Bridg­ing Cinema

In­ter­view with Yo­jiro takita, di­rec­tor of De­par­tures

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Wang Zhongyi

This April, Yo­jiro Takita, a well­known Ja­panese film di­rec­tor, made his fifth visit to China to serve on the jury of the 2016 Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

Takita shot to global fame after his film De­par­tures was re­leased in 2007. Takita had been work­ing for some time, how­ever. De­par­tures, his 43rd film, proved in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar in China and ended up win­ning the Au­di­ence Award for Best For­eign Film, Au­di­ence Award for Best For­eign Di­rec­tor, and Au­di­ence Award for Best For­eign Ac­tor at the 17th China Golden Rooster and Hun­dred Flow­ers Film Fes­ti­val in 2008. The movie amassed myr­iad other in­ter­na­tional prizes in­clud­ing the 2009 Best For­eign Lan­guage Film Os­car.

Dur­ing the 2016 Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, Takita was in­ter­viewed by Wang Zhongyi, ed­i­tor-in-chief of Peo­ple’s China un­der China In­ter­na­tional Pub­lish­ing Group. Takita re­counted his beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with China and its cinema as well as the in­flu­ence of fifth-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese di­rec­tors such as Zhang Yi­mou and Chen Kaige. Much of the im­pres­sive global suc­cess of De­par­tures was kin­dled by its wide pop­u­lar­ity in China.

“Movies have be­come a bridge link­ing Chi­nese and Ja­panese au­di­ences,” he de­clares. It should come as no sur­prise that Takita is con­sid­er­ing work­ing on a Chi­nese-lan­guage film.

Wang Zhongyi: How did you be­come a di­rec­tor? How did Chi­nese films in­flu­ence your work?

Yo­jiro Takita: I didn’t ma­jor in film – I be­came in­volved in the in­dus­try by chance when a friend in­tro­duced me to film­mak­ing in 1976 by re­cruit­ing me as crew for a project. I didn’t get a chance to di­rect my own film un­til 1986.

For­tu­nately, China ex­pe­ri­enced a cinema boom about the time I started work­ing as an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor. Many Chi­nese movies by fifth-gen­er­a­tion di­rec­tors such as Chen Kaige’s Yel­low Earth and Zhang Yi­mou’s Red Sorghum be­came pop­u­lar in Ja­pan. These movies de­picted sto­ries of or­di­nary peo­ple in hum­ble ar­eas in the coun­try, but the char­ac­ters fea­tured for­mi­da­ble vi­tal­ity. The pro­duc­tions showed no sign of mod­ern tech­niques. The re­sult was a silently trans­for­ma­tive in­flu­ence on me – very ba­sic hu­man na­ture and feel­ings along­side the dra­matic changes dur­ing the coun­try’s mod­ern­iza­tion.

Wang: What in­spired De­par­tures?

Takita: The world be­gan suf­fer­ing eco­nom­i­cally in the wake of the tragedy on Septem­ber 11, 2001. Many peo­ple started feel­ing lost and re­ex­am­in­ing their be­liefs. In such try­ing times, many peo­ple strug­gled to find peace amongst their fam­i­lies and friends, pon­dered the mean­ing of life or sim­ply felt lucky to be alive. I think that many peo­ple feel­ing these com­plex emo­tions found com­fort in De­par­tures.

Like the rest of the world, Ja­pan strug­gled with eco­nomic dilem­mas, and some vul­ner­a­ble groups were ne­glected. Uni­ver­sal sto­ries in­volv­ing nor­mal men and women still con­tinue no mat­ter how hard life gets. I even­tu­ally chose the pro­fes­sion of mor­ti­cian as the back­drop for my movie.

Wang: What about its mar­ket­ing?

Takita: The male lead pre­pares corpses for burial, a pro­fes­sion that car­ries a strong so­cial taboo in Ja­pan. Few want to spend their lives at the doorstep of death, which is ac­tu­ally all around us at ev­ery time in ev­ery place. I wor­ried about its box of­fice po­ten­tial when no com­pany had picked it up over a year after it was com­pleted.

The film’s prospects changed in 2008 when De­par­tures won awards at fes­ti­vals in Bei­jing and Mon­treal – the Ja­panese pub­lic be­came more in­ter­ested. De­spite the fact that many the­ater oper­a­tors, still lack­ing con­fi­dence in the movie, didn’t spend much on ad­ver­tis­ing, cu­rios­ity in­spired by for­eign com­men­tary lured Ja­panese spec­ta­tors to the the­aters, and most left deeply im­pressed.

A while ago, I had the plea­sure of meet­ing Wang Xiaozhi in Bei­jing, who not only played a role in se­lect­ing films for the 17th China Golden Rooster and Hun­dred Flow­ers Film Fes­ti­val, but also trans­lated De­par­tures into Chi­nese. I was so thank­ful to re­ceive the man­u­script of his trans­la­tion as a gift.

Wang: De­par­tures has en­joyed con­sid­er­able pop­u­lar­ity in­many coun­tries around the world, es­pe­cially China.

Takita: To count, the film has played in 76 coun­tries, with con­sid­er­able box of­fice num­bers in many. I watched the movie in the­aters in the United States and South Korea and wit­nessed many spec­ta­tors re­spond­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. I still re­mem­ber a blood­cur­dling scream in a the­ater in

South Korea.

The most di­rect re­sponse from a Chi­nese spec­ta­tor hap­pened dur­ing a 2009 Tokyo in­ter­view be­tween me and then- Chi­nese Premier Wen Ji­abao. De­par­tures had just won the Best For­eign Lan­guage Film Os­car, and Premier Wen ex­plained his un­der­stand­ing of my story, “It was re­ally touch­ing,” the premier ad­mit­ted.

I think that folklore con­cern­ing death dif­fers widely be­tween coun­tries, and I wasn’t sur­prised that peo­ple from other cul­tures were shocked by Ja­panese tra­di­tion, which is not even very ex­treme.

Wang: What do you think of Chi­nese movie pro­duc­tion in the dig­i­tal era?

Takita: The progress has been amaz­ing. I used to make spe­cial vis­its to sev­eral movie the­aters in Shang­hai, which re­ally stunned me. China has over­taken Ja­pan in the scale of the con­struc­tion of movie the­aters, and the num­bers just keep grow­ing day after day. And these places are out­fit­ted with the most state-of-the-art equip­ment in­clud­ing screens, acous­tics, and pro­jec­tion. I bet that China has the most cut­ting-edge movie the­aters in the world (he laughs).

Wang: Are you think­ing of mak­ing a Chi­nese movie?

Takita: Sure! I’ll come back one day to do that. But today, I don’t think I have enough ex­pe­ri­ence here. I’ll find more op­por­tu­ni­ties to visit. If I make a movie adapted from some ex­ist­ing work, it has to be some­thing that res­onates with me.

My wife’s fam­ily used to live in north­east­ern China, and they have shared many of their ex­pe­ri­ences with me. For some­one like me, who is still gasp­ing at the hori­zon above the is­lands of Ja­pan, work­ing abroad seems like a pretty tall or­der. I re­ally want to travel with my wife to places my par­ents and her rel­a­tives lived when they were young and feel past eras. I do hope to find the in­spi­ra­tion to make a movie in China.

Ev­ery­one has unique life ex­pe­ri­ences and philoso­phies, many of which are ex­pressed through novels, movies or other ex­pres­sive forms. Au­thors should work hard to write down their feel­ings and have them heard. Di­rec­tors must strive to make good movies that earn the at­ten­tion of the au­di­ence by res­onat­ing with them.

I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered movies as bridges be­tween you and me, and I fre­quently want to shout: “Long live cinema!”

Poster and still from De­par­tures. A sig­na­ture film of Yo­jiro Takita, the movie first hit Ja­panese screens in Septem­ber 2008. It amassed myr­iad in­ter­na­tional prizes, in­clud­ing the 2009 Best For­eign Lan­guage Film Os­car.

Still from Tenchi: The Samu­rai Astronomer, directed by Yo­jiro Takita. Made in 2012, it took mul­ti­ple awards from the 36th Ja­panese Academy in 2013.

June 20, 2010: Yo­jiro Takita (right) and Chi­nese di­rec­tor Jia Zhangke grant the Best Di­rec­tor award at the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the 13th Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

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