An Interview with Shiozaki Toshiko (Director)
Films Necessary for the Times, Films We Want People to See
Q: Thank you for your jury work. Can you give an overview?
ST: We saw 21 films all together—they were all so great, it was hard to choose among them. Having been to YIDFF many times, I can say that the Asian films have become stronger. There used to be more rough-edged work in the past, but this time I was surprised to discover how the films have become technically polished and sophisticated in structure.
Q: What did you take into consideration in judging the films?
ST: For the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize and the Awards of Excellence, we chose films that we felt were necessary for these times, films that we wanted people to see today. Also, films we could imagine challenging and not easy to make. Further, we took notice on young filmmakers who were making their first feature documentaries.
All three films we awarded dealt with social issues. You may think, from the titles, that this year’s jurors doted only on activist films. But in fact, co-juror Teddie Co and I both like experimental films, poetic films, and quiet films, too. Our decision on the three films came from our intention to choose films that we felt spoke to this time and age.
As Mr. Co said in his speech, there’s fake news and fiction-like documentaries abound these days. That’s why the brute force of reality, or the power of actual footage needs to be recognized, and we found it important to support material that is unadulterated.
Teddie Co and I got along very well. Our ideas and thought processes were similar and we communicated smoothly. When we decided to each choose our top three, we opened our cards to discover that our choices were exactly the same! Isn’t that amazing?
Q: Tell us about your thoughts on the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize winner Yellowing.
ST: This is a very good film that enables you to think about democracy and what it means, and the filmmaking elevates the young activists’ stories to a celebration of youth. There are many films about political protest, but this film gives us a look at the inner conflicts and pain of young people who chose to commit their youth. By giving this film a prize, we wanted to broaden its opportunities to be shown. Things are tough in Hong Kong, and we chose to voice our support. I was glad when the director Chan Tze-Woon spoke about how the prize gave him courage.
There’s a sense of self-centeredness engulfing the whole world today, including here in Japan, with politicians brazenly starting to do whatever they like. So, it’s not only Hong Kong, but a matter that all of us need to face squarely. The film is a good entry point to think about democracy and I’d like students and young people to see it.
Q: And the two Awards of Excellence?
ST: The two films answered to our points of reference as I mentioned earlier. Up Down & Sideways is a beautiful film. You can see the difficulties of the environment, the joys and hardships of labor, and it’s wonderful how it’s all woven together through song.
I asked them (the filmmakers) whether they (the characters) were smiling so nicely off camera too, and they said yes. The people are so attractive—their movements and their expressions, their presence is beautiful. I was thinking about how the Japanese too, probably once had such grace. The film is technically well-done, with well-balanced sound and all, but more than anything I was moved to see how the filmmakers spent so many years on the production, living with the community. I felt a sincerity and a love the filmmakers had for their characters. I, too, would like to make a film like that someday.
As for The Slice Room, there are many filmmakers who document the homeless, but not many can get as close as this. As the welfare system in Korea is similar to Japan’s, I found the problems and contradictions of the social security bureaucracy just like ours. This film is close to home.
I could see that the director is pure in his intention to help the poor and change the world by showing this film. He must have started filming out of a calling to tackle the social issue, but it’s matured into a solid film. I’m amazed, knowing how young he is. It’s not easy. You first have to build relationships and gain people’s trust. I was reminded of Ogawa Productions’ A Song of the Bottom. I asked the director if he knew the film and he didn’t, but they seem to share a common spirit. Up Down & Sideways is about farming, and Yellowing is like Ogawa’s Sanrizuka (Narita) series. You could say Ogawa Shinsuke’s spirit that upholds realism, humanity, and protest was reflected in the awarded films.
Q: What were the decisive differences between the special mentions and Awards of Excellence?
ST: We wanted to give more special mentions, but there were too many, so we had to cut down to these two. Bamseom Pirates, Seoul Inferno was different from the top three awardees—not only serious but fun-loving and visually experimental, using an innovative narrative style. It’s neither anti-North Korea nor anti-South Korea, and poking fun at both governments. The band members and other characters were funny as were their songs. The film could change your opinion of South Korea—that it’s surprisingly free.
City of Jade is a film only this filmmaker could have made. You could only go there (the jade mine area) if you know the place. I’m impressed by the film’s boldness and the fact that no others could have filmed it. There are people like Midi Z’s brother everywhere in the world. They look for a treasure, they can’t get it, and they lose everything in the process. The man went looking for jade, but it’s so interesting that the real jade was not in the mountain but in the young brother who went to Taiwan and found success.
YIDFF has become renowned internationally and now seems to be here for good. The programming is rich and you can discover films that aren’t shown in the West. There are films that only Yamagata can showcase. Other festivals would not show Palestinian and Israeli films side by side. Here, there is a closeness between the audience and the filmmakers that is engaging. When I go overseas and talk about Yamagata, people always tell me how they loved the festival, or how one day they would like to participate. That’s a marvelous heritage. I hope it will never be lost.
(Compiled by Masuya Shoko)
Interviewers: Masuya Shoko, Abenoki Tatsuya / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Kusunose Kaori / Video: Kusunose Kaori / 2017-10-12