YIDFF 2017 New Asian Currents
City of Jade
An Interview with Midi Z (Director)

The Place Where Hope and Reality Coalesce

Q: Your narration conveys your complicated feelings for your older brother. Why did you choose to film him?

MZ: It’s not that I wanted to film my brother, but rather, that I wanted to go to the city of jade, and that was my first incentive for making the film. My family and relatives, as well as my classmates, have all gone there to mine for jade, but I was the only who had never been there, so at the very least, I wanted to see the place, know it, and experience first-hand what kind of lives my family was living. Even now that I’ve been there, it’s still an extremely complex place for me. The things that I had imagined are intertwined in complex ways with the reality that I actually saw, and it feels like I’m in the middle of a dream. There were many people burning with ambition, sure that they would make it big, and among them, there were those who were downright crazy. There were accidents, and I have relatives who died in them. My feelings about the place are very complicated.

Q: When you turned the camera on your brother, was there something you were particularly conscious of?

MZ: I think the most difficult things were having something impact the subject’s mental state, and losing the topic and story that I had been pursuing. With regards to the more concrete side of things, there was that very challenging time when I caught some illness at the city of jade, and the fact that he kept running from me, no matter how much I wanted to know him, and tried to establish some form of communication with him. I didn’t understand the reality that he was shouldering, and the things that I caught on camera might just be scratching the surface. There were times when I stopped filming, and had the other cameraman take care of filming in the meantime.

Q: I think your brother went back to the city of jade for money, but he also looked like he took pride in having gone there, and it felt like he had attachments to the city. What did you make of this?

MZ: To be honest, I don’t know how he felt about going to the city of jade, but perhaps he had no other choice. I think that as he was nearing 50, at the midway point of his life, he was deeply worried about a lot of things, and felt that there was nothing else he could do. Certainly, money might have been the primary reason, but I think it wasn’t just about the money, but also about the hopes and dreams he had pictured behind it all.

Q: Your brother and other family members have been arrested for drug use. What do you think led to those circumstances?

MZ: In order to get food supplies in Myanmar, especially in the countryside and the borderlands, ordinary people make opium, bring it to the stores, and exchange it for rice. Also, during the war from the 1940s to the 1980s, there was no medicine for poor people who had fallen ill, so they took opium instead, and became addicted from that point on. I’ve heard that because my mother was poor, she traveled 7 hours from her border town to the city center, carrying opium that she traded for rice. In other words, the reality of drugs in Myanmar is not that it’s run by the mafia, involving vast sums of money, but that it’s actually handled by ordinary people. In remote borderlands like the city of jade, people believe that they can cure malaria by smoking opium. If someone is suffering a great deal of pain, opium can alleviate it, and that gives rise to the superstition that opium is a cure. If you confront the reality that there is no medicine and there are no doctors, I think you’ll understand why they rely on opium.

(Compiled by Okuyama Shinichiro)

Interviewers: Okuyama Shinichiro, Tadera Saeko / Interpreter: Kawaguchi Takao / Translator: Joelle Tapas
Photography: Yoshimura Tatsuro / Video: Kano Haruna / 2017-10-07