By Peter Grilli (1993)
Q: Often, film music is used to support the flow of the story. But sometimes, the music is actually intended to collide with the story. Is music used in this manner effective as well?
A: Generally, the way I use music... once the filming and the editing are finished, you finally show the images to the composer. Of course, he might visit the set during filming or watch dailies during production as well. But when the film is visually complete - we call this a rough cut - you finally show it to the composer. Then the confrontation with the composer, the battle between the director and the composer begin, you see. At this stage there is no music, only sounds; reality-based sounds are the only sounds - no dialogue as yet. As Takemitsu and I sit there watching these images, he really feels, responds to the images. This is the stage where Takemitsu begins to ponder the theme for work, where to place the music, what kinds of sound/ music will be most effective, or wether - if music is used - it will destroy an ineffable sense of reality inherent in the images; these are the elements that Takemitsu astutely grasps. He has this ability to deeply comprehend - enter into, really - the director's visual images. He is just an amazing person.
Q: In the case of Kwaidan, especially in the "Kurokami" section (i.e., "The Black Hair"), the use of music seems surreal, hyper-real. At least that was my experience. What were your intentions?
A: That's quite accurate. Yes, because the direction itself is aiming for that sort of effect. So, on screening the rough cut, Takemitsu immediately judged that this approach was preferable to relying on and echoing the "real" sounds. He explained to me that the sound required by that scene was the pachi sound, of wood being cut. They recorded that actual sound, electronically altering it for the final mix. For instance, in "Kurokami", when the homesick protagonist returns to the capitol and walks down that long, dilapidated hallway toward the room where his wife is, the floor gives way. The sound used at that moment is the real pipipih sound of a piece of wood being torn.
But Takemitsu doesn't place the sound simultaneous to the images. He leaves a beat, one mu (1), and then introduces the music. So instead of placing the music where the audience is expecting it, he shifts the timing just a little. The effect is terribly palpable. As the story unfolds he'll heighten the effect, or conversely, subtly insinuate the music; in any event, his placement of the music is based on very astute judgements.
Q: What is the effect of not placing sound simultaneous to the action?
A: I'm not exactly sure what the effect is, but by staggering the music, the audience is certainly caught off-guard. Takemitsu frequently does that sort of thing. In Tokyo Trials, for instance after the atomic bomb scene, when the armed forces of the various nations are marching in the plazas of the respective countries, he uses music as well, but the timing is always slightly shifted. He doesn't place the music in exact parallel to the images on-screen; rather, he plays a little with the visuals. He creates a certain mu and then engages the music.
Q: Doesn't this have the effect of stimulating the audience?
A: Yes. But instead of moving the audience in the way it expects to be, when he skips that beat, the effect is indirect, unanticipated; quite different from what might have been expected.
Q: This effect is particularly strong in your films, but don't you think that Takemitsu's music is generally very effective this way?
A: Yes. But in any event, Takemitsu is not a predictable straightforward person. He is someone who is always exploring, calculating how to increase the effect.
Q: In the hands of a lesser composer, it might seem gimmicky. But Takemitsu's resourcefulness is quite remarkable, don't you think?
A: Well, you have the director's vision, the stream of imagens. Takemitsu bases his judgments on his unique perception of these images.
(Kuroi Kawa, 1957)
Q: There's a story about how Takemitsu, on location during the filming of your movie Harakiri, noticed the actor Rentaro Mikuni unconsciously snapping his fan open and shut, and suggested that that distinct sound should be incorporated into the soundtrack.
A: Oh, that story. Well, Takemitsu utilises all kinds of reality-based sounds. He really values reality-based sounds including the snapping sounds of a fan. That's why, when I think of Takemitsu, the film composer, I don't think of him as a composer who writes music that is then added to a film. He is involved with the overall acoustics of the film; he listens every footstep, every snapp of the fan, making decisions about the quality of all the sounds in a film. For instance, when he worked on Samurai Rebellion, Mifune's lines were always difficult to hear because his voice tended to crack. This was often a problem in his pictures with Kurosawa. But Takemitsu went into Mifune's dialogue and removed all those impurities, without compromising the tone of his lines. His judgment of the various qualities of sounds - beautiful sounds, pretty sounds, good sounds, versus bad or distracting sounds - is extremely astute. So my understanding of Takemitsu's contribution to a film is as overall acoustic supervisor, including the reality-based sounds. He approaches a film with the attitude that this is his responsability. A truly unusual man. He stays on a film until the very end of the very last dubbing session.
In the case of Tokyo Trials, there were only nine minutes of music. The remaining four hours and some minutes were composed exclusively of reality-based sounds. And he took responsability for all of those sounds as well. It's really crushing work, you have to be utterly passionate.
Q: In other words, it must have taken several months of his time to do those nine munites of music, right?
A: Yes. Most documentaries are wall-to-wall music, music from beggining to end. To make a four and half hour film work without music is quite an accomplishment. Kodansha, the production company, had asked me to make a four and a half film that wouldn't put people to sleep, a real challenge, especially in the editing and in structuring the script. Creating such a lenghty documentary that can hold the audience's attention throughout is quite a feat. And this was my first attempt to make a documentary film. There are many filmmakers who specialise in documentaries. But this was my first time, as a narrative filmmaker, to make a documentary. So I had to make a documentary that was up to the standards of narrative filmmaking. This was the toughest challenge, working on Tokyo Trials. And Takemitsu was very clear about restricting the use of music; in general, only the parts that deal with the innocent victims of war - for instance, the rape of Nanking, or the devastation of Hiroshima. He composed a theme, a kind of requiem for those victims.
Q: What is the role that these very brief passages of music play in the film? Could you talk about this?
A: Well, it is the theme. So as you watch the film from the beginning, there are scenes depicting these victims of war interwoven throughout. These are the scenes where the music is powerfully introduced. The devastation of Hiroshima when the atom bomb was dropped, or the massacre at Nanking when the Chinese were ruthlessly supressed by the Japanese. These scenes recur throughout the film, and it is only during these scenes that the music is used. It is very effective. And quite a contrast to those documentaries that are entirely sodden with music, yes.
(Ningen no Joken, 1959)
Q: But what has been your theme, in terms of your ideas about history?
A: All of my pictures, from a certain point on, are concerned with resisting entrenched power. In a way, The Human Condition concerned itself with this larger theme. That's what Harakiri is about, of course, and Samurai Rebellion too. I suppose I've always challenged authority. This has been true of my own life, including my life in the military. In terms of my opposition to militarism, military organisations. In those days, everything was strictly controlled, certainly not something that we could openly discuss. Finally after the war, there came a time when we could directly adress these issues.
Q: How about before the war and during the war? For instance, could you have made a movie like Harakiri before the war?
A: It would not have been possible. Censorship was extremely strict. So someone like Keisuke Kinoshita, my mentor, made Army (Rikugun, 1944), which was an antiwar picture in its own way, a fine film. But after that, he stopped making movies altogether and retreated into the contryside somewhere.
Q: You yourself became a soldier. Were you in China?
A: Manchuria, somewhere in the outskirts of Harbin.
Q: And did you engage in actual combat?
A: I never participated in frontline combat, beacause there wasn't much fighting there. Manchuria was being policed because the Soviet Union was presumed as an enemy nation. The Kanto Army was really ferocious. The best and the brightest of the Japanese military were assembled into the infamous Kanto Army, preparing for a Soviet attack, assumed to be imminent. That's why our war games were so fierce and violent. I was positioned on the big machine guns, the big infantry machine guns, which made it all the worse.
Q: Did you have antimilitarist consciousness at that time?
A: Yes, even in my student days. My family would had always believed in personal freedom. They were very devoted to this belief, so even after the war broke out and I was drafted, I never liked the army or the military. The one subject I just couldn't seem to pass in order to graduate was military training (kyôren). I just hated it, never attending clas, always playing hooky. They weren't going to let me pass, but the class president appealed to the teacher on my behalf, and finally I was allowed to graduate; that's how much I hated kyôren. All my friends were very concerned about what would happen to someone like me when I entered the army.
Q: And what did happen?
A: Well, I found myself backed up against the kinds of circumstances that Kaji faced in The Human Condition. I realised that in order to survive, I would have to discipline my body, since otherwise I wouldn't get out alive. I worked very hard, very intensely. My body became robust, I consciously trained myself to become so strong that nothing could get the best of me.
What truly shocked me when I entered the army as an officer candidate - because anyone who had graduated from college or middle school qualified for candidacy - was that everyone else was relegated to enlisted status. The percentage was about one in a hundred; out of two or three thousand men, only one in a hundred had access to these privileges, you see. Only a few had been able to get beyond middle school. I was deeply disillusioned by the Japanese educational system. Among those soldiers condemned to spend the duration of their service as enlisted men, there were some very gifted individuals. Many of them could have distinguished themselves had they received a normal, decent education. I realised that in order to keep from being beaten by such men, I had to discipline my body myself - that otherwise I would never survive these circumstances. I changed direction dramatically.
I was in the Third Regiment of Azabu, the unit that had instigated the 26 February Incident in 1936 (2). Right after the incident, the main body of the regiment had been shipped out to Manchuria. We were sent to join this Third Azabu Regiment after only three months of basic training. When the scores from the three months' training period were announced, I had the top score, you see. And that was how I decamped near Harbin in Manchuria, three thousand men in tow. It was a stupendous transformation. The soldiers we were joining in Manchuria were the ones I mentioned before, who had completed basic training in 1936, at the time of the 26 February Incidnent, and were five and six years veterans at this point, so they were much older and more experienced. Apparently they had all heard a rumour that the ultraconservative leader of the next shipment was an assistant film director, and they were all curious to see what I would turn out to be like. That's where I was sent.
Q: So first you were sent to Manchuria. Is that where you were stationed to the very end?
A: Conditions in the south deteriorated part way through the war, and the best and brightest of the Kanto Army headed south. That was the nineteenth year of the Showa (1944), I believe. We were supposed to go to the Philippines, but by that time American submarines were everywhere, and we never made it. Consequently we headed toward Okinawa, but it was overrun by the Japanese forces and we couldn't land, so we ended up breaching at a place called Miyakojima, a little way from Okninawa. Had I landed in either Okinawa or the Philippines, or even on Leyte Island, I doubt whether I would have survived; by chance I ended up on the island of Miyakojima, and that is why I am alive today.
Q: Turning to your films, I'd like to ask you first about Harakiri. What was your purpose in making this film?
A: Ritual suicide was the essential point of the drama. When he takes the bamboo blade and pierces his stomach, that is the key element that leads to the ultimate conclusion, which is why that scene is so intense. Actually, if you try cutting open your stomach with a bamboo blade, it's impossible. In the script, it just mentions that the character stabs his stomach with a bamboo blade. But attempting to portray this in real images was an entirely different matter. It was very difficult. So the day before filming the scene, I still hadn't come up with the storyboards and I went out drinking. You know, envisioning storyboards is all about concentration and focus, about pondering a question to which you have no solution and suddenly you have a flash of vision. It's probably a similar process in music as well. Anyway, in order to stab your own stomach with a bamboo blade, you'd have to fix the blade very firmly onto the tatami, practically forcing your body down onto it in order for the blade to puncture you; that was my insight. Once I saw that, the surrounding images came easily. Of course, I had been drinking, which is why I guess I headed off in such a brutal direction. The storyboards I made when I was drunk were quite different from the ones I did when I was sober. So I asked Yoshio Miyajima, the cameraman, which ones, he thought were better, and he said "they're better when you're drunk", and that's how I ended up with such a cruel scene.
The reason I went that far in that scene was that I felt that the scene should be as brutal as possible, but the music, Takemitsu's music for that scene was so wonderful. Of course, he used a biwa. The resonant strumming of the biwa becomes the very emblem of sadness, quietly insinuating itself into the scene. Which is why the scene doesn't come across as brutal. It's thanks to Takemitsu's music. I just love that music...
Q: In that scene, I found the sadism of the Iyi family, symbolised by the character played by Mikuni, deeply underscored.
A: Is that so? Well, yes. Mikuni's character appears as a kind of symbol for feudalism, and he managed to portray that kind of coldness, or shall we say, sadism, extremely well.
Q: The same can be said about the whole film, but particularly about that scene. What was the theme or the point about feudalism that you were making? What message did you most want to communicate?
A: Well, there must be many. I'm often asked this kind of question when a film is being released, the newspapers want to have a press conference; they always ask me what my theme is. But I don't make films that way. Rather than beginning with a particular theme, the theme asserts itself as I flesh out the story in the process of making the film. That is closer to my way of making moviesm so when they ask me at a press conference: "what is the theme of the film?" I've never responded to such questions by laying out the themes.
Q: Sociologists or historians could spin out all kinds of theories, but as the director who cowrote the script - with Shinobu Hashimoto - what were your intentions in this film?
A: Well, of course we wanted to express our opposition to feudalism. That was the main point. But there was also the question of the deception of history; that an incident of such significance had taken place while remaining unrecorded in official history, as though all were calm and nothing had ever happened; that is the deceit of history. Perhaps that was the larger theme.
Q: The hypocrisy, the deception of history?
A: Yes, the lies.
Q: The lies of history. It's the same, really, whether it's a modern story or a historical one, aren't the lies the same?
A: Yes, there is that...
Q: The movie Youth of Japan is, according to some people, a modern version of Harakiri, a kind of remake.
A: In my view, Youth of Japan and Harakiri don't have much in common. If anything, there's more of a relation to The Human Condition. That is to say, a postwar version of The Human Condition - which took place in wartime. Youth of Japan is a story about a very typical family, but in terms of content, I think the two are very similar, and it's a picture I'm rather fond of. It was the first film in which Takemitsu's music had a melody. To this day, I find myself humming that melody from time to time. Sometimes when I see him, that music seems to issue effortlessly from my lips and he'll start humming the theme along with me; that's how familiar that music is. Of course the movie deals with the whole question of the generation gap. But I just love the music. Especially because being familiar with the kind of music he writes, it was so unexpected.
Q: In musical terms, it's completly different from both Kwaidan and Harakiri, right?
A: The story contained very comical elements as well as satirical elements.
Q: But by no means is it a comedy?
A: True, it's no comedy; it has a strong antiwar sentiment and also deals with the question of the Self Defence Forces, which was quite an issue then.
Q: What ultimately happens to the main character? At the end of the movie, does he just go on living as he was?
A: What happens to him as the story unfolds is that he tries to overcome certain obstacles in his life.
Q: How does the character reflect on his own existence? Does he just give up hope, going on as before?
A: In light of that final conversation with his son, I believe that ultimately, after many incidents, the father has managed to cross a certain line - albeit within the bounds of the character.
Q: Specifically, what line has he crossed?
A: In other words, the main character had just shrivelled up, grown to hate his life, hate his family, as though he'd just up and disappeared. In those days, "disappearance" [responsible adults suddenly losing interest and simply disappearing] was quite a social phenomenon. It's as though he wants to evaporate, and in reality he does just that - he vanished. So you have this man who has problems with the choices that his son is making. For instance, his son wants to join the Self Defence Forces. And there's a problem with his son's girlfriend; in fact, the man discovers that her father was his own commanding officer from his army days.
So the story begins at this crisis point. On top of that, in the midst of his son's crisis, his own former lover -a woman he had broken off with then he was drafted from school into the military - suddenly reappears. Through these incidents, he discovers a new direction to move toward, away from his old life, which had grown monotonous. But what he simply cannot tolerate is the thought that his son might marry the daughter of his former superior and join the Self Defence Forces. He feels compelled to prevent these developments. So, while he is trying to solve these problems in his own way, his son and his family are also evolving. In the film, by undergoing all of these experiences, he was discovering a new way to live. I think that's how the film ends. So that's the line that he crosses over.
(Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu, 1967)
Q: Having overcome them, he doesn't disappear. Instead, he reverts, or gives up, going back to his old life...
A: I don't think that he is giving up. Overcoming is not the same as giving up. He has solved the problems in his own way; he is no longer his old self. Even the question of the Self Defence Forces; in the last scene, as the son and his girlfriend walk along the riverbank, she says, "Whatever you do, don't take the Self Defence Forces exam".
Q: Is there a sense in which that character is Japan, that he represents or symbolises the Japanese people?
A: Well, I don't know that he's exactly a symbol of the postwar japanese people, but he is one expression of a common man who shoulders history, a heavy, dark history, so he is representative. So a man like that character, who lived through the prewar period in relation to this son, who was educated after the war, there's bound to be a deep gulf between them. There's the kind of father who wants to say, "When we were in the army, this is what we did". But the son couldn't care less. This is the juncture where communication between father and son breaks down, where the generation gap naturally emerges.
Q: This is a rather large subject, but in your opinion, has the postwar Japanese mentality changed significantly from the prewar Japanese mentality or spirit?
A: Well, yes, I believe that there were enormous changes after the war. But as for me, I don't think I've changed very much. I had a postwar mentality even before the war, you see. I was raised in a freedom-loving, shall we say, human family. If anything, I was extremely critical of everything in the period before the war, including the military. So in the postwar era, when I came home, one year after the end of the war, Japan had become extremely democratic (3). At the same time, the union movement was becoming terribly active. Everyone was moving in that direction. Everyone was racing off in the direction of a democratic kind of humanistic freedom and union activity. When I came home, it was not the sort of atmosphere conducive to make movies. Everyone was interested in democracy and unions. To me, the conformism seemed just the same as before the war, only then, everyone had jumped on the militarist band wagon, you see. And so I thought, the Japanese haven't changed one bit, because I had had an antiwar consciousness before the war. So for me, it wasn't as though my consciousness changed after the war. It just wasn't the right atmosphere for making movies. Kinoshita, who was obsessed only with filmmaking found unions extremely bothersome because they were forever obstructing his filmmaking. "Let's go to a film studio in Kyoto", he said. "There are fewer union problems there, so let's film in Kyoto for a while." That's how I worked on two or three movies in Kyoto with Kinoshita, following him as his assistant director. It felt as though we had been liberated from the unions.
Q: So as you were just saying, prior to the war, everyone raced off in a militaristic direction. Once the war was over, they headed off in the other democratic direction.
A: One hundred and eighty degrees. I don't mean that the change of consciousness was necessarily wrong, it's just in the way it happened.
Q: So the problem lies in everyone rushing off in the same direction?
A: That's precisely the problem. You have to observe your circumstances objectively; everyone was obsessed with unions then.
Q: Of course it's impossible to give a simple definition, but could you comment on the Japanese identity? What defines a Japanese person?
A: Well, I tend to be rather pessimistic. It seems to me that people are watching to see which way the wind will blow. Something happens and off they go in one direction, something else sets them off in other direction; this kind of shall we say, national persona, I observed as identical before and after the war.
Q: So are you worried about the road that lies ahead for Japan in the future?
A: That's really outside out focus, not for us to discuss because I would hate to say anything presumptuous. Looking back at the world that time of the creation of the atomic bomb, during that time my whole outlook on the world became extremely pessimistic; to think that these things have been accepted and perpetuated as the norm, as though nothing were amiss.
Q: Western scholars of Japan often emphasise how greatly Japan has been Westernized due to the war and postwar history. Americans tend to boast about how Americanised Japan has become. What is your opinion? Was Japan fundamentally changed by the war and postwar history?
A: Well, certainly things have changed. Walking down the street, most of the signs are in English. You almost never see signs in Japanese - at least most of the ones that catch your eye are American, or European. In that sense, it's become extremely Americanised; the language itself has been greatly influence by English. Even our everyday spoken Japanese. Observing this, it seems natural that certain people would want to treasure traditional Japan and its culture. I find it very unpleasant to see how Americanised Japan is becoming. We really need to exercise better judgment in incorporating American culture. You can't help but notice all the superficial ways that Japan has become Americanised. There's no attempt to really understand America and incorporate its genuinely good aspects.
There was a time when we all considered America to be a great country. That was during my student days. We were seeing all these fantastic American movies then. In our youth, the only access we had to the world was through the cinema; a kind of golden age of film. You had Frank Capra, John Ford, and many other brilliant filmmakers. I was deeply influenced by the movies those directors made. And their movies all portrayed the American common man - what was best about the middle class. We were deeply drawn to American movies, marvelling at the existence of such a bright world, free of restrictions. But movies the world over were great during those years. Yes, we were deeply stimulated by such movies in our youth.
Q: And at that time, when you watched the movies of Frank Capra or John Ford, did you think that the America you saw in the movies was the real America?
A: Yes, that's how I experienced it. Of course, in the case of John Ford, you have pictures like The Grapes of Wrath (1940), socially oriented pictures. There was real depth in the movies made then.
Q: What if, similarly, an American unfamiliar with Japanese things, were to watch Harakiri or Youth of Japan. Would you want them to accept those films as portraits of the real Japan?
A: Yes, I believe that both movies are totally appropriate to gain a historical perspective, or even to understand contemporary, postwar Japan. But watching those movies, you need to be very conscious of the director's intentions, otherwise there's the possibility of great misunderstanding. Viewers might walk away thinking "what a barbaric country." I maintain that that scene of ritual suicide is critical in conveying the breadth of the protagonist's humanism.
When we screened Harakiri at Cannes, everyone started whistling, booing during the bamboo blade scene, when he stabs his stomach with the bamboo sword. They quieted down eventually, as the film unfolds - the scenes of Mikuni and Nakadai confronting each other and then the flashbacks to the past - these elements come slowly into play, and one witnesses the blossoming of Nakadai's humanism, of his humanity. Simultaneously this very human atmosphere permeated the viewing audience and, instead, the audience burst into applause. So I believe that they understood the picture quite accurately.
At these international film festivals, there is always a press conferenc after the screening. The big issue, of course, was the scene of him stabbing his stomach with the bamboo sword - which the European reporters all considered excessively brutal. I explained to them just what I explained to you here, and then, the journalists started arguing with each other. They ultimately concluded that the director was right, but what I found so exciting was that the discussion itself was so direct and frank.
(Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu, 1967)
Q: How did the audience at Cannes respond to the last scenes of Harakiri, to the scenes of swordplay?
A: We used real swords (homni) during all those swordplay scenes. We didn't let the actors use bamboo blades, they used real blades. You are familiar with homni, right?
A: When you sling a real sword from your hips, it's heavy, you see, so when you walk, inevitably, you walk with your hips rather than your legs. So, the distinctive style of the bushi (warrior) naturally emerges. Working with a real blade, the actor can also appreciate what a terrible business it is to fell another human being. What's more, it becomes immediately apparent that it's impossible to handle a real sword gracefully, the way they do in chanbara (choreographe swordplay films). There was always the risk of real danger during the filming. The swordplay choreographer we hired was not a film professional. Instead, we hired a Japanese kendo champion; he instructed the actors in the ways of kenjutsu (the use of long, heavy, cumbersome bamboo practice swords to instill the basics of swordplay). The resulting swordplay was not the beautiful, flowing kind of swordplay you see in movies. Instead, it was awkward and intensely realistic.
Q: The swordplay was really fantastic, but ultimately the hero is not felled by a sword. He's killed by a Western gun, a rifle, right? What is the significance of that?
A: He had to be summarily disposed of, in order to uphold the honour of the Iyi family, but there was also the clan's own animal terror in the face of this man's tremendous strenght. The most important element in that scene, however, is the suit of armor. The moment he grabs the armour and throws it at them, the guns go off and shoot him down. When that suit of armour collapses, it symbolises the last gasp of resistance against authority. At the very end of the film, the armour has been fully restored, back in place, no smoke or any other distractions. So the film ends with the armour restored and the clan's diary entry indicating that nothing of interest had taken place that day.
Q: The lies you mentioned earlier...
A: Yes, the deceptions of history...
Q: You know watching Harakiri today, in 1993, I still experience it as totally new... I think that it is still very relevant to the times that we live in, particularly in terms of the lies of history...
A: It depends on who's watching; some people may experience it that way. You know, I hate to sound self-aggrandising, but watching my films today, they don't feel dated. What this means is that I really spent time on the editing, but also spent a lot of time working on the whole sound of the film, including the music. So when I finished a film, it was really complete. Normally, others might spend about three days on the final edit. But I'd spend two weeks, even more in the case of Kwaidan. The fact that I was able to fully complete my films, with no regrets, is a significant factor in why, watching them today, they don't feel dated, they remain relevant. You know, I kind of like watching my own films.
Q: They always feel new.
A: I don't know that they're new, exactly, but they certainly never feel dated. Yes. Having considered the question - why my films don't feel dated - this is the conclusion I have settled on.
(Harakiri, 1962)Q: Among the many reasons, is Takemitsu's music perhaps one of them?
A: Yes, of course, that is an important element as well. When I make a film, I treat my crew, the technicians, very, very seriously. Editors, sound recordists, composers, cameramen, all of them, including the actors. All of us work, together, to create a film. This has always been my operating system; when you can utilise the full strenghts of each technician in every department - and music is obviously one of those departments - this can culminate in a truly collective effort. In any event, this is the way that I have approached filmmaking.
Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that in my earlier years I was nurtured at the Shochiku Film Studio, which operated under the director system. Under this system the crew, the technicians were not accorded much respect. The Human Condition was the first film I made outside Shochiku. Among the many eople assembled to work on that film, most of them were leftists. The cameraman was Yoshio Miyajima, the best cameraman in Japan. I felt that as long as I was working outside the studio, I might as well work with the best cameraman in the country, so I invited Miyajima on board. This is how I came to understand that a film is created by the entire crew; my consciousness was transformed. Ever since then, my pictures have all been team efforts that everyone contributed to.
Q: When you say "everyone" do you mean it was always the same group?
A: Never changed.
Q: It never changed?
A: When I say everyone, I mean sound, music, editing, actors, lighting - we all worked together to make a film. At a certain stage of working on a film, you'd lock horns with the screenwriter; at another stage with the cameraman. On location, everyone is confronting the director. As you near the end of this process, the nearly completed film is finally mixed with music. I really spent a fair amount of time on the mix, so even watching the movies today, I experience nothing that is jarring; I'm really glad that I spent the time that I did.
(1) In Japanese aesthetics, the idea of mu indicates a meaningful emptiness. In Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu, Donald Richie characterises mu as follows: "The idea of mu is very much like the idea of emptiness. You know the old Chinese adage that a sheet of paper is not empty until you have made the first mark? In other words, until you have something in the mu, the space, to define it, it's undefinable. It's not there. So emptiness is not there until its antithesis is there." The kanji for mu is the single character found on the tombstone at Yasujiro Ozu's grave.
(2) Kobayashi is referring to the military coup instigated by young army officers who sought imperial fiat for unrestrained military expansionism. The 1936 coup was suppressed after several days, during which rebel troops occupied downtown Tokyo and assassinated moderate government officials. Army predominance in prewar Japanese politics dates from this incident.
(3) "One year after the war" is an oblique reference to the year Kobayashi spent as a prisoner of war in Okinawa.