began his career before the war, wrote the screenplay. In those days, we had to do four or five long-term projects all at once in order to make ends meet. And since this one took a full three years, it was a real pain to do. Iwanami was wondering who they could get who was willing to get stuck with filming a factory for three years. So, they decided to ask the young, contract guys, and their gaze stopped on me. Basically, I functioned as the on-site director for the film, and I had a cameraman and support staff to take with me. Suzuki Tatsuo was the assistant, and Kato Kazuzo, the cameraman. Kato had been the cameraman on the Sakuma Dam series and, after I had run away from the second installment out of complete boredom, he was the one who came to Kyoto to find me and bring me back. He was the guy who had consoled me at the time by saying “You’ve got to struggle if you want to ever make feature films.” So we said “Are we going to do it?”, and we did it.


YY: Right around this time, you were influenced by Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960), right?

KK: These two films were crucial films for me. At that time, Okamoto Kihachi and Nakahira Ko were bringing something quite new to Japanese cinema, but Breathless and Hiroshima, mon amour were the decisive films. After seeing them, the thing that struck me most was that there was hope for me to make feature films after all. I had been thinking that I was destined to live my life producing worthless shorts and PR films, but when I saw what Godard had done, I had the revelation that anyone can make a film.

YY: This was right around the 1960 demonstrations against renewal of the Japan-US Security Treaty. Somewhere I heard that you were also marching at the Diet.

KK: With my helmet and rubber boots on, I’d get into the camera-truck, but instead of heading off to the film site, I’d drive down to the Diet. (laugh) But watching Resnais was an even bigger shock for me. To put it as Matsumoto Toshio might, films are not merely an external reality, they also portray an internal reality. Once I saw Godard and Resnais, I thought “Now I’m ready to quit Iwanami and start preparing for my own feature films.”

YY: Right after this, you make a musical, right? The Seas Are Full of Sheep in Love (“Koi no hitsuji ga umi ippai,” 1961). You got overseas support after making this film.

KK: I had just left Iwanami, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I made the English-language Japan on Ten Dollars a Day (“Nihon 10-doru ryoko,” 1962) on a request from Matsukawa Yasuo. It was a sort of musical about a crazy young American girl who travels from Tokyo to the Tokaido region. I also made The Seas are Full of Sheep in Love—Terayama Shuji came up with the title for that one. Both films got theatrical releases.

I don’t know where he saw them, I think it must have been Hong Kong or somewhere like that, but this old guy from Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers called me from his hotel saying he needed to see me as soon as possible. I went over to meet him, and he proposed that I go to Hong Kong for three years to make musicals. This little old man promised they would guarantee a steady income and it would give me a chance to learn English. The whole thing seemed quite suspicious to me, and my friends told me I’d better be careful. Later, I would get two more chances, and I refused them all. I did hear afterwards that there were some Japanese directors who went including Inoue Umeji.

YY: Then you worked on a film that Ogawa Shinsuke always used to talk about, what I think was a fairly unusual PR film entitled Hokkaido, My Love (“Waga ai Hokkaido,” 1962).

KK: Our commission was to film Hokkaido over the space of a year to show the bright future of Hokkaido and Hokkaido Denryoku, an electrical utility, in a positive and upbeat light. Since I’d already been exposed to the work of Godard and Resnais, making some paean to the future potential of Hokkaido’s factories or its tourist destinations across four seasons seemed an onerous task. We decided to do the film along the lines of a theatrical feature film. A recent college graduate has just found a new job and, when traveling, he falls madly in love with a woman working at a boot factory in Otaru, Hokkaido. It is an unrequited love, but we could use his character to sing Hokkaido’s praises. These were fairly insubstantial lines, and in the long run, we never got to the topic of Hokkaido’s wilderness or its open land or the spirit of its people. Shimizu Kunio’s narration was good, and with Shimizu Kazuhiko on camera and AD Higashi Yoichi and Ogawa around, it was fun being on location. We imitated Resnais and had an extended shot of the naked couple holding each other at the mansion of a herring industry king. When we showed the rushes, some of the executives became upset and we were forced to make cuts all over the film. And so what became Hokkaido, My Love is actually the little bit left that we could scrape together into a film. (laugh) That film is what should have been cut!


YY: While you were at Iwanami, you made seven films, and then as a freelance filmmaker, you made twenty-eight, many of which caused sensations when they were released. For example, Record of a Marathon Runner (“Aru marason ranna no kiroku,” 1964). When you read film magazines at the time, you can see it caused quite a lot of controversy.

KK: Well, what can I say? After shooting Matsukawa’s Japan on Ten Dollars a Day, I was asked by Kato to join him at Tokyo Cinema. Kato, of course, was the cameraman I met during Sakuma Dam, and he had since moved over to Tokyo Cinema, which was interested in recruiting me. Okada Sozo was the president, and there were lots of influential guys from the short film scene like Iwasaki Akira, Kobayashi Yonesaku and Yoshimi Yutaka around. Apart from Okada, they were all Communist Party members as were nearly all the union members. That was where The Seawall first got some recognition, and then I was asked to make a film on Toyo Rayon and its various enterprises.

YY: And that film was The Solar Thread (“Taiyo no ito,” 1963)?

KK: The Solar Thread as well as another film that documented the production process and the products of the factories. These went smoothly, and we were able to finish them. I think Tokyo Cinema was fairly relieved. Then, to celebrate the anniversary of Fuji Film and to get Fuji-brand film into wide circulation during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I was asked to do a story honoring the Games. The requirement was that I had to include all 40-some events. I had never been good at sports, so naturally I wasn’t keen on making this film. And as I was mulling it over, it struck me that I could somehow manage it if it were about that simple action of putting one foot in front of another: marathon running. I had once been really inspired by Dazai Osamu’s story “Run, Melos!”, so I thought to myself I’d simply do my own version of “Run, Melos!”. But my suggestion of limiting the film to marathon running was bitterly opposed. When I suggested to the company that they find someone more suitable for the job, the sponsors changed their tune saying it would be alright after all if I was willing to focus on a particular marathon runner. But when it came to marathon runners, I only knew [Japanese marathonner] Tsuburaya Kokichi, but he was that dark, brooding type I don’t like very much. So I decided to go to Haneda Airport to see the team returning from an overseas tour. I was a big fan of the actor Ichikawa Raizo, and one of the guys on the team was the spitting image of Raizo. It was a purely subjective thing, but I thought to myself here’s a guy I could focus on. He was good-looking and had style. That’s how I decided to do a film about Kimihara Kenji. We narrowed the scope of the film to just his story and began filming. As luck would have it, about the third day into filming, Kimihara suffered a foot injury that looked like it was going to keep him from running for quite a while. The chairman of Tokyo Cinema was quite happy with this turn of events and issued an order for us to stop filming, at the same time as the company cut off our film supply and lodging subsidies. They ordered me to go back to shooting a whole series of sports events. I convened the crew to discuss what we would do, and the response was to stick to our guns. We would stay in Kita-kyushu City and keep on filming. Assistant director Izumida Masahiro sent letters and telegrams and called their colleagues working on PR films and on Iwanami projects all across the country asking them to snag film for us. And sure enough, more and more film kept arriving from all over the country. Actually, it was all 35 mm color Eastman Kodak film.

YY: You used Eastman Kodak on a PR film you were making for Fuji Film!

KK: That’s right. We shot it on Eastman. Even Fuji Film asked us to go ahead using the Eastman film. They knew the quality of their own film stock better than anyone. We kept shooting, and miraculously Kimihara Kenji made a comeback. At this point, the company simply backed down, and started sending us film and our location expenses again. But things hadn’t gotten any better. When I showed Tokyo Cinema the rushes for this film I had been calling Seinen (“Youth”), they realized that I was not planning to use narration but on-screen titles instead. Tokyo Cinema became insistent that narration be added, a new title chosen and a new director be assigned to the film. When I was working with Kyogoku Takahide, I had come up with the title for my Record of a Mother. Playing on that title, the company renamed this film Record of a Marathon Runner. They were the ones who wanted a new title. As a compromise solution, Tokyo Cinema agreed that the narration could be kept to an absolute minimum and I agreed to put a Fuji Film advertisement of less than a minute at the start of the film. When we started laying the soundtrack, the production section chief became violent. I forget what belt he had reached in judo, but when we were working on the soundtrack, he would stand right behind me and would start kicking the wall. (laughs) If the narration were reduced even by the slightest amount, he became enraged. I operated in these conditions for thirty or forty hours, under his surveillance, and barely getting a wink of sleep. If I did anything that was slightly different, he would stop me working and call the company chiefs for consultation. At that time, I was thinking I’d never get another short film assignment again. When we finally finished the dubbing, it was early in the morning, and I walked out of the studio to see my friends from the Ao No Kai [young documentarists group at Iwanami Productions] standing there applauding me. That was encouraging, but on the other hand, I’ll never be able to change that title, which is the reason that, even to this day, you won’t find any of the crew listed in the credits.

YY: Now I see. After this point, you start moving closer and closer towards feature films.

KK: It is ironic, but soon after that, Nikkatsu selected the film for national distribution. And there were meetings held about what had happened as well as a book published on the “Marathon Runner Incident.” It became something of a political issue at the time. I was also summoned by the Communist Party and called “counter-revolutionary.” According to them, Tokyo Cinema was a company that produced revolutionary PR films all as a means to amass capital for the revolution. In the midst of that, according to their reasoning, I was taking counter-revolutionary actions. In other words, it was my revolutionary duty to make a film just as Fuji Film had told me, a film that would cover many different sports, a film that would surely please its sponsors. According to the Party, my arbitrary, individual way of making a film wasn’t allowing that. My response was that this was an intrusion into my work, when I wasn’t even a member of the Party, and that it was a violation of freedom of speech. I had been involved in Party activities earlier, so I didn’t mind his kind of thing at all. With that, the Party refused to budge from their position. I tried appealing directly to the union, but the general decision turned out no different than that of the leadership.

I didn’t get any work after that. I had nothing to do all day, so I spent my time in Shinjuku, drinking up a huge bill and hanging around in coffee shops. Producer Matsukawa Yasuo grew really worried for me. The independently-produced Woman in the Dunes (“Suna no onna,” 1964, dir. Teshigahara Hiroshi) had been quite a hit for its Toho distributors, and facing a financial crisis, Toho decided to ask Matsukawa to do a second feaure film. They thought it might work to have someone new make a feature film. This was the starting point for what would later become Silence Has No Wings. You see Matsukawa couldn’t stand dramatic features, no matter whether they were happy or tragic. He called me over one day and asked me if I could work on a project, and in his hands was the screenplay for a short film called “The Lonesome Butterfly” (“Hitori bocchi no chocho”). I asked him if he was going to turn this into a feature-length film, and he responded that he didn’t want to but that maybe I would. Toho had a subsidiary called Nichiei Shinsha with a producer by the name of Horiba Shinsei. Matsukawa recommended me to do the film in his place. This was an incredible piece of luck for me, like pennies from heaven! Matsukawa is a strange bird, saying that he never wanted to make a feature film and wasting that chance on me. I still feel terribly indebted to him. So, I took that “lonely butterfly” and filled it out, and with a little padding and stuffing, I teased it into what is now Silence Has No Wings. I took the title from a line in one of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poems.

YY: So you didn’t have ATG in mind when you made the film?

KK: That’s right. It was going to get a national release through Toho. We had the opening day all lined up, and the posters and fliers had been distributed to all the theaters. Then, right before it was to open, all the top brass at Toho screened the film, and suddenly everything was tabled. They said it was a lunatic film, that it wasn’t even a film at all. And the entire nationwide opening for the film was cancelled, the posters taken down, and a different film was rushed into release.

YY: They were probably shocked at seeing something that didn’t look at all like the feature films they were used to. Could you describe where you got the idea to make the interventions that you did, in other words, to bring in such new elements?

KK: Godard’s and Resnais’ influence on me hadn’t dissipated. I wanted to make films where the non-existent really does exist—I’m sounding like [experimental filmmaker] Matsumoto Toshio here—and that’s why I focused the film on the butterfly. From one fanatic ideology centered around the Emperor to another one centered around MacArthur, that idea of our conversion to postwar democracy was represented through the butterfly. And I wanted to invest in it all the bitterness of the Showa Era (1927-1989) where a difference of a few years could mean the difference between wartime and postwar. It is about a Japan that one day will surely alter the Peace Article of its Constitution, a Japan that will again become one of small number of military states to wage war once more. The cinematic version of this prediction was Silence Has No Wings.

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Kuroki Kazuo

Born in 1930 in Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture. Joined Iwanami Productions in 1954 as an assistant director, soon becoming a director from 1957 of many documentaries including Hokkaido, My Love (screened at YIDFF ’93). Started his independent career in 1962, alternating between documentaries and fiction films. Regarded as one of the most prominent filmmakers of Japan’s Art Theater Guild in the 1970s, with such masterpieces as The Assassination of Ryoma (1974) and Preparations for the Festival (1975) earning critical acclaim. After Roningai (1990), Kuroki started a project about film director Yamanaka Sadao, Humanity and Paper Balloons, but it was not realized. In 2000, Kuroki returned to critical acclaim with Pickpocket. He is currently working on his next film, Kirishima 1945.


Selected Filmography

1959 The Seawall (“Kaiheki”)
1959 Washing: A Wife’s Handbook (“Arau: Okusama techo”)
1960 Reportage: Fire (“Ruporutaju hono”)
1961 The Seas Are Full of Sheep in Love (“Koi no hitsuji ga umi ippai)
1962 Hokkaido, My Love (Waga ai Hokkaido)
1962 Japan on Ten Dollars a Day (“Nihon 10 doru ryoko”)
1963 The Solar Thread (“Taiyo no ito”)
1964 Record of a Marathon Runner (“Aru marason ranna no kiroku”)
1965 Another’s Blood (“Tanin no chi”)
1966 Silence Has No Wings (“Tobenai chinmoku”)
1968 Man Searching for a Chair (“Isu o sagasu otoko”)
1969 A Cuban Lover (“Kyuba no koibito”)
1970 Evil Spirits of Japan (“Nihon no akuryo”)
1974 The Assassination of Ryoma (“Ryoma ansatsu”)
1975 Preparations for the Festival (“Matsuri no junbi”)
1978 Nuclear War—Lost Love (“Genshiryoku senso—LOST LOVE”)
1980 Until Twilight (“Yugure made”)
1983 Namida-bashi
1988 TOMORROW (“TOMORROW / Ashita”)
1990 Roningai
2000 Pickpocket (“Suri”)
2002 KIRISHIMA 1945 (forthcoming)