An Interview with Yoshimasu Gozo
Fibers of Light, in the Land of Yamagata, Like a Deep-pocketed Cocoon
Q: This was your first time to attend the film festival in Yamagata. What were your thoughts when you accepted to be on the jury?
YG: I already had special emotions, quite personal, for an international documentary film festival to be held in Yamagata. I write poetry, and I have strong ties with (poet) Kimura Michio of Magino Village and other poets through the poetry recitation movement in the northeastern and Hokkaido areas of Japan. I knew (filmmaker) Ogawa Shinsuke personally from around the time the movement began. I’d seen his A Japanese Village—Furuyashiki, and we’d even organized our own screenings of Magino Village—A Tale. I had also pursued a “northeastern spirit” by following the history of (butoh dancer) Hijikata Tatsumi who appears in Magino Village. So you could say that I’d spent quite a bit of time in the area around Yamagata.
The other thing is that I immediately sensed a certain intention, or a wavelength if you may, of the film festival organizers when they invited me. They were aware of my trips to Okinawa, my experience making films with Shimao Miho and Alexander Sokurov there, my inviting Jonas Mekas to Yamagata, and the fact that I’d begun making films myself. It felt like the film festival was reading my pulse like a doctor, and I perceived that. Amplified by the personal attachment I feel towards the region, I became a ready receiver, a receptacle open to transmission, and so embarked on my trip to Yamagata.
Q: The jury meeting took very long. What did you think about the jury process?
YG: I went through a routine of watching almost four films a day from 10 am, sometimes even missing out on lunch, but my feet were light as I commuted. The joy of entering that large and exquisite cinema space was unlike any ordinary movie experience, it was indeed something that could only be experienced at a film festival.
I was deeply moved with every film I saw, diverse in country and theme. I don’t think it’s essentially possible to select one over the other or compare these films. Nevertheless it was my duty to put my mind to it, and so came up with a judgment of some sort. But then I discovered that the jury meeting is the process to destroy this fixed conception. Not in that someone else would simply deny and overturn my opinion, but the jury meeting acted as a kind of filter or an intermediary illumination to intercept and change or add to the light that I as receptacle had perceived. That’s why I had a good time, and also found it a learning experience.
The meeting took very long because each film was discussed in detail, but the atmosphere was consistently serious and attentive. I can’t tell objectively how much that reflects in the results, but I believe the intensity and the quality of the deliberation were exceptional.
Q: What was your impression of YIDFF?
YG: You would think of film festivals to be tightly knit, scentless, and unruffled, but the YIDFF felt strangely soft, thick, and moving, as if woven from different kinds of yarns. Moreover in Yamagata, there are very important tangents that pass through, like (haiku poet) Basho’s path as he walked The Narrow Road to the Interior. It’s said that he heard about the sacred Yamadera temple in Obanazawa and decided to return towards Yamagata to visit the place. That was a chance encounter that wasn’t in his itinerary. Then he travels down the Mogami river to Sakata… In any case Yamagata is at the heart. So you see, Yamagata has a certain . . . perhaps somewhere deep down too, but there is an air about it, which I felt a part of. After the jury meeting, the Czech juror Karel Vachek took me to Yamadera where I experienced being in front of his camera for his film in production. That’s what I call planting a cutting—you know how you attach a sprig to another branch and it grows into a hybrid form. I feel that the Yamagata film festival cradles such wisdom at a very deep level.
I am trying to capture this film festival, not simply through an evaluation or impression of the films, but from the larger aura including the smell in the air and of the soil and the voice of the mountains. I felt a wind in this film festival, something like the shirominami (white southern gales) in Ogawa’s documentary. YIDFF seems to be able to carry this wind like its artery or vein. If only we could encounter a film that allows us to feel it, like a contemporary version of A Japanese Village—Furuyashiki—something I don’t think we saw this year—this film festival would become ideal.
At the film festival I had the pleasure of seeing Alexander Sokurov’s film shot in Amami Dolce . . . once again. The Dolce . . . I saw in Yamagata had a wonderful brilliance! I wonder if this year’s prizewinners and films would start to emit such aura over time. You know how some films seem to mature and evolve with growing experience and turn into masterpieces. I was overjoyed to discover that in Yamagata.
Q: Finally, do you have any thoughts about the future of YIDFF?
YG: For example if you’re going to a film festival in Prague, you’d try to read Kafka a bit, won’t you? I feel the visitors to Yamagata were the same way, as they all came with a certain respect for the place by reading Basho and such. They arrived in anticipation, embodying some kind of brilliant light within. There is an energy that the land of Yamagata carries and which the Yamagata film festival already incorporates. If the festival can knead it in different ways with the extreme delicate hand that it has, the fibers of light of the medium called cinema will form a deep pocket of many layers and become like a cocoon in this land of Yamagata.
(Compiled by Ishikawa Munetaka)
Interviewers: Ishikawa Munetaka, Hozumi Maki / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Sasaki Tomoko / Video: Mabuchi Ai / 2009-12-01 / in Tokyo