YIDFF 2013 Cinema with Us 2013
My Neighbors in Haramachi, Minamisoma
An Interview with Oka Tatsuya (Director)

What the Dispassionate Lens Uncovers

Q: Your film showed people in various circumstances going about their lives in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, but a scene that made an especially strong impression on me was the one of the kindergarten children playing in their school sandbox, with a meter showing a radiation reading visible behind them. Did you intentionally shoot the scene this way?

OT: I decided to make this film because I couldn’t quite accept the way that Minamisoma city was being portrayed by the media. On television, Minamisoma was cast as the scene of a great tragedy, but when you saw images of the city and the daily lives of people there, life in Minamisoma didn’t appear to be any different from life in Yamagata. I made this film because I wanted to show the true realities that existed in Minamisoma.

Q: What kind of film did you want this to be?

OT: I wanted the film to be objective, so I used no narration or music, kept explanations to a minimum, and tried to keep my own opinions out of it. When it comes to films about the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, there is no single “truth,” and we have already seen a diverse range of films made about this disaster. For example, people who want to make films that say “radiation is dangerous” selectively direct their video cameras towards things that indicate that radiation is dangerous. On the other hand, I think that filmmakers who want to document the sufferings and hopes of disaster victims are less inclined to focus on the dangers of radiation. I believe that this is a dangerous trend, and I wanted to make a film about the disaster that was free of such biases. I hoped that my film could be one like Fernando Pérez’s Havana Suite, which speaks to its audience through its dispassionate portrayal of everyday life.

Q: Your documentary featured a very appealing cast of characters. How did you meet them?

OT: The kindergarten in the film was the one I myself attended as a child, and I still knew some of the teachers there. I wondered how they were doing after the earthquake, and I decided to document their situation on film. The filming spanned a period of almost six months, and at the beginning, the children would swarm around the camera and get up to all sorts of mischief. But since the filming continued over a long period of time, they gradually began to forget about the camera, and I was able to capture them in their natural state.

Oyama Koichi, the city council member, was in the minority of city citizens who believed that the radiation in Minamisoma would have serious consequences. I was interested in his ideas, and asked if I could film him. As for Mr. and Mrs. Nagai, they are actually distant relatives of mine. They came to Minamisoma after fleeing their home in Iitate village, and I asked if I could film them too. I liked the way Mrs. Nagai would show her concern for her husband, such as in the scene where he’s lying down playing Sudoku, and she tells him, “Be careful, dear—it’s not good for your eyes.” There are other people who appear in the film, but I wanted this documentary to reflect the differing perspectives of young children, adults, and the elderly, and I chose to mainly focus on the kindergarten children, Mr. Oyama, and Mr. and Mrs. Nagai.

Q: Do you intend to make more films about the disaster?

OT: I always tell people that I will, but I have to admit that it’s not easy. Making these films takes an emotional toll on you—but I have a feeling that I’ll feel compelled to keep on making them. When we talk about the disaster, there is a tendency to focus on the damage caused by the nuclear accident and the tsunami, but I think that 3.11 fundamentally changed the way that many people think. I want to continue to document the ways in which the disaster changed the hearts of people, something that is not always so visible on the surface.

(Compiled by Nogami Taka)

Interviewers: Nogami Taka, Inoue Saya / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Saito Risa / Video: Takahashi Mari / 2013-09-18 in Yamagata