quarta-feira, 28 de abril de 2010

Shohei Imamura Interview

By Richard Philips
Translated by Emiko Yamaguchi

Q: Could you explain your initial influences as a filmmaker, and why you decided to explore the lives of the most oppressed layers of society?
Shohei Imamura: Let me answer the first part of your question. I should tell you that I have very deep respect for Akira Kurosawa. This is someone that I idolised. At first I thought that he was a bit too rough but then learnt more about how he worked. For example, he used Toshiro Mifune in most of his films. I once visited Toho Studios and I saw Mifune and formed the opinion that he was not a good actor. He was really dreadful and had a dialect, a heavy accent in Japanese, and didn't seem to know the first thing about acting. But under the direction of Kurosawa he became a great performer. I was deeply impressed with how Kurosawa was able to mould Mifune from a ham into a really excellent actor.

Q: And the second part of my question?
SI: You are not the first one to ask me this question. Many people, not only in Japan, but also overseas have asked this. I'm not sure why you ask and I don't want you to look at my characters and say they are all oppressed or that they are the bottom of society. I don't agree with the way these people have been treated.
Many years ago, I was friendly with a well-known scriptwriter, who used to work with Yasujiro Ozu, and was staying with him at his holiday house. I was working on one of my scripts—it was a serious work—and he stood up from the fireplace, which was in the centre of the room, and came over and began reading the script over my shoulder. I thought this was a rather horrible and nasty thing to do, but then he said, “Oh you are still writing about beggars and all those dropouts from the mainstream of society.”
I didn't like this comment and it really started to get on my nerves because I didn't think this was the correct way to characterise these people, the ones you call oppressed. Even though some of the things these people say might sound ridiculous, their lives and the experiences they pass through are true-life issues and their comments are from the heart. They are human beings and even though they might be at the bottom of society, what they say is true. And if you are not moved by what they say and do in my films, then it is really my fault, not theirs, because it means that my films haven't accurately reflected their true feelings.
When I was younger I was angered about the comments of the big-guy filmmakers. I tried to rebel, but they just laughed at me. Unfortunately I couldn't really argue because they didn't treat me as an equal and so their statements hurt me very much.
After the comments from this leading scriptwriter I lay in bed that night and wondered how could I possibly argue against these big people. Then I decided, all right, if they don't like my ideas and treat them this way then I will only write about oppressed people all my life. I didn't say this openly, but kept it in my mind. I didn't have the confidence or the position to argue against them but this is what I decided to do.

Q: Could you comment on Japanese cinema and the present environment for filmmakers, compared to when you began making films?
SI: The way contemporary filmmakers approach their work can change rapidly, but if you ask me whether contemporary filmmakers are really looking straight into the social and political environment then I have to say it is quite dubious. There are many question marks about where contemporary films are heading and there are few films made today which indicate that the directors have a strong grip on the situation facing ordinary people. They don't seem to be able to look squarely at the real situation.

(Kuroi Ame, 1989)

Q: Most of your films deal with the poverty and social problems of immediate post-war Japan. Are any contemporary filmmakers dealing with the social issues produced by unemployment, the ongoing economic recession in Japan today?
SI: No, there are very few filmmakers examining these issues. A director could explore some of these themes for a long time and then, after it has accumulated for a long time in his mind, one day it will explode to the surface as a work. Unfortunately there are not many filmmakers looking at these questions.

Q: Your film Black Rain, which is being screened in Sydney next weekend, explores the inner torment of the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The film is very powerful and concludes with a strong anti-war statement from one of the characters. Could you comment?
SI: Black Rain refers to the radiation that fell on people after the atomic bombing. Most of those covered with this rain suffered terrible health problems and many died. My film is based on the well-known novel by Masuji Ibuse, which tells about the problems facing a young woman who was covered with black rain and therefore has great difficulty finding a prospective husband.
The novel is long and we could not put everything in the film, so I had to be selective. I met and talked in depth with many bomb survivors and was able to get a first-hand understanding of the cruelty and horror of the bomb. Some of the victims were badly disfigured and it was difficult to look into their eyes. It was very hard to produce a script that fully conveyed the terrible horror of this event.

Q: What was the response to the film when you first screened it.
SI: It was shown to foreign press correspondents in Japan after it was first released and we asked for their comments. Some journalists declared that because the Japanese started the Pacific War they shouldn't be complaining about the consequences. These severe comments came from the journalists from neighbouring countries such as Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea.
I tried to counter these statements by explaining that even if the war was started by Japan we want people to recognise the consequences of atomic weapons and war. I am afraid my argument was not philosophical enough for the journalists and they didn't seem to agree.
In America, and many other countries, the general opinion was that the bombing was the right thing to do. Although thousands of people were killed in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, many still argue that it was justified. Irrespective of these views we have an obligation to pass on the facts of this terrible event and make use of this film in every way possible to show the consequences of war.

Q: What role can cinema play in changing social life?
SI: It is a lot easier to be obedient and stay with the establishment, but this is not my way of life. I always try to change society completely with my films. Of course, filmmaking is not like catch. You can throw the ball but there is no guarantee that it will be caught.

(Kuroi Ame, 1989)

Q: What is the most important quality that young filmmakers must develop today?
SI: I am quite old now and have had many experiences that allow me to answer this question. I have been writing film scenarios for many years but sometimes feel that things I have said have been exaggerated, or not reported accurately. So whenever I am writing a script I am very aware that my films must be true.
This situation also confronts young scenario writers. They might get a good idea, become deeply involved in it and get so carried away with this idea that they end up telling lies. I think the most important thing is that their art must be true.
Another crucial quality for young filmmakers is courage. They must have courage to cut off any part of their film that is not true or accurate.
Let me give you an example. Near the end of Black Rain, the young girl is becoming ill from the fever caused by the radiation and starts to hallucinate. Everyone begins to realise that her days are numbered. Her uncle takes her to a pond where he had put some small carp fish months earlier. There are pampas grasses alongside the pond and it is quite a cold day. Suddenly a large carp jumps out of the pond and they are both very excited. The fish is about a metre long and she starts hitting the pampas grasses with her shawl in excitement and the pollen starts floating in the air, almost like snow.
This is an extremely beautiful and emotional scene but if it were extended it would become a lie. The impact of this scene on the audience is strong because it conveys the loneliness and sorrow of the young girl and the suffering of her uncle. It moves the viewers and demonstrates how sad and difficult it is to be a radiation victim.
Toru Takemitsu, a well-known Japanese composer who did the music for the movie, asked me to extend this scene because it is very good emotionally. But it has always been my policy not to get carried away by emotions and I was surprised that this brilliant composer wanted me to extend the scene.
So there was always a conflict between my policy of not being too emotional and being true to the fact, without being cold and not reaching the audience. This is a good example of how you must resist the pressures of others and hold to your own values. I have always insisted that I would never tell lies in my movies, to only tell the truth. This is a big principle for me.
In recent years, however, I have begun to explore fantasies. At the moment I am working on a new script about a woman passing through menopause who has fantasies and shoplifts. In this script I have to create her fantasies, so the difficulty is in creating truthful fantasies, or moments that are not exactly true in life. This is an interesting contradiction.

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