Paradise is around here…
It was exactly four and a half years ago that Australia’s SBS TV approved the making of a documentary on Iranian cinema. As we were working on the preliminary stages of research and preparation with the producer, Claude Gonzales, a conversation between Kurosawa and Kiarostami was published in Film International magazine. We thought it will be wonderful if Mr. Kurosawa can mention those comments in our film. If this were possible, it would lend a great deal of credit to Iranian cinema and also to my own film. I remembered Donald Richie, the American author and film critic, who had been living in Japan for the past fifty years and thought that he would be the ideal person to help us get in touch with Mr.Kurosawa. Richie has written twenty-two books on Japanese culture, history and cinema. He has also subtitled some Japanese films in English, including some of Kurosawa’s recent films. We wrote Richie a letter, and received a reply stating that since he had given Kurosawa’s last two films poor reviews, Kurosawa had felt somewhat offended. He suggested that we avoid mentioning his name, but he gave us advice on how to approach him. About a month later, we received a reply from Kurosawa’s office: “I am Kurosawa’s nephew and the production manager of his films. Mr. Kurosawa has shown interest in meeting with you. He would like you to provide him with the details, including the date you’re planning to conduct the interview.”
We weren’t sure what they meant, exactly, by “details”. Of course, we had some clues, but Donald Richie had said so much about the differences between Japanese and Western cultures that we had no confidence in making decisions. So, we contacted Richie once again and he told us to limit the film crew and lighting as much as possible and to restrict our interview time to one hour. We wrote out the details and faxed them to Kurosawa’s office. A few days later, we received the final and affirmative answer along with the exact date, time of the interview and its location, which was to be at one of Kurosawa’s villas in southern Tokyo, near Mt. Fuji. Even a map of the region and its distance to Tokyo, as well as written directions from the local train station to the villa were faxed to us.
For several days we were all in a daze. We could not believe that the 83-year-old Kurosawa had granted us an interview. He rarely accepts interviews and had only agreed to attend a single press conference for the screening of his latest film. We contacted Donald Richie to thank him for his advice. He said: “I told you he would go through with the interview since you are foreigners, especially because you are Iranian.” Foreign, for the reason that Kurosawa wasn’t very keen on Japanese media, press, critics and audience since they have always been indifferent to his films, and Iranian, because Richie had learned through mutual friends that Kurosawa was quite fond of films by Kiarostami.
In June of 1994, we set out for Tokyo with two video cameras and a couple of lights. I was so nervous on the plane to Tokyo, that it was as if I were going to interview Kurosawa upon getting off the plane. Despite the expenses in Tokyo, we had planned to arrive 5 days prior to the interview. I wanted to have enough time to be able to get an idea of the Tokyo of Kurosawa and Ozu. The interview would be on the sixth day and we would have an extra day for looking over the material, before finally leaving Tokyo. For the most part, I was nervous because in his second letter, Kurosawa had requested that the questions be instinctive and not premeditated. How is such a thing possible? What if I have a mental block and can’t think of anything to ask? I couldn’t risk such a thing, so I had to memorize the questions (at least three or four of them), and see which direction the interview takes later.
tell you the truth, my favorite Japanese director is Ozu. I like
Kurosawa mostly for his urban works (especially Up and Downs).
But as you know, he is better known for his epic productions.
We (producer; Claude Gonzales and translator Houshang Raasti) got there at 3 o’clock sharp. (Of course, we had killed some time at the station so that we wouldn’t get there too early.) As the taxi approached Kurosawa’s hilltop villa, we noticed a man, about 35 years old, come out of the house and walk across the yard to the driveway to lead us to the entrance. Between the entrance and the main door to the living room, there was an area, just like in Iranian homes, where everyone took off their shoes. The living room was quite large and had huge windows on three sides with a view of Mt. Fuji. We were led to a table in one corner of the living room. We were asked how long we’d need to set up. I asked his assistant where Mr. Kurosawa prefers to sit. He pointed to a chair and that’s when I noticed a fan facing it. It was mid-summer and very hot. We were pouring sweat. The heat reminded me of the detective’s desperation (Toshiro Mifune), in Kurosawa’s Stray Dog.
We were immediately served cold drinks: iced coffee topped with a little whipped cream. I will never forget the taste of that drink which was very refreshing, but not enough-for me-. Anyway, when we mentioned to his assistant that we were ready, two minutes later Mr.Kurosawa walked in. A woman, about 35 years old, followed him in, who I believed to be his daughter. Kurosawa walked towards us and after greetings and hand shakes; he sat himself in his rather dignified chair. Our producer had brought him a gift: a book of some of Australia’s nature scenes, laid out on two pages. Since the main reason for requesting this interview was to hear his words on Kiarostami, I wanted to get through that part as soon as possible, and then hopefully, to move on to more personal aspects of his own films.
- Mr. Kurosawa, I was wondering how you were introduced to Iranian
Then he continued on describing Kiarostami films, and talked about similarities between his own Madadayo and Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s House? The screen is like a major square in which everyone can gather and talk to each other. For example, I bring to the screen my own country’s problems and Kiarostami his. The actors voice our words and touch everyone’s heart and this is the role of cinemad talk to each other. And that’s the responsibility of thee cinema. (For the complete conversation, please refer to “The Emperor and I, (Abbas Kiarostami Meets Akira Kurosawa)”, by Shohreh Golparian, FILM INTERNATIONAL Vol.1, No.4, Autumn 1993 ????????????????(Maybe is worth mentioning that after seeing the published interview, Mr. Kurosawa was rather upset with the main title).
A film must be made with the heart,
not the mind. I think today’s young filmmakers have forgotten this
and instead they make films through their calculations. That is
why Japanese films no longer have an audience. In all honesty,
films must be made to target the hearts. During the time of Ozu,
my mentor, and also in my time, no filmmaker made films based on theory
and calculation, and that was why Japan’s cinema was capable of shaping
its golden years. Young filmmakers use techniques to humiliate the
audience. This is wrong. We must serve cinema and make a
film that would stimulate the audience. Ultimately, the aim should
be to make an artistic film. That’s simple, isn’t it?
You were keen on American cinema…
- In comparison to cinema as entertainment, how do you think Third World
artistic cinema can attract a Western audience?
- You said
something about humanity in Japan. Can you please elaborate on
- What do you think
the reason for that is?
- In the midst
of all this, what do you think the responsibility of a filmmaker is?
- It seems as though you despise violence…
- You’ve made
films about the atomic bomb. Do you believe that with the downfall
of Russia, the danger of using nuclear weapons has to some extent
diminished? Will you make other films on this subject?
- How are such
concerns reflected in your next film?
many instances, I wanted to talk about some of his films but he seemed
reluctant. Any talk of style or aesthetics bored him. At one
point he said: “Style? What style? We just express
humanitarian stories in a very simple way.” When asked what
criteria he uses for showing violence in his films or the degree of
violence used, he said, “I’ve never used violence in my films.” I
thought it would be rude to mention about the violent scenes in Ran?”
As he was talking about murder and crime, I tried to phrase my next
question in a way that would somehow refer to Dreams, hoping it
would prompt him to talk about his film. I should mention that
although many critics and a number of my mentors don’t particularly like
Kurosawa’s Dreams, I’m quite fond of it.)
- What kind of
experiences have you had with foreign co-productions and big budget
Then Kurosawa pointed to one of his legs, which reminded me that he had walked into the room with a slight limp. He told us that his leg had suffered frostbite in the Russian cold and that it’s been bothering him ever since.
- Can you give
us some details about your new film?
(This film was never made. Those who have seen Kurosawa’s last two films claim that his films have turned rather sentimental. Later, when I watched the interview tapes, especially in close-up shots, I noticed the anxiety and sadness, which appeared on his face while he waited for my interpreter to translate what he had said. The Japanese are even more inclined to hide their feelings than Iranians, but even the great Kurosawa could not escape those moments of exposure that only a camera can capture.)
The comings and goings of his assistant and his daughter in the background (but off-camera) reminded us that we were out of time. I looked at my watch; fifty five minutes had passed since our arrival, but we couldn’t exactly bicker about the ten minutes spent on setting up! I’m compelled to ask my final question.
- What do you
think of Tarkovsky, both as a filmmaker and a friend?
(At this point, Kurosawa looks downcast. I say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you”. In order to give him some time and also to change the mood in the ending of the interview, I say…)
Your sense of humor may have made life more bearable for you, whereas
Tarkovsky’s bitterness may have been rather excessive…
(The interview came to an end on a sad tone on his part, and I tried to find an appropriate time to thank him through our interpreter, but Kurosawa continued. He seemed completely engrossed in what he was saying):
- …In the past, my filmmaker friends and associates would stop by without prior notice. We would sit and talk and drink. But in recent years, they don’t show up even when I invite them.
I was forced to end the interview. His daughter and his assistant were standing in the long shot. They moved towards us and served us another drink. We gathered up the equipment, but Kurosawa continued to speak of his memories. He seemed to be on a roll. I quickly drank my iced coffee and with the help of my interpreter and Claude, put the cameras in our bags since Kurosawa was standing and didn’t intend to go anywhere until he had seen us out. We were anxious to leave quickly so that we wouldn’t keep him standing on his painful leg.
He followed us to the entrance hall. As I was tying my shoelaces, he continued to chat with us. With great excitement we had come to meet Mr. Kurosawa and now, it was time to leave, but in the midst of the visit, there were several moments of very pleasant tranquility, during which four human beings were able to go beyond title, name, race and language barriers, and see eye-to-eye. Of course, it’s more appropriate to say that the three of us were able to listen to an old master without being overwhelmed by the power of his name. They say he was a bad-tempered dictator at work, though we saw nothing but modesty and kindness. But I must say that he seemed rather lonely. Before he left us, the taxi arrived. While bowing, Japanese-style, we walked out backwards. Kurosawa waved to us from above the stairs. The taxi set off and we began to look at the surrounding woods and groves. I then noticed areas, which reminded me of scenes from the first episode of Dreams. The taxi was moving fast and for some reason I didn’t think to ask the driver to slow down or stop so we could film a bit. It didn’t even occur to me that we could film. Therefore, my memory has no record of the past, but I cannot forget the feeling that the interview with Kurosawa left me, and all the impressions fleeting through my mind as we left behind this monumental figure of Japanese cinema standing in front of his home. When Kurosawa was speaking to us by the door, he pointed to one of the windows and said, “You can usually see Mt. Fuji from here, but it’s not visible today because of pollution.”