Tag: Japan

It’s only Television

15 June 2010

Before I returned to England a couple of weeks ago I made a trip to meet with someone whom I hoped would be an interesting character for a film I wanted to make. I didn’t mention anything about him in my blog because I wasn’t sure. When can we ever be sure for sure?

A few hours before I was due to leave I took a rental car into the Syrian countryside and went to meet him, and managed to film a little taster-piece for the BBC. I hadn’t got around to telling them that my previous film with Nizam had fallen through, I was worried that they may see me as being rather unreliable over these last few unproductive years.

How the years pass. It seems such a long ago since I finished the Japan film; and everything since then… it all feels like a series of failures.

Failed projects in South Africa that the BBC didn’t want, films the BBC did want in Dubai that I didn’t want to do but still gave (virtually unfunded) the best part of a year to trying to make work followed by a year and a half finding, and eventually failing to make, a film in Norway and Syria with Nizam.

I remember NHK my Japanese co-broadcaster offering me 100k for an idea I’d written about Damascus. But the BBC said they wanted Dubai. In my niceness I tried to persuade NHK to put their money to a more worthy cause – a far more popular film set in Dubai for (and backed by) the BBC.

And so I went to Dubai and over two trips lasting a few months found myself dying inside. Lost and without direction, the evenings became nothing more than a series of blurred bar scenes, I wanted to lose all my sensibilities and completely withdraw from that plastic nightmare hell hole.

So I found myself migrating from Dubai to Damascus to meet with Nizam; which began yet another mistaken adventure. But by this time the BBC had begun to show some interest in Libya, and, as Nizam was half-Libyan, his story would fit the bill. In the end they commissioned a story half set in Syria and Libya. But a year and a half had passed since I’d tried to persuade the Japanese away from Damascus towards Dubai and now here I was again trying to persuade them (NHK) away from Dubai and back to Syria with a little bit of Libya thrown in too.

Two years after their original 100k offer we meet at the prestigious Yamagata Film festival where my Japan film picks up two awards. I sense awkwardness in the NHK Commissioning Editor, something had changed and I wasn’t sure what, and in true (non-confrontational) Japanese spirit nothing is said. He takes my Nizam trailer and promises to submit it, 6 months later he finally submits it but by now rumours emerge that he is being moved to a new department and my project with Nizam is falling through. Could it be that I spent too much time fund-raising and not enough time filming?

And so it was, in the final hours of my time in Syria that I found myself making an impromptu trip into the Syrian countryside to find a new character. The BBC like him but they can only offer a small budget to make it and suggest NHK to co-fund it.

But it is now 2 and a half years on since their offer of 100k for a film in Damascus – money I couldn’t accept because the BBC wanted a film in Dubai – and things have changed, my man at NHK has moved departments and it seems the money is no longer there.

The motto of the story is never refuse money from TV!! Lie and cheat and tell them whatever it is they want to hear but never never ever refuse their offer of money, because, in TV, as with life, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Leaving Yamagata

16 October 2009

I am now leaving Yamagata with 2 awards; the Special Jury Prize for ‘amazing access in an entertaining way’, and the Citizens’ Award, the latter being a gift from the people of Yamagata who voted our film to be their favourite of the festival. Very touching.

The whole experience has been nerve-racking, I never knew how the Japanese would see the film but they laughed and were moved at all right points, some felt I made some sweeping generalisations in my commentary which I guess was true.

But I leave Naoki and Yoshie as local heroes, or is it anti-heroes? Naoki went to see his doctor today who congratulated him on the film, and added that he never knew he was living with Yoshie who also happens to be a patient of his. People stopping and staring shaking Naoki’s hand is a far cry from the man I found hiding from the world 4 years ago, Yoshie worries a little for the future and doesn’t want me to disappear and forget them, but tonight at work she expects to find more new customers coming to meet the local woman from the film.

I feel sad to leave Yamagata as this chapter in my life closes and a new one awaits me in the Middle East, but I don’t feel like I’m leaving Naoki and Yoshie behind, they are coming with me, an inspiration for making more films and many more friends in the future.

17 October 2009

It was great to hang-out once again in Yamagata with Naoki and Yoshie, to cook veggie food round at their place, each day I indulged in my favourite tofu dressed in a gorgeous sesame sauce. It is the one Japanese dish I will always miss.

And now I am cooking a tofu omelette breakfast for Atsushi and Mako in Tokyo on my way home, they both helped me through this bumpy sometimes very difficult 4 year project. And before I fly back to England I will give a talk at the University where my good friend Toshiko works, Toshiko has been a strong supporter of me also… Oh dear there are so many people I have troubled whilst making this film, so many people who have tried keep my spirits high when I faced some of the darkest loneliest moments of my life lost in Japan. To be with them all again, celebrating the awards for a successful film is truly wonderful and almost worth the pain. As I ‘joked’ when I picked up the first award ‘It makes me almost love Japan… But not quite’.

It is funny to be sat with Atsushi, my Japanese ‘film-school’ friend who has helped me immensely since I started my difficult journey here in Tokyo all those years ago. At times he could see no point and would tell me to give up and go home, “You will never find what you are looking for here Sean, go home”, he would say, “Stop killing yourself”. So it is such a pleasure to be sat with him 4 years on sitting next to my two trophies, having a quiet drink. I remember being here in the very same seat many many times whilst I was lost dazed and confused.

And finally, I am so happy we had a post-screening party for Naoki and his co-workers from the post-office in Yamagata. They never understood my filming at the time but at the party they were full of praise, and I’m pleased we also bumped into mushroom man, he pulled-up on his post-office bike whilst on his delivery route, I love his smile, it reminds me so much of Naoki.

Return to Yamagata

09 October 2009

My return to Japan is an anxious semi-excited occasion since I heard I was in competition at the Yamagata Documentary Festival. It was great to arrive here in luxury; I think the only way to do Japan is to make sure someone else is paying. I slipped through the curtain from my premium economy seat to the cocktail bar in upper class, the Japanese girl serving said “I recognise you”. “You made that film about Naoki! It was great but very negative on Japan.”

I wondered if this was how Naoki’s home-town was going to receive the film at the weekend, we have 2 big screenings – a 650 seater and a 1200 one. The only Japanese film in the competition (and filmed entirely in Yamagata), ‘Japan: A Story of Love and Hate’ is getting massive media attention, my friend Mr Matsui gave me last night’s local paper featuring an article on my film, and yesterday I was interview on NHK World TV about my time in Japan and the film.

It’s all a long way from the struggle of making it and my own love hate relationship with this distant difficult island. ‘No matter how long you look into the eyes of the Japanese you will never know what they are thinking’, a great quote that stays with me as I stare hard into the eyes of a nation I thought I’d come to really understand whilst making my film here. But the truth is that I don’t feel I really know this place at all, after a couple of days here again I’m thinking I only scratched surface.

I can’t wait to look into the eyes of 1200 Japanese as they watch my film in Yamagata. Shock outrage or calm considered thought. I wonder, will I know what the Japanese are really thinking?

We played to 600 people yesterday which was nerve racking for me and for Naoki. Yamagata is Naoki’s home-town, they asked how he felt having exposed himself so naked in the film he said ‘relieved’, I suggested more people do it in Japan as a joke but they didn’t get it, though I was surprised that they enjoyed the humour in the film especially the Viagra section. I am almost enjoying being back in Japan… Has my hate turned to love? Not quite. Today is the big screening in the 1200 seat cinema. It’s so great to see Yoshie enjoying the limelight almost more then Naoki.

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2009
October 8 – 15