Recent, Special Report

25 Japanese Directors Talk Pandemic and Looking Ahead

Main Image for Story

As 2021 opened much of the entertainment industry was still reeling from the impact brought on by the pandemic. Though productions are once again ramping up, they have to do so under strict safety protocols issued by labor unions and respective film commissions in the locales filming takes place. Meanwhile, the exhibition industry which bore the brunt of damage is still facing challenges of delayed release schedules, being circumvented by digital releases, and local safety protocols. Similarly, film festivals have had to adapt to the pandemic by formulating new ways to hold their events–those which could–though it remains to be seen whether they will be able to return to pre-pandemic operations in the near future.

Reflecting on these as well as learning about movies which were filmed about or around the pandemic led to a desire to ask Japanese filmmakers two questions:

How did the pandemic in 2020 impact the work with which you are involved or productions you are or will be working on?

Moving forward, in other words a world “post-COVID,” has this pandemic changed you as a filmmaker and has seeing its global impact on people affected your thinking regarding the types of stories you want to tell?

Following are the responses of twenty-five filmmakers who graciously took time from their schedules to provide their personal perspective on COVID-19’s impact on them.

Miyazaki Daisuke Header

Miyazaki has not stopped creating since completing his latest feature Videophobia He shot a number of short movies including 2019’s Murmur and Flanuer as well as recently completing Salad Days and North Shinjuku 2055, the former part of an international project of “short films during COVID”. Videophobia began its theatrical run in the autumn of 2020 just as case numbers were beginning to climb again. Nevertheless, it was included among the top 10 films of 2020 by FILM ART, one of the most prestigious film magazines in Japan.

Work is already scarce, so while I blindly searched around doing work I’ve been scared that if there’s less work things will get difficult. Lately, I’ve come to somehow understand that doing things this way is pointless and so I’m taking every step to address this.

Regarding filmmaking, the way out from this bizarre post-truth world is going to be found in the intimacy between people so it’s become obvious there’s a need to rethink things from scratch. Nowadays, I think it’s possible to make a micro movie with very few people such as a single-person “diary” movie or a story told only by two actors and a director.

I don’t believe the current situation is going to continue forever. I think the style of movie productions will go back to the way it was, but the shock and trauma delivered to our spirit by COVID-19 is absolutely going to come out in the works made. Like in Body Snatchers, you can’t go near anyone and you can’t even trust your own body. I’m curious how a world that’s come unglued like this is going to recover.

Asakura Kayoko Header

Asakura’s Sheep and Wolf, Love And Murder for the most part missed the pandemic in Japan though signs of trouble were already brewing abroad. Since then she has since worked on television projects while continuing to contribute articles for various publications.

In my case, there may not be anything that shows up outwardly in what I direct right away. But now the way I look at society is going to have to change, in particular I don’t think how hopelessness or despair have been depicted in fiction up to now is not going to be the same anymore.

Sakaguchi Katsumi Header

Despite having been in production years before COVID-19, the release of Sakguchi Katsumi’s latest documentary focusing on Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy) sufferers who lived through the Japanese government’s inhumane policies toward them seemed perfectly timed as the pandemic once again brought out prejudices and has polarized the populace. He’s now working to finish a narrative feature dealing with terminal illness which he hopes to release next year.

November 28th of last year was opening day for Songs of Triumph at Shibuya’s Image Forum theater, just as we were being informed the third wave of the coronavirus was arriving. That date was set back in November of 2019, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. At the time, no one foresaw the pandemic as it is today. As one might expect, the blow to the opening dealt by COVID was serious. Elderly people and the younger generation alike were almost collectively grumbling: “I’m scared of COVID” or “My family objected”, and I think the reluctance to go to the theaters by these two main groups was a primary factor.

Nevertheless, the sight of audience members coming to the theaters in spite of virus was amazing. I witnessed that people, no matter the severity of the situation they’re under, are beings who seek mental or spiritual nourishment. This may bolster us to continue making movies in the future. We are aiming for a theatrical release around spring of 2022 of my upcoming movie set in a children’s hospice, Mitigation.

Though it was shot in 2016, six years will have passed before it gets released. However, without a resolution to COVID, it will be a pandemic release. Just how will the hearts of people demoralized by the pandemic be captivated by imagery shot before masks were necessary; by the smiles of the innocent young girls who are the movie’s protagonists? I have a feeling another fresh experience awaits them.

COVID-19 will drastically change my filmmaking should I become infected, my condition worsen, and I survive it. I don’t feel there will be a substantive change merely by digesting information. However, I have many concerns about attempting to actually make a movie. Thinking about it brings my spirit down. For starters, what do we do about masks for meetings and on the set? What about meals; moving to another location? Since the pandemic, movie sets have taken on a degree of confusion and stress.

What kind of story do I want to make? The film industry will typically be anticipating things like “heartwarming movies” or movies which “soothe people because of the times”, but from the standpoint of creating movies outside of the film industry, I am of the mind to try creating bleak visuals, a depressing movie, a movie that will make the audience get up off their seats feeling taxed. That’s not simply to be antagonistic.

But there’s a long gap between the filming and release for our movies, therefore instead of specifying a release period, I’d rather be able to casually make a movie. Of course, that is the tiny luxury only the maker of unprofitable outlaw movies has.

…if I submit to a film festival now, the screening will probably be online and that has curbed my enthusiasm.

Nishikawa Fumie
Ochiai Atsuko Header

Ochiai is Sakaguchi’s producing partner at Supersaurus and plays an active role in the creative process. Naturally, she is also heavily involved with the marketing campaign of their films and as self-distributors working out screening opportunities across Japan. Having navigated the problems with opening a movie while restrictions were being placed on movie theaters, she is looking beyond to the release of their next feature film armed with the knowledge gained during the pandemic.

I produced a documentary now in theaters by director Sakuguchi Kasumi titled Songs of Triumph which actually was impacted by the pandemic. Over nine years we filmed former Hansen’s Disease patients who talk about the harsh realities of the government’s lifetime segregation policy. It’s a curious movie which may be perceived as an overly serious social commentary, but after watching it viewers are enveloped in an encouraging and strong sense of hope. It brings to the fore how awful the wrongful national policy had been toward sufferers of Hansen’s Disease and I think it was destiny that the movie screened at a time COVID is giving rise to discrimination and prejudice.

We invited the two individuals who became the main focus of the documentary to greet the audience in-person on opening day, however since both are elderly, and taking into account the risk of contracting COVID-19, we were unable to receive permission from their managing physician to come to the theater. On a different day, they appeared remotely to talk with the director, but it was disappointing for both of them that they were unable to be present on opening day.

Nevertheless, I also discovered something because of the pandemic. Things are still unknown about COVID-19, in particular, the risk to the elderly of dying if they contract the virus which meant a majority refrained from going out. But the sight of audience members among that age group coming to the theater seeking spiritual nourishment in cinema was so awe-inspiring I suddenly found myself mentally offering a prayer of gratitude.

Young audience members stood out since the theater is in Shibuya which is known to be a place for the young (and formerly young). It’s a fact we heard from people who were quite older that they couldn’t come to the theater due to the pandemic. But on the other hand, my heart was warmed by reactions from new viewers who said, “This is a movie that must be seen precisely because we’re in the age of coronavirus”. Even though circumstances are placing a restriction on people’s movements, I once again have rediscovered the “power of cinema” to spur people on.

Due to COVID, we are suddenly being backed into a situation that is forcing us to think about the nearness of death to us. To put it briefly, an awareness of death. Humans invariably die, and may do so unexpectedly because of COVID. The view on life thrust on us by the coronavirus this past year will undoubtedly have an impact on our film production in the future.

Mitigation, Sakaguchi’s latest movie set for release next spring, also deals with the theme of “death”. The subject matter is “children’s hospices” of which there are only two in Japan, one in Osaka and another in Kanagawa Prefecture. It is a portrait of the kinship between three girls and a boy, as well as the radiance of life on borrowed time. Shot in 2016 at the director’s birthplace of Tanegashima in Kagoshima Prefecture, it has taken six years to be released. But just recently a decision’s been made to re-edit the already completed 90 minute movie in the days ahead as a result of coronavirus, and because Sakaguchi’s feelings have changed considerably.

Also, a screenplay exists for Sakaguchi’s next movie which he had developed prior to the pandemic, but I think the details will have to undergo revision for it to actually go before the cameras. The end product will likely reflect the society will live in “after COVID-19”.

Nishikawa Fumie Header

Nishikawa has been keeping busy since she began raising a family. She has studied 3D computer graphics, and taken on television and film related work as well as directing promotional videos. She has been attached to direct a movie concerning the Tsukuba Naval Air Corps, but has so far only made a promo reel for its crowdfunding campaign. However, the same producers tapped her to write and direct another promotional video which has resulted in a short, Ajisai no Yama (original title), with genuine potential on the festival circuit.

I had been temporarily transferred to another company to do a television related job for a year. That ended last March (2020), and so I thought, alright then I’d like to start re-editing my short Ajisai no Yama and submit it to film festivals. That was around this same time last year, but the situation with COVID-19 wouldn’t allow for it. All I could do was watch over my kids at home since day cares and schools were closed. I would wake them up, make their meals, give them things to do, and put them to bed. That was my only reason for being!

In terms of work, last year around April and May I was supposed to do a job making visual effects for a movie which got postponed to June/July. I had spent April and May really worrying whether or not that job would just vanish after being delayed once.

In the second state of emergency (January 2021), I directed a promotional video. It was a production for an event in Ibaraki Prefecture, and at the time there hadn’t been any impact on the shoot. Nevertheless, the event itself was scaled down and it’s unfortunate the organizers weren’t able put on the event as originally intended. I thought of events, visual media, and such as individual jobs, but each job creates relationships among various businesses, and I was once again made aware that we obtain work thanks to those relationships.

Recently I’ve regained a normal schedule again so I’ve been thinking the time has come to edit Ajisai no Yama, but considering the fact that even if I submit to a film festival now, the screening will probably be online and that has curbed my enthusiasm. I think I want to wait for the right time.

Experiencing the world under the pandemic led to the birth of a movie I want to make. It’s still rather vague, but the movie has shades of science fiction and features a being who can come and go between the digital world and reality. However, I don’t think the way I will make movies is going to change. It’s possible the start of this movie will open with a long shot, the camera maintaining social distance. Each of the characters will probably be physically and morally distant.

By the end, however, the characters become close enough to feel the temperature of one another’s breath and their feelings become strongly connected. This is the time the camera might feature only close-ups. I’ve seen many creators make narratives and videos consisting solely of Zoom screens. I think giving it a try is something really good, but every time I see works like that the beauty and pricelessness of filming flesh and blood people performing and interacting together truly hits home.

Nakano Ryota Header

“Separation” and “loss” have been key elements for Nakano’s particular brand of sorrow tinged humor (or vice-versa). His latest short movie shot during the pandemic, Delivery 2020, is a reflection of current circumstances practically tailor-made for him. Meanwhile, his recent feature The Asadas deals less with “separation” as it does “connection” and appears to be the kind of life-affirming movie to which audiences would gravitate amid the pandemic. Ironically, it could not avoid being impacted by that very pandemic.

Last June was spent on a short titled Delivery 2020, half the time remotely. On October 2nd, my latest feature The Asadas was released. Talk sessions and screening events were almost entirely cancelled.

Delivery 2020 first began principal photography after the first state of emergency ended simultaneously as the film industry was also assessing coronavirus prevention. So, Team Nakano too, carried out filming with minimum people, limited contact to our utmost ability, and thoroughly enforced COVID safety protocols. I came away with the sense that movies are without a doubt born out of face-to-face discussions and exchanges of ideas. I felt working remotely or circumstances restricting personal contact made it difficult for those unexpected, extra miracle-like things to happen. It felt really lonely and took the pleasure out of filmmaking.

With regard to the October release of The Asadas, the first public preview screening and promotional campaigns in non-metropolitan areas were cancelled. Not being able to show the movie prior to release and widen its reputation was stressful. Moreover, the movies which had their openings postponed all came out at once in October and November. The Demon Slayer took up half the screens causing a scramble for the remaining half.

The Asadas somehow achieved a long theatrical run while screens were being carved away. However, smaller movies or those without a large publicity budget almost immediately left theaters which I think must have been agonizing. Additionally, young people returned to movie theaters relatively quickly, but movie theaters are typically supported by the older demographic who really haven’t returned which is troubling.

What I most desire is to be able to shoot movies as before, but I’m sure that’ll be difficult. The same was true after the Great East Japan Earthquake. I thought about whether movies and entertainment were essential to human beings. I came to the conclusion these things weren’t vital for the direct survival of human beings, but they are essential for enriching their lives. I believe once again movies are essential for this. If we live without enjoyment and contentment, merely existing is boring. Having experienced the pandemic, the movies I make are going to become all the more about family, the connection between people, and the importance of “human contact”. The more we’re told, “Don’t come into contact!” that’s the hardest thing for people and feels like the antithesis of being human. I want to make a movie that thoroughly connects with people body and soul.

In terms of filming itself, it’s possible that shoots will evolve to being as minimal as possible with disciplined work hours and working environment.

Instead, frequently taking breaks to ventilate and being conscious of managing every single person’s health resulted in a better work environment than in the past.

Hirohara Satoru
Sato Yoshinori Header

Sato, an alum of the filmmaking course at the University of Southern California, followed Her Mother with a documentary about Shinjuku’s local celebrity, Shinjuku Tiger. It world premiered at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival where he also served on the Housen Short Film Award jury. His television and documentary work continue to inform his narrative movies.

At present, I have a documentary that’s been filming overseas for a while, but couldn’t be shot last year. Also, a fictional movie I’ve been developing isn’t really moving forward either.

I don’t think there’ll be changes in my filmmaking. But I want to pay close attention to how the social system might change in the future. With COVID-19 stirring up the world to this degree, and considering a new virus will spring up again some day, there could be a future in which a sensible social system will be created which allows us to carry on with life without coming into contact with others.

However, I view meeting other people and having face-to-face conversations as crucial. Furthermore, I want to depict through cinema the feelings triggered by this (happiness, respect, trust, disdain, hate, etc.) or the influences we have on one another.

This time, I’ve been encouraged to reconsider why it’s necessary for fellow human beings to gather in the same place. I’m still in the middle of thinking about it, but I believe actual contact is important for preserving humanity.

Hirohara Satoru Header

From his debut Good Morning to the World, to his short Girl Returned and his latest feature Dawn Wind in my Poncho, Hirohara has depicted youth in a grounded manner, unfettered by cynicism toward or from the viewpoint of young people. In 2019 he won the Tokyo FILMeX New Director Screenplay Award for a movie about a hit-and-run case involving a dog. Its working title is Anna’s Black Dog and is currently in development.

Back in March I was scheduled to shoot a short movie. It was going to be about idle youths who work exterminating stray cats in a world infected by an unknown virus carried by stray cats. I came up with the concept before COVID-19, but with cases of the virus increasing the producer approached me to discuss that it might be cancelled if the story was shot as is, and reluctantly it became necessary to change the concept. However, the filming for that has been postponed to July when the government declared a state of emergency. That was the first time principle photography was done while practicing preventive measures under the pandemic, but filming itself wasn’t impacted very much and went smoothly. Instead, frequently taking breaks to ventilate and being conscious of managing every single person’s health resulted in a better work environment than in the past. Plus, the production was small in scale so very strict rules didn’t have to be enforced. The one thing that was bothersome was the actors had to wear face shields any time they were not being filmed which complicated rehearsals. Another problem was the preventive measures cut into the budget.

And then another job I do is working as an assistant at the Tokyo University of the Arts, but this was more severely impacted. Schools and colleges specializing in filmmaking concentrate their curriculum around practical training, but with present restrictions practical training on the same scope as before can’t be practiced. And so I tried to think of a concept which could be completed only on campus. I came up with a horror short film anthology set on a film school campus and I shot it together with the students. Without the state of affairs brought on by COVID, this idea would never have been born.

I do think there’s a need to eventually adapt to changing circumstances, but I don’t believe my own personal outlook and philosophy toward movies has greatly changed. Rather, now there’s a part of me increasingly seeking a world just as it was before COVID-19. For example, incorporating this situation into a movie means the actors are going to wear masks, but faces which can’t be expressive always on the screen won’t delight anyone very much. But, if there’s an occasion I could shoot a story drawing upon the coronavirus.

What’s been greatly affected is a rediscovery in the value of watching movies at the movie theater. I’ve always taken it for granted up to now, but just how precious that time has been was brought home to me. From here on, I’m going take in all sorts of influences from many many movies seen at the theater.

Nakagawa Natsuki Header

Nakagawa’s stories are marked by strong psychological portrayals of its characters wrapped in a palpable atmosphere. Her debut feature She Is Alone, an analytical look at anger in women given the trappings of a supernatural thriller, won the SKIP City Award in 2018. Her follow-up Beyond the Night is a blunt portrayal of a woman’s tangled struggle to escape oppression drawn as a noir with a Lynchian atmosphere.

Last year I was scheduled to shoot a short movie, but a week or two before we were to start, it was cancelled. That was just a little before the declaration of the state of emergency in April. Plans were moving along to screen it together with my movie She Is Alone when it played in theaters, and we considered rescheduling, but practically being the producer myself as well, I couldn’t afford to take care of the cast and crew under COVID-19, so I made the decision to shelve it.

Right now, nothing has changed in my views about filmmaking or the stories I want to tell. I have a lot of thoughts about the world before the coronavirus, so I have this desire to digest those thoughts. If anything, problems which had always existed in society became acutely obvious in the pandemic. As a result, the themes I want to deal with in my own movies aren’t new, but have remained unchanged from before.

Also, since I would feel really stressed depicting a world of people wearing masks covering half their face, I don’t believe I’ll write a story set in a world during the pandemic. Naturally, from this day on I can’t make a world with coronavirus disappear, so I think I’ll write a story of a world that had coronavirus after closely observing what happens to this situation.

Some of the work I’ve directed, despite being completed, look like they’ll be shelved due to the pandemic. So in all honesty, I really detest COVID.

Fujimura Akiyo
Tokiwa Shiro Header

Tokiwa is a director and screenwriter of commercials and music videos who racked up double awards at the Short Shorts Film Festival for his semi-autobiographical Crayfish. He followed with The Eclipse’s Shadow which played at multiple film festivals abroad. His debut feature The First Supper updates the atypical Japanese family drama for modern times through an honest script free of melodrama which attracted its remarkable cast.

Since the main thing I did was work I could complete relatively at a desk–I wrote a novel, the treatment for my next film–the personal impact to me luckily was small. But as one might expect, international showings and film festival screenings of The First Supper, which had been released locally in November of 2019, were impacted. I wished the perfect situation had existed because this was my debut feature film, but everyone in the world shared the same hardships so I think it’s one of those things that can’t be helped. I’m hoping this situation will quickly head in a positive direction, and I’m dreaming of the day I’ll be able to enjoy movies along with everyone in the world.

When it comes to whether my filmmaking will change in the future, there will definitely be parts that will change, and also parts that won’t.

I was born in Japan and fortunately haven’t been confronted with war or any kind of event that fundamentally changed my life. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11th surely was a huge shock at the time and dealt a blow to day-to-day living. I still remember watching footage of the tsunami in real-time, and the lights in Tokyo going dark at night. Regardless, there hadn’t been the kind of impact in which contact between people itself was restricted for long periods of time like now. Plus, the end to this situation is still not in sight. Sure enough, the treatment I thought of during this time, for better or worse, has been influenced by COVID-19. I really got to thinking about the distance between people.

However, there is a part of me that wants to defy the “restrictive state of the pandemic”. I feel we mustn’t go too far creating visuals and stories overly drawing on just the sensations of the present situation. The reason being, cinema is something that lasts for 50 or 100 years, so there shouldn’t be anything incomprehensible to people who didn’t actually experience this coronavirus when they watch a movie. I don’t have any apprehension about what kind of movie I’ll be making in the future. I hope to keep tackling cinema with optimism.

Fujimura Akiyo Header

The Air We Can’t See, Fujimura’s segment for Ten Years Japan, depicted a populace living underground after the world above became uninhabitable due to contamination. Even objects from above are not allowed for fear they will sicken all who dwell there. It was a cautionary tale indirectly referencing the Fukushima Nuclear Powerplant accident but in hindsight might even be applicable to how the world appeared at the height of the pandemic.

I’m currently living in London [at the time of writing], and even in London I’m able to go on to movie sets. Compared to Japan, I got the impression productions in London really spent money on coronavirus safety measures. For example, on a set where a little less than a hundred extras will be used there’s a nurse contracted with the production studio who conducts PCR tests on every single extra from early morning. The results come out 90 minutes later so filming begins after waiting for everyone’s results. Since the entire crew is also tested everyday, naturally I had to be tested too. There’s a dedicated room for PCR testing and a dedicated nurse on staff. The difference between production sets in Japan was startling. In Japan, each person goes to a specified hospital a few days before the start of principle photography, and they are tested for COVID-19 once and that’s it–depending on the company most likely–so I admired the thoroughness of preventive measures of London sets which mandate daily testing. The primary factor possibly is the number of COVID-19 cases between London and Japan are so completely different. But when I go on movie sets, my impression was the coronavirus prevention in London and Japan isn’t all that different. Everyone wears masks and regularly disinfects their hands.

Some of the work I’ve directed, despite being completed, look like they’ll be shelved due to the pandemic. So in all honesty, I really detest COVID. However, I respect all the filmmakers who, even under these adverse circumstances, took as best a strategy as possible and continued pressing on with the production through trial and error. I often feel very proud to have worked with them.

I felt [the affect] in my work and in my life, but I sense the amount of physical distancing from people is turning into much more emotional closeness than prior to COVID. For example, being prevented from meeting friends I often used to meet with until recently led to us keeping in touch every day through Line, and we even tried hanging out virtually which we’d never done before. Some friends are keeping in touch more frequently compared to before the pandemic.

It’s the same for work. Until now if you said “a meeting for work”, I think a face-to-face meeting would’ve been normal. But when I gave virtual meetings a try they turned out to be unexpectedly convenient, time saving, and easily accomplished over meeting directly. Because of this we could speak in detail each time. I thought online meetings were convenient.

Also, and there might be teams incorporated on set for this already, even if the director is far away, like overseas for example, during filming they can direct scenes, make decisions, and yell “cut” or “okay” remotely. I have a feeling such a “film set of tomorrow” is just around the corner. In the future, I think it will be possible to make a movie together with international filmmakers from each of their respective countries as if there are no national borders.

Finding out the tools and methods I’d avoided up to now surprisingly worked well after giving them a try, and becoming aware of things I’d not noticed before, with respect to these areas alone I’ve gained more than a few benefits from the pandemic. Of course COVID-19 is detestable and not being in such a severe situation would be best, but by thinking positive there’ll be good things like I mentioned, too.

I’m still not sure myself whether this experience with coronavirus will tinge my own movies. However, the means of interpersonal communication or the representation of communication tools as a result of the pandemic, I think, will be changing.

Tsukada Marina Header

Tsukada drew upon personal experiences with an eating disorder for the story of her debut feature Taste of Emptiness. It doesn’t so much deal with the ailment, but the process and support which leads to recovery. For her latest feature, Toki, she is once again drawing on her personal life as it follows middle-schoolers as they grow into adulthood. Shooting on 16mm film, Tsukada has already begun principal photography on the boldly ambitious project which will be seeking crowdfunding support periodically throughout its long production.

Right now, I’m in in pre-production [at the time of this response] on the next movie I want to make. Spanning the ten years from the time I was a middle-schooler in Nagano to when I became an adult living in Tokyo, it’s a factual story about my friends and family. I’ve decided I want to actually spend ten years shooting the movie, gradually filming over time ordinary, non-actor children as they grow up together. I held a video workshop two years ago in Nagano and met a lot of local elementary, middle, and high school students. I spoke to those kids one by one and they turned out appearing the movie. Production was at last scheduled to start with those kids last spring, however due to the impact of the coronavirus, production was postponed by a year. The children couldn’t meet at all, and in that time they’re growing, plus would the people I wanted to see this movie wait for it? These were among the many worries and anxieties I was feeling. But I don’t want to miss these kids growing up anymore, and I just want to start production this year. So with that thought in mind we’re now making preparations mainly for COVID safety measures such as everyone from Tokyo will be tested, and the highest standard of preventive practices will be taken on the actual shoot. Preparations for the production itself are running late since the filming locale and the parents of the children also have concerns.

In fact, that hasn’t really changed much. Up to now I’ve shot what I like as I’ve liked, and since I don’t know when something will happen in life, I’ll make movies without compromise. I want to be fulfilled for myself, but nothing will change about the movies. But, a situation happening like this that puts a stop to filming was a big blow to take and battered my spirit.

Yet quitting is not an option. I’ve done as I liked in terms of movies–I’ve been satisfied doing that–and it hasn’t made me money so movies aside the way I’ve gotten by is to work part-time jobs and such. [But with the pandemic] I haven’t been able to work at all making life really difficult and that’s why I wish I’d earned a living with movies too. I’ve come around to thinking I’d like to have a job in movies in the future, if there is one.

Jimbo Yoshimasa Header

In the eight years since he began making movies in 2013, Jimbo has directed four movies. But what he has done in between them is to learn and broaden his connections with people both in Japan and abroad. In so doing, he continues to evolve his filmmaking through encounters with other filmmakers and non-filmmakers. Currently based in Fukuoka, he recently joined a non-profit established by an architect with whom he has been shooting documentaries on Amami Island and throughout Kyushu. His latest feature is an audacious collaboration with Iranian filmmakers which was recently completed after years in production.

Taking the recent projects I’m involved with in order, I’m the editor on a documentary shot between 2019 and 2020 called Mottainai Kitchen – Don’t waste it, cook it! which deals with the issue of food waste. It was to open on August 8th, which did happen more or less, but the publicity plan I had heard about in June of 2019 when I began editing had to be changed considerably. Yet the film continues to play in certain theaters even now so screenings have been possible, but in terms of being affected, well it was. I believe with the pandemic society has come to raise questions about food waste and sustainability more than before. The topic resonates with society as it’s been changed and in that way has affected the theatrical run.

The second movie is called On the Zero Line and is a collaborative project between myself, Iran and Singapore. It was shot in five countries with me directing my protagonist in Japan and Singapore, and an Iranian director directing his protagonist in Iran and Turkey. Both are headed for the equator in Kenya for their respective reasons. The movie’s noteworthy element is neither of the two halves of the production know how the other’s story is unfolding; I don’t know why the Iranian character is headed for the equator and the Iranian director doesn’t know the reason my character is also headed for Kenya. The two stories were shot at the same time and how these two would come together would be found in the editing process. This began in October of 2018. The way it’s being made is an experiment, maybe sort of a gamble, and it took quite a lot of time. Then at the beginning of 2020 tensions rose between Iran and America. We had already locked the picture, but there were still little things to do. We were continuing to talk about the soundtrack. I thought about going to Iran, but as relations between the two countries soured, going to Iran became pretty impractical. Then COVID-19 happened. Iran, in particular, was the worst territory in the Middle-East to be impacted by COVID-19. I think it’d be difficult to go there even now. Meanwhile, the Iranian co-director contracted it and an actor who appears in the movie unfortunately died of it. Perhaps if I had been able to go there, the movie might have been completed sooner. But Iran doesn’t have reliable internet and bank transfers can’t be sent either, so with the added impact on travel by the pandemic, delays occurred as a result of these accounting matters and the sending of data–video chats included–hitting snags. Ultimately the movie was finished at the start of 2021. Furthermore, the impact on film festivals which we intend to submit to still exists. Distribution in Japan is a fierce fight so we want to secure reviews and commendations at international film festivals first. But the uncertainty of how these festivals will be held is another ongoing affect to the movie.

Lastly, the work I do shooting promotional and advertising type movies or web videos hasn’t really been negatively impacted, you might even say those kind of jobs have increased. Perhaps this is because productions with a large crew became disallowed under COVID, but in my case I’ve never worked with a crew of more than twenty people–something I shot on Amami (island) was shot with three people: me, the actor, and the cinematographer. Therefore my minimalist production style bore fruit and was able to deal the needs of the COVID-era.

There hasn’t been a sudden change for me since the coronavirus. Of course Zoom calls and online meetings becoming more commonplace is one change, but before the pandemic I worked from home so remote work isn’t really different for me. I’ve been able to write or edit from anywhere.

Then around last month I finally was accepted to Berlinale Talents after many years of applying. I’m really happy to have been accepted because the filmmakers at Berlinale are focused on entrepreneurship, they seek innovative new ways of creating that hasn’t been previously done. And as I said before On the Zero Line already is an unconventionally shot movie so the pandemic might’ve been unrelated, but I’d already been thinking about how I want to make movies in the future. Normally, fictional narratives involve writing a treatment or synopsis with an ending, then shooting it. That’s kind of lost its appeal for me personally. I’m not saying I’ve lost interest in fictional stories; l like watching them, I like making them, but shooting a movie without knowing how it will end, to me, is a daring way of filmmaking.

Back in 2017 I attended a directing workshop with Tran Anh Hung after the release of his 2016 movie Eternity. It’s a spectacular work with no “scenes” or at least “scenes” as generally known. The dialogue was not typical nor spoken when they would normally be spoken. The movie is expressed with movement and rhythm only, and even before the pandemic I felt like making something similar. I’m leaning more toward such filmmaking after COVID-19.

I want to call this “graspable movies” or movies you can pick up on. When I go pick up my daughter from kindergarten there’s of course people talking six feet apart while waiting in line. I’m generally the only male there among the housewives and naturally being kindergarten I’ve seen lots of little slices of drama or I “pick up” on such moments each and every day which go unnoticed in their busy daily routine or are just commonplace for them. I want to gather up those cinematic moments in my movies for the people around me. It’s difficult to say if this is because of the pandemic, but I think the feeling has become stronger as the pandemic has gone on.

Finally, I want to add I’m now more interested in documentaries than narratives. I’ve shot documentaries on Amami, but even the documentaries I shoot become more like narrative movies. So instead of competing strictly by fictional narratives, perhaps shooting a documentary that’s right in between, I believe, could possibly exhibit my uniqueness. And I’ve recently found a topic I want to pursue; I’m thinking as a documentary. Now I previously said I don’t want to know how the movie ends, but of course I have every desire to incorporate a conclusion. During the process, however, it won’t be known and will be thought about as it’s being made. I’m not going to make a film without a conclusion, and hope to express something which remains in people’s minds and hearts.

This is the end of Part One. There’s more fascinating responses in Part Two. Click this link to directly go there.