segunda-feira, 5 de abril de 2010

Conversations with Shinoda Masahiro and Iwashita Shima

Conducted by: Harry Kresiler
Translated by: Beth Cary

Q: Welcome to Berkeley. Mr. Shinoda, as a child did you go to the movies?
Shinoda: The most memorable film that I saw as a child was in 1936, the Berlin Olympiad. Shinoda For me, living in a small countryside village in Gifu Prefecture, it was the first time I saw Europe, I saw the world in this film. The next major shock I received was when I was twelve years old. I had entered middle school and I saw for the first time Kurosawa's film, Sanshiro Sugata. Until then I had just been immersed in literature but it shifted my attention to films.

Q:Ms. Iwashita, did you go to movies as a child?
Iwashita: My parents were actors in the Shingeki Theatre and my uncle was an actor in one of those modern Kabuki troops, the Zenshinza. So I was born in that milieu and I watched a lot of stage productions but didn't watch a lot of films as I was growing up.

Q:Mr. Shinoda, what historical events most influenced your view of the world as you matured?
S: I was born in 1931, the year Japan invaded China; and I entered elementary school when the war against China became a major factor; and when I entered middle school our country went to war with your country. So I was raised on news and documentaries about the war. So films that showed the war as news and films about the war influenced me greatly.

Q:Ms. Iwashita, in your formative years what historical events shaped your consciousness?
I: I was four years old when the war ended. Usually we don't have much memory of our own from ages of two to three. But since the war was such a major experience and event I have memories of being two years old and air raid sirens going off; the horrendous loud sounds of the B-29s. And when that would happen, we would, with my parents, rush into a bomb shelter to stay through the bombings. That is a very vivid memory from a very young age.

Q:I had the good fortune this past week to see on video your movie MacArthur's Children. Mr. Shinoda, do the experiences of the children touch on some of your own memories?
S: Yes, to a certain extent they did, but I was already fourteen when Japan lost the war, so it was a very tragic event for me that the U.S. forces occupied Japan. The scenario for that film was written by a poet who was six years younger than I am and for people in that age group, seeing the American occupying forces -- jeeps, tasting delicious Hershey's chocolate bars melting in their mouths -- that was all indications that there would be a wonderful bright future ahead for them. But I was thinking at that time that we were going to face some dark times in the future. So there is a mixture of that kind of optimism as well as despair and sadness that were the reactions to the end of the war.

Q:What is distinctive about movies as an art form, Ms. Iwashita?
I: I consider it as an art form that requires the unity among all the people participating. You need, of course, the director, the art people, the music, the lights, the camera, and actors as well. If any one of these people is not doing their job then we cannot have a good film. Of course, the one at the pinnacle is the film director.

Q:As a director, Mr. Shinoda, you have chosen to work very often with historical materials. Again and again you seem to deal with an epoch in decline and the conflicts and difficulties encountered by the main character as he deals with that epoch. Did your youth and the period of your youth lead to this fascination with this particular kind of epoch?
S: I think that the shock I received when my elder sister died when I was ten years old was the first personal knowledge I had that people die. And since the conditions were very bad in wartime I lost two other older sisters in the wartime and right after the war to tuberculosis as well. This really brought home to me the ephemeral nature of life, the vanity of life, the lack of meaning that might be seen in life.
Those were very close to me, personal events that happened in my own life. But during the war I lived in the spirit that I would die for the emperor because the emperor was a god. When after the war, when it was announced the emperor was no longer a god, he was just a human being, it was a great shock to me and I felt that all the gods who had lived in Japan had all become mortal rather than being gods. Of course, this threw me into great despair. But then it led me to have a curiosity about dealing with this type of theme afterwards -- that perhaps people become gods, gods may crash down and become people. So that kind of fluidity is something that became of interest to me as a fifteen-year-old boy.
There is a famous photograph of General MacArthur standing with the emperor and that made it absolutely clear that the emperor was no longer a god, and also it was obvious that that was conscious effort on the part of the Occupation to make that statement. And that was one of the reasons that the English title for the film was called MacArthur's Children. They were no longer the emperor's children.

Q:What came to me was that rather than the victors, it was the vanquished, the Japanese who had lost the war, who would be able to see more clearly the truth in things.
S: I think that is one of the main reasons that the main characters in my films are those who are on the losing side, or the vanquished side.

Q:Do you believe cinema plays a role in the moral education of the audience?
S: I think it has a great role in that regard, but I don't think it is something that will last very long. But I think people can learn about the various types of evil from what happens in films and that is a very strong impression that the audience receives from viewing films.

(Hanare Goze Orin, 1977)

Q:Ms. Iwashita, you have played extraordinary roles in your career. I am curious, do you draw on your own experience and personality, or does your understanding of the character shape your performance, or is it both? I: There are some instances where I can use my experience but many cases I have to play roles that I have no experience having lived through. For example, if I am to play in the role of a lawyer I will talk to lawyers, visit law firms, and go to court, watch trials so that I can get the sense of what being a lawyer is from that external situation. Then I can internalize it and use it in the role. But it is not that often that I can actually use my own experience for the roles.

Q:In your husband's films in which you appear, how does your relationship with him as husband and wife affect what you become in the film?
I: I think I have an advantage because I know what my husband is trying to create in a film from the preparation stage. I don't have to ask him anything once it is in production, so that is a great advantage. But in another way, it is a disadvantage that I know in terms of his private life whether he has a cold, whether he is not feeling well, whether he has a stomach ache. Sometimes I worry about those physical conditions of my husband on the set and that might reflect into my acting.

Q: In anticipation of your visit to Berkeley, I saw Double Suicide twice, and your dual performance of Koharu and Osan in that movie was extraordinary. You were able to convey the bond between the two women even though they were fighting over the same man. What were the challenges of doing that dual role?
I: Koharu was a prostitute, and in that time the people wore very white make up, had very glamorous kimono, and I used a very high voice for her. With Osan, I contrasted that with the traditional blackening of the teeth for married women and shaving of the eyebrows and having a lower speaking tone in my voice. Koharu spoke much faster and Osan slower. But the director had told me that in the last scene that he wanted to give the impression it might have been the double suicide of the same woman. So that the two of them might have been the same woman. So toward the end, I tried to keep that in mind in thinking that Koharu's suicide might have been Osan's suicide as well. I tried to get that impression across.

Q:Mr. Shinoda, you were a student of theatre in college and your knowledge and understanding of theatre very much influenced Double Suicide. Alfred Hitchcock said, "Movies are not pictures of people talking." You use the theatrical setting to comment on the action of the characters and thereby add another layer to the camera's power. Is that correct? Would you comment?
S: In terms of learning from theatre in Japan, also, we have learned most from Shakespeare -- the power of the word that Shakespeare imparted, and also that words create character.
Japanese traditional theatre of course has dialogue, beautiful dialogue, but it is all set in a musical tone of speaking. The words are very rhythmical and musical in traditional Japanese theatre, so that it is not something that imparts thought or ideas or even ideology. It doesn't have that kind of role and at times in the past I had quite a lot of antipathy toward that way of thinking. It is very hard to see the structure, how a Japanese theatre piece is constructed. In Double Suicide I wanted to bring out the black-dressed Kuroko to show how this piece of theatre is constructed, to expose that. So my great worry was that the Japanese theatre, with this musicality in its dialogue and its presentation, appealed to the emotions but it wasn't able to convey human philosophy or ideology.
The writer of the Double Suicide was Monzaemon Chikamatsu, who was from a Samurai family. He wrote very, very definite and strict types of dialogue and he had a very good observation of different classes of Japanese society. I was impressed by that. I was very moved by the comment that he made (as long ago as the early seventeenth century) that the theater cannot be just showing reality. It must show some reality but it also must include fiction in order to be able to reach the audience. Truth lies in the very thin layer, a layer like skin, that lies between fiction and reality.
Now, I would like to express my opinion about Hitchcock's films.

S: Watching Psycho, the fact that fiction is presented in such a very realistic way made me see from the screen that walking that tightrope between fiction and reality is very, very moving.

Q: How does film empower you to navigate in this gray area between reality and fiction to reveal the truth?
S: I always think of King Kong. The kind of monsters that people can create are worse than one can imagine. But in another way, King Kong is the ghost of the fear of the modern that people have, this unseen fear of the modern. In one respect, it is a fantastic spectacle but it is also allegorical. That is what I think about -- to show what kinds of fears and problems people have without showing King Kong in a film. I think that is what is very difficult in terms of getting the fiction and reality, it is that kind of approach that I think about.

(Ansatsu, 1964)

Q: The audience watches these efforts. What happens to them? They are entertained, they are educated. What else?
I: It's hard to think how I would answer what kind of influence I myself have received from watching films. But I think we have lived many lives and see many kinds of lives inside movie theatres. It's a kind of virtual reality. We see a lot of murders, car chases, violence in movies, but does that make us murderers, violent people? Not at all. I think it is a kind of virtual reality that people can play in. And maybe it is because people realize that their lives are really not real, and that they can also be watched by a viewer.

Q: Ms. Iwashita, do you agree? If so, what is the responsibility of the actress?
I: I think that when I play roles I become a completely different person for that time. But of course it is a virtual, an unreal person. Playing those roles gives me great pleasure and enjoyment. I think what happens with the audience is that they themselves identify maybe with one of the characters -- it might be any character in a movie -- and for a time they can enjoy being somebody else and enjoy another life for awhile. It gives them that opportunity.

S: I would like to add something else too. In actual life, of course, we live and have experiences, have certain emotions. But I think movies have shown depths of emotions and kinds of emotion that we might not normally come across in our own lives. So we are emotionally educated by seeing films. And some of our emotions might be much more heightened than they are in real life. I wonder sometimes and I worry that I might have become a person that is capable of a murder, for example, because of that deep emotion that we are able to feel through movies.
One of the people who has educated us most in that regard is Orson Welles -- Harry Lime in The Third Man, and Citizen Kane -- of course, that is based on a San Francisco newspaper owner. That kind of great darkness that human beings are capable of is the kind of thing we probably would not come across in our own lives, but can feel in the movies.

Q: So the darkness that one might find in some of your movies is there, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are as pessimistic as you are accused of being?
S: It is much more fun to look at evil than to look at good!
I think I continue making films because it is a way that I can investigate evil. In reality, of course, it's the minimum obligation as citizens that we have to try to live and lead a good and decent life. But in terms of actually looking into what is the maximum capability of people in various different ways, looking at the evil parts, the dark parts of people, is very interesting. So rather than investigating why we should have peace or the ways we can have peace, it is much more interesting to me to investigate why we have war.
This is my personal thought But also perhaps most Japanese feel this way, that when they experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think it made us all think about what it was that we experienced. Maybe Americans find it hard to believe, but I think that Japanese people mostly think that it was not the Americans who dropped the bomb. I think the general way most of the people in Japan think about it is as something that occurred from inside human beings in general. And that is also the way I look at it too.
There is no causal relation in terms of Hiroshima and Nagasaki like the Germans have, that Nazism and the Jewish population lead to Auschwitz. That sort of causality does not exist for us. It was technological development during wartime that ultimately lead to the development of the atomic bomb and the dropping of the atomic bomb. And it is the sin of human beings that is this result. This kind of strength can be used in good ways, too, but of course it can also flip over into being an evil use, so that evil gives us a great motive for doing things. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy has said something quite wonderful: "All happy families are the same but all unhappy families are each different in their own way." So unhappiness gives us a very fertile, rich ground for emotions and educating emotions.

Q: One final question to both of you. What would you advise students about preparing for a career in the movies as an actress and as a director? How should they prepare and what is the responsibility of the role?
I: It's very hard to answer, but I would say perhaps luck, fate, destiny, karma. No matter how well one might be able to sing or dance or how beautiful one is, I think something else comes into play. I am a person who didn't want to become an actress at all. But the fact that I ended up being an actress indicates to me that there is something of destiny involved. So I don't think it is something that you can study to become.

S: When I became a director -- this is in the 1950s and the 1960s -- there was a certain course that one could follow. When I started out in the film business, directors like Yasujiro Ozu and Keisuke Kinoshita were directors. Fellow assistant directors were Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima and others. So we took examinations, passed the exams and entered the studio and became assistant directors and were trained to make movies. And some of us became directors as a result of that. But it's very difficult for me to answer how one becomes a director nowadays. In those days when I started out, there was a lot of cash and a system that could handle the development of talent and training. So I must be one of the last of the old generation that had this old kind of studio training. Now the newer directors like Takeshi Kitano and Juzo Itami are former actors and Toshiyuki Suo [sic; should be Masayuki Suo] started off as an assistant directing soft-porn movies. So the ones becoming directors now are not necessarily receiving this elite education on how to become directors under the studio system. So one thing I can say is either to look at films very carefully, watch a lot of films, or don't see any films at all. [In English:] Just imagine!

Thank you very much. It was a great honor to have you both participate in this interview. (original interview here)

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