domingo, 7 de novembro de 2010

Interview with Kon Ichikawa

By Joan Mellen (1972)

Joan Mellen: Is the major theme in Japanese films still the struggle between one's duty and the individual desire to be independent and free of traditional values and ideas?
Kon Ichikawa: That is a difficult question with which to begin. I don't know how to answer. Can't we work our way to that and start with the next question?

Q: Sure. the next is an easy one. What is your educational background? What did you study at school and what was the major influence which shaped your ideas?
A: I don't go to a university so I can't say in what I majored. After I left middle school [equivalent to high school] I was always painting and drawing.

Q: Did you become a painter?
A: No, later on, I switched to filmmaking.

Q: How did you start making films?
A: When I was a youth it was the time of the Western film world's so-called renaissance. There were so many great European and American films. They had a great impact on the Japanese. Japanese then began to pursue filmmaking seriously. This influenced me considerably.

Q: Which European and American films or directors most affected you?
A: I should mention the names of filmmakers who moved me very much rather than individual titles. Among them, in America, Charlie Chaplin stands out, as does William Wellman. In France René Clair. Nor can I forget Sternberg and Lubitsch.

Q: Why have Japanese filmmakers been so interested in historical themes and period films?
A: I don't think Japanese films lean particularly toward the jidai-geki, or costume drama. Some people are interested in episodes of a certain era, but I would not want to make the distinction between jidai-geki and gendai-geki. To me they are the same. If I may add my opinion, films which have modern themes and modern implications should not be simply classified as jidai-geki, even if they are set before the Meiji era. They are indeed modern films although they may take the form of costume plays.

Q: You don't think there are more historical films made in Japan than in the United States, although we do have the "Western", which may be thought of as similar to the jidai-geki?
A: We probably have a few more and it may have some significance, in my case for one. It is true of course that there are more jidai-geki made here than gendai-geki. You see. film is an art which involves the direct projection of the time in which we live. It is a difficult point to state clearly, but my general feeling is that Japanese filmmakers are somewhat unable to grasp contemporary society. In your country, there seem to be many more dramatic current themes to portray. To render something into film art we really need to understand thoroughly what we want to describe. Unable to do this, many of us go back to history and try to elucidate certain themes which have implications for modern society.

Q: Is it because Japanese society is undergoing great political and social change at the present time?
A: Yes, that is correct.

Q: Would you like to discuss problems of distribution, production, and financing of your films in Japan in relation to your own experience, for example with your Tokyo Olympiad?
A: We are faced with the most difficult time for all the three problems. We have a very different system from yours. We used to have five major companies which monopolized all bookings. We never had a free booking system. Now the five companies have shrunk into three: Toho, Shochiku and Toei, and these companies still follow the old system of distribution. They don't want to change with the times; they are anachronistic. So groups are forming individual production companies and trying to survive. Financially it is a cruel struggle.

Q: Have you personally formed your own company?
A: At this moment it is an individual production, not yet a company. I am working right now to create a new company which I hope to start in November. This is my first independent attempt, and I have to raise the money by myself. Until now I worked with large companies like Daiei and Toho. I am working on television productions at present to raise money to start my own company.

(Shokei no Heya, 1956)

Q: Did you then make the Kogarashi monjiro episodes to make money rather than a serious works of film art?
A: I would say for both reasons. I should like to make some money on them, but I made them seriously as well. I could never proceed aimlessly.

Q: Are you interested in the theme of political apathy or indifference in the Kogarashi Monjiro stories?
A: Yes, the protagonist is an outlaw and a loner, like an "isolated wold". He is like the character in many Westerns. He is always anti-establishment.

Q: Do you suggest through this character that political action is fruitless, especially in the sense that an isolated individual attempeting to do away with evil would find it impossible?
A: You might say that in terms of the political implications, although the political element is not the main theme. I am much more interested in the search for what defines human nature.

Q: In general would you say that you are more interested in psychological aspects than political?
A: Yes, generally so.

Q: How do you account for the interest in pornography, or rather, the extreme desires of sexual life in Japanese films? I am speaking of the excessive sexual desire which appears even in the work of Imamura and in your own film Kagi (The Key)?
A: I really don't know how to answer that question. I thought that in Japan sex was not given the prominence than the United States has given to it. In Japan, sex itself is not treated as a force able to change an entire aspect of social existence. I am referring to plays like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. These works face up to the problem of sexuality in the human being. Well, in Japan we don't have such plays. Sex is not as important a problem in Japan as it is in the United States.

Q: Would you say that in Kagi the sex was treated comically or satirically rather than seriously?
A: I used it as a criticism of civilization, of our culture.

Q: In what way? Which aspect of civilization are you criticizing?
A: The conlict between the soul or heart and desire.

Q: I find that a difficult idea to grasp.
A: It is difficult to explain in words, but Kagi is really not a movie about sex, at least not very much so. It is a story of human vanity and nothingness. It describes the humanness of the character through the vantage of sex. I should say that the sex is deformed to impart the struggle of human beings. Sex connects to one's search for humanity, one's true thoughts and position in society.

Q: Then the true subject is not sexuality, but the sex functions as a symbol?
A: Yes that is exactly it.

Q: Why does the servant poison the three surviving people at the end of the film? This aspect of the plot was not used in the original novel by Tanizaki.
A: These three people are representatives of the human without possessing human souls. They are not really human beings. The servant is going to annihilate them because the servant represents the director. I wanted to deny them all.

Q: Then it is the moral judgment of the director on these three people?
A: Yes.

Q: What aspect of the original novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, were you interested in when you made Enjo?
A: In this film, I wanted to show the poverty in Japan.

Q: Who wanted to show the poverty especially, you or Mishima?
A: No, I.

Q: Is it a material or spiritual poverty?
A: I started from the economic and naturally pursued the spiritual also, because it is the story of man. The economic side represents sixty per cent and the spirital forty percent.

Q: Doesn't this indicate a strong political element in your words?
A: Only for this film in which spiritual poverty is caused by economic poverty. Usually I don't consider myself a politically minded director. When I am making a film, I don't think of the political side of the film very much; it is not the main thing.

Q: Maybe political is the wrong word. By "political" I mean social consciousness, the relationship between the individual and society, not in the sense of political parties.
A: Then yes, that is important to my work. I am both aware of and concerned with social consciousness.

Q: Is there any similarity between your private Mizushima in Harp of Burma and Goichi Mizoguchi in Enjo?
A: They represent the youth in Japan. In the case od Mizushima the time was the middle of the war, and with Goichi it was just after the war. In this sense, both whether a soldier or not, represent Japanese youth.

(Biruma no Tategoto, 1956)

Q: What is the origin of their disillusionment with the world? Are they each disillusioned about in a general way? Although their behaviour is, of course, different: one leaves the world to become a Buddhist monk and decides never to return to Japan and Goichi in Enjo burns down one of the most famous shrines in Japan.
A: Both are very young, and both are in search of something. Neither knows exactly what he is after, as they are still young. Both thrust themselves against the thick wall of reality and disillusionment trying to find out what they desire.

Q: As in the burning of the temple. What do they desire?
A: Truth.

Q: Is it the truth of themselves or of the world?
A: The truth of their own lives.

Q: Is the meaning they seek in their lives similar to that of Watanabe in Kurosawa's Ikiru? Watanabe of course is an old man.
A: Possibly so. I can say it is close. It depends on the viewer's interpretation.

Q: What is the statement about the nature of war that you are making in Fires on the Plain?
A: War is an extreme situation which can change the nature of man. For this reason, I consider it to be the the greatest sin.

Q: Do you use a social situation like war as a device to explore the human character? The social situation would be a means of showing what the human being is capable of - as in Tamura's cannibalism, homicide, or the massacre in the film - as opposed to showing what happens in a society that leads to war?
A: I use the situation of war partly for this reason, but also to show the limits within which a moral existence is possible.

Q: Why do you have Private Tamura die at the end?
A: I let him die. In the original novel he survives to return to Japan, enters a mental institution, and lives there. I thought he should rest peacefully in the world of death. The death was my salvation to him.

Q: What he saw made him unable to continue to live in this world?
A: Yes, he couldn't live in this world any longer after that. This is my declaration of total denial of war, total negation of war.

Q: In Alone in Pacific you seem to be saying that determination is important, not what you do, nor the nature of the act.
A: Yes. That was my precise conception.

Q: Isn't what we do important? Wouldn't you say that there is some distintion between doing some useful thing and voyaging alone on the pacific?
A: No, no difference.

Q: In Japanese films and in yours in particular, much more so than in Western films, there seem to be mixtures of styles or rather varied methods of filmmaking which are combined sometimes even within a single film. Many of your films, and those of Oshima and Shindo for example, are so completely different from one work to the next. Is this a special characteristic of the Japanese film? I am thinking in particular of your segment of A Woman's Testament.
A: [Laughs] Do you think so! Probably you are examining the films in great detail! We don't see this particularly. I believe that expression should be free, so this notion may affect the fact that you have just described. But I am never conscious of differentiating my methods or that I have one single special style. All depends on the story or the drama on which I am working.

Q: This seems to be something unique about the Japanese film. In American films one director's works are generally similar, especially among the older directors.
A: I think each should differ according to what is being expressed. As I am Ichikawa and no one else, even when I try to change the style according to the theme there is always some similarity from one film to the next. Right now I am working with an Italian director, Pasolini. I have really been influenced by him. I consider him one of the greatest filmmakers today. Do you know his work?

Q: Which films of Pasolini do you admire the most?
A: Oedipus Rex, Medea, The Decameron, The Gospel According to St. Mathew, Teorema. I consider Pasolini the finest director making films today. Among American directors I was impressed with Peter Fonda, not with his Easy Rider, but with The Hired Hand. He seems to be very young, yet he has a very good grasp of his subject. He understands love so beautifully. How old is he?

Q: He is about thrity-five. Whom do you admire among the younger Japanese directors?
A: None among the young ones. I don't know any of their films.

Q: How about among the older ones?
A: Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, of course.

Q: In connection with Mizoguchi's Oharu I visited the Rakanji Temple in Tokyo. Didn't he film one of the main scenes there?
A: But it could be that he made that movie in Kyoto. Is Oharu the American title? The title in Japanese is Saikaku Ichidai Onna. You know, there are several Rakanjis.

(Otouto, 1960)

Q: Is there a contradiction in the fact that you seem to praise the family system in Ototo (Her Brother) but attack it in Bonchi? Or were you criticizing the matriarchal family in particular in Bonchi?
A: "Attack" is a strong word, but yes, I have criticized the family system in Ototo and yes, in Bonchi I attack the matriarchy. Ototo takes place in the Taisho era, before the war, about forty years ago, but today we still have much the same problem in our family system. I hold the opinion that each family should be accustomed to respecting the individuality of every member. This is what I wanted to say.

Q: What is your viewpoint in Hakai (The Outcast)?
A: The theme is racial discrimination. Japanese discriminate against burakumin. Originally when the Koreans emigrated to Japan, they brought their slaves with them; these were segregated and called burakumin.

Q: Were you then treating the great discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese?
A: I think all human beings should be equal.

Q: Did you see Shinoda's Sapporo Winter Olympics? Did you like it?
A: Yes, I liked it, but I thought that there might have been more insights into the psychology of the individuals competing. Visually it is extremely beautiful.

Q:Could you say something about how you used the visual details of the architecture in Enjo to reveal the psychology of the boy?

A: Yes, I sought to do this. This beautiful structure was simply nothing but old decayed timber, no more than that. The boy didn't think so at first, but he gradually realized it.

Q: What is the relationship bewteen his feeling about himself and his feeling about the building?
A: Let me add this. It doesn't have to be the Golden Pavilion. It can be any one of the so-called great monuments in our history. They are so fine. Nobody questioned their greatness because many generations were taught to revere them. Well, in actuality some people think the particular monument, in this case the Golden Pavilion, is great, but some think it is not. Varying opinions should be accepted because excellence is solely dependent upon the viewer's conception.

Q: Does he hate the building and burn it down as an act of self-hatred?
A: Yes, he hated himself and destroyed himself.

Q: The building represented everything which oppressed him?
A: Yes, that expresses it.

Q: Is that why people are shown as very small and the building huge in some scenes? They are individuals very vulnerable to and unable to control outside influences which dominate them, of which the Kinkakuji stands as a symbol.
A: Yes, that's right. One further thing, I wish to stress is that Goichi was handicapped. He stutters and cannot express himself well and in a sense he closes himself off from society. He has a sense of inferiority in relation to that magnificent building and he suffers from his isolation. I myself did not think the Golden Pavilion so great or beautiful a structure. I may be wrong but my point here is that the presence of this great structure does not secure the well-being of human beings around it, or make them happy.

Q: Are you also thereby criticizing the feudal values associated with the Kinkakuji?
A: Somewhat.

Q: Indirectly?
A: Yes, not overtly. It is implicit.

Q: Then the temple itself would be a symbol of the feudal system?
A: Yes it is.

Q: Has there been any influence in your work, or in Japanese film over all, of the impact of the women's liberation movement internationally and in Japan?
A: I believe so. The consciousness of women is surfacing and it affects us all.

Q: There is of course a strong femininism in the work of Mizoguchi, Hani, perhaps Kurosawa too?
A: Mizoguchi and Hani, yes, but Kurosawa hasn't been so influenced.

Q: Why in the recent Japanese film has the conflict between the "civilized" and the "primitive" been a prevalent theme?
A: What do you mean by "primitive"?

Q: The "primitive consists of people and society before industrial technology unnaffected by capitalism or competition, a society living by ancient paterns. I am thinking of Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes and Imamura's Insect Woman.
A: The question is very abstract, and I'm not sure I agree. In Japanese films the primary conflict between two antagonistic forces is the large theme. I am saying as well that Japan as a whole is a very poor society, and economically poor society.

Q: What did you mean when you said that your films were influenced in an important way, by Walt Disney?
A: At the time I was still painting and trying to be an artist I saw "Mickey Mouse" [probably Steamboat Willie]. It made the connection for me between picture drawing and filmmaking. I was very impressed by Disney's skills and methods. No doubt there were many who drew the pictures for him, but he organized the whole thing. Later came Fantasia and Bambi and so on. I entered the staff of a small cartoon-making film company around that time. The early works of Disney influenced me greatly.

Q: Do you consider the Disney films an example of abstract art?
A: Not really; it's a little different from abstract art. The early Disney films were done authentically. Not in the same language as regular films. He had created his work in such a way that he could translate his material into the terms of the general public. Everyone understands him. I mean this favourably. Disney's innovations, his methods of revolutionizing filmmaking deserves a Nobel Prize if we had such a prize for film.

Q: In his later films he turned to praising the American system and existing values, completely ignoring the suffering and despair in our society.
A: Yes, I understand that. He became very conservative. Especially in the eyes of younger people, he must have seemed very, very conservative. But you should not forget the fact that he, at one point of his career, provided dreams and hopes for children all over the world. He still should be remembered for his great contribution to the film industry.

Q: He was, of course, enormously popular when I was a child. But the dreams he offered were ones that could never be fulfilled.
A: Yes, probably so. The times have changed. Today young people probably don't go for him anymore. However, in those days we received much from him.

Q: We can't deny him either because his world remains with us, in our minds. He is part of our childhood. Can you tell me something of your future plans?
A: After Novemeber, our production company and the Art Theatre Guild will start Matatabi (The Wanderers). It is about a tragedy of a very young outlaw. Then I will go to Munich and film the Olympic Games [Visions of Eight]. The movie itself will be made in the United States, but eight directors all over the world were selected to shoot the formal version of the Olympic Games.

Q: Who are the others?
A: Arthur Penn from the United States, Claude Lelouch from France, John Schleisinger from England, Franco Zeffirelli from Italy, and others. Each director can choose the event he wants to film. I choose the 100-metre dash.

(Kon Ichikawa)

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