YIDFF 2013 Cinema with Us 2013
Chasing Santa Claus
An Interview with Iwabuchi Hiroki (Director)

Reconfirming My Sendai Identity

Q: In your film, you pose the question, “What do you live for?” This made a strong impression on me, and I was wondering what your own answer to this question is.

IH: My great-aunt Toshiko is a Christian, and when she started going to church, this question was one of the first things asked of her. She was taught that the answer was “to love God and other people,” and hearing this made me aware of the connection between life and love. In another scene, a friend of mine on his way back from work answers the same question, a bit self-consciously, by saying that he lives for his family. Great-aunt Toshiko and my friend had their own clear answers to this question, something that I admire and respect—all the more so because I have yet to find my own answers to these questions of life and love. When I find something that I can believe in with all of my heart, perhaps then I’ll be able to give a clear answer to this question.

Q: How did you feel when you first started filming in Sendai?

IH: With regards to the disaster, I was more focused on documenting the changes that had taken place in the physical environment than those that had taken place within my heart. At the time, we were so inundated with information that I didn’t even know how to feel about everything, so I got my nonjudgmental video camera ready, and I held my own tongue. But I was of course worried about how things were in Sendai, where my family home was located, and I decided to go back to gauge the situation for myself. When I arrived, I saw shopping arcades deserted at 7:00 at night, people distributing food, and walls covered with messages from people looking for each other. I saw what the city had suffered, and the almost unimaginable fortitude being displayed by the citizens there. That may have been when I first realized that I wanted to document and preserve my own feelings with my camera. I think that one of the ways I was able to deal with the scars inflicted upon my hometown was by recording them with my video camera.

Q: In the film, you speak of being impressed by the Sendai Pageant of Starlight, and also the music of the band yumbo. Could you tell us a little more about this?

IH: On March 20, 2011, yumbo performed some of their music at Kasei no Niwa, a secondhand bookstore where they had taken refuge together after the earthquake. They uploaded a video of the performance to YouTube, and that’s where I happened to see it. The image quality wasn’t great, but the lights behind the musicians seemed to cast a warm glow over everything, and I remember thinking that this warmth came from the closeness between these people who leaned on each together in their temporary shelter. At the same time, I also seemed to see their pain at being displaced from their homes in the brightness of the lights, and the video made me think of Ichiban-cho district of Sendai, where the bookstore was located. As for the Pageant of Starlight, it was in May of 2011 that I saw the news that the approximately 100,000 LED lights used in the festival had been washed away by the tsunami, and I worried whether it would be possible to hold the pageant that year. It’s not that I was expecting everything to be the same, but it was a shock to have to confront the possibility that something that had always been there might now be gone. However, a few months later I heard that the pageant would be taking place as usual, and, as someone originally from the city, I remembered the Pageant of Starlight being a symbol of Christmas in Sendai. I made this film with Yamauchi Daido, my producer and cinematographer, and Tsujii Kiyoshi, my sound technician, and we spent that Christmas racing around Sendai. For me, it was the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had.

(Compiled by Ukai Sakurako)

Interviewers: Ukai Sakurako, Fujikawa Kiyohisa / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Nishiyama Ayuka / Video: Kato Takanobu, Suzuki Noriko / 2013-10-06 in Tokyo