YIDFF 2023 Perspectives Japan

Okawa Keiko (Director)

Interviewer: Kato Itaru

Pointing my camera at time in life

Kato Itaru (KI): Let me start by asking you what ledyou to make this film, Oasis?

Okawa Keiko (OK): The film began in 2022 with Keio University Art Center’s initiative, “Cultural Narrative of a City.” I was commissioned to make a short film to capture a cultural narrative set in the Minato ward in the heart of Tokyo. Though I wasn’t familiar with this area, I asked my close friend Shimoyama Rintaro and his partner Ohara Mai to complete the film with me. Mai is a painter-artist who works on the motifs of everyday landscape and plants and Rintaro is a bicycle builder.

The couple usually don’t drive or take the train but they go by bike wherever they go. Even during the pandemic when traveling and meeting people was restricted they freely moved around town. Looking at their freedom, I thought, “If I can make a film about the process in which the imagination of the city they collect as they travel easily by bike is sublimated into Mai’s artwork, the town’s culture and stories will emerge by itself.”

I started the film by asking Rintaro and Mai to actually explore Minato ward by bicycle. I expanded my imagination before filming by touring the spots they found by bike or on foot together, taking pictures.

KI: I’ve heard that you usually work as editor of other directors’ films. How was it directing, shooting and editing all by yourself?

OK: I have made films since my college days and I did enjoy shooting on my own, but on film sets surrounded by other people where movement is limited I panicked and often regretted having gotten involved. On the other hand, editing was something I could do forever, putting my nose to the grindstone. In editing I can experiment as much as I like, which is apparently suitable for me. There are moments in which the footage which I have watched repeatedly speaks to me. The order of shots and the length of each shot are then determined and I find how to edit them together. Such is the charm of editing—it addicted me and I kept at it. And it finally became my job recently.

In this film I pointed my camera at the people, places, and time in life that I wanted to film. I edited it, hoping to show it to the protagonists as well as those who would be interested. I am not particular about the style in which I did everything from directing through filming to editing alone. I feel that my personal impulses and sensitivities were at work to complete this film.

Natural timing

KI: How did editing your own film differ, if any, from editing other filmmakers’ films?

OK: Usually I can only think about the film on which I am working and I can’t pursue two films simultaneously. But for this film of mine, I don’t know why but I could accept another work and edit the two films in parallel.

When editing other people’s works, I am not sure how to differentiate shots taken close to a subject (close-ups) from wide shots taken from a distance (long shots). When should I use a close-up? It’s difficult to decide. But this time I actually rolled the camera and there were moments when I realized how naturally the timing in which I wanted to bring the camera closer to a subject came. When I got closer I really wanted to get closer. This is taken for granted, but it made sense. In those moments I felt that the cinematographer in me aligned with the editor in me. You don’t realize this unless you film it yourself.

KI: I was impressed by the scene where Hwang Young Chang, sound operator appears. Why did you add it?

OK: In the scene where Hwang Young Chang appears—he attaches a voice memo to the sound material he sends to me, describing when, where and how he recorded it. I always liked his voice memos for no reason. I asked him to play in my film as I thought it would be interesting if I could add a different approach to street observation from that of Rintaro and Mai. A viewer had the impression that the film had a footnote, as it were, asking them to listen to landscape.

KI: You filmed Oasis almost alone, didn’t you?

OK: The entire film was shot in twenty days. During the first four days I shot with Ota Tatsunari. For the rest of the shooting period I filmed it by myself as Tatsunori was scheduled to work for another film. I came to know him through his film, There is a Stone (2022) for which I worked as editor. He had a gentle aura about him. I thought he would be very helpful in my film sets. I also thought he could get on very well with both Rintaro and Mai. So, I asked him to work with me. We always had a lot of fun during shooting. Everybody came to a meeting place by bike and we often shot as we went cycling. Some of us carried equipment on our back and others tied it to the baskets of their bicycles. At a tasty bakery we bought bread which we ate for lunch in a park. We were easygoing, traveling light.

KI: Was such a filmmaking style naturally created?

KO: I’ve come to think that maybe I can make a satisfactory film without feeling uncomfortable thanks to “Children Meet Cinema” in which I have been involved as a staff member since 2010. Children always enjoy making films seriously. I’ve learned a lot from seeing how their moving masterpieces are created.

KI: What attracted you most about the protagonist Mai?

OK: I regularly keep in touch with Mai. When I filmed her drawing a picture, I spent one-on-one time with her through my camera and I felt that I became close to her all at once. I simply found her beautiful when she focused on her work, moving her hands silently and I am happy to have been able to depict the time in which someone faces something alone unnoticed. In the dinner scene of the film, Rintaro says to Mai, “What were you doing today?” and Mai hesitatingly answers, “I was drawing what was still formless.” This is one of the lines that I want to treasure in this film.

KI: Do you have a plan for the next film?

OK: I have a subject whom I want to film. That person has lived in Paris for thirty years, teaching Japanese. He has a very interesting way of thinking about grammar and language, which unexpectedly appears in conversation. I have a vague idea of making a sort of connection between his philosophy and the structure of film editing. It looks difficult to frequently commute to Paris or make a film as an extension of my daily life as I did for Oasis. I’ll also probably need a bigger budget and I am not sure if I can realize it. But I will prepare for it slowly at my own pace.

KI: It sounds like a lovely film. I can’t wait to see it. Thank you very much for today.

Compiled by Kato Itaru
Translated by Yamamoto Kumiko

Photography: Saito Chihiro / Video: Sato Hiroaki / 2023-10-09

Kato Itaru
Born in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Professor of Film Studies, Tohoku University of Art & Design. Vice President of YIDFF. Starting filming in 8mm while a student at Tokyo Metropolitan Komaba Senior High School, Kato worked extensively on experimental film, video art, installation, performance, and other media arts; studying at Wako University and the Image Forum Institute for Moving Images. His short film in 16mm, Sparkling (1991) won the Szigetvár Mayor’s Award at the Retina International Film and Video Festival in 1991.