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An Interview with Sai Yoichi, President of the Directors Guild of Japan (Spring 2007)

How do you see the mission and role of the Directors Guild of Japan?

sai_1.jpgThroughout the 70-year history of the Directors Guild of Japan, our role and mission has been as an advocate for the interests of film directors, primarily with regard to establishing copyright and freedom of expression.

Copyright law has been revised to our disadvantage, so we have had a strong awareness of infringement on our rights.
copyright for film directors has been and continues to be a priority of the DGJ.

From the time of its founding, especially during the long wartime period, when the film industry was sensitive to the changing times, gaps have developed between the thinking of film directors and what society demanded of them. The individual members of the Guild, seeking to live as creative artists and as natural beings, have stood in critical opposition to the tenor of the times.

We have always been painfully aware that, as individuals, our foundation is weak, while we wished to stand on firm ground, as directors and creative artists, and project our ideas and emotions into our films. That has been our fundamental goal.

When like-minded individuals joined together in solidarity, film directors were able to secure their position as free and independent beings within Japan and its society, and extending across the world. The DGJ has played a central role in obtaining this strength and influence for directors.

Each of our nearly 600 members has his or her own way of thinking and beliefs. When we say we want to be more free, the impediments to that freedom are different for each one of us. But I believe there is a foundation upon which we all stand and fundamentals we share that ultimately unite us.



How do you assess the prospects for Japanese film?

sai_2.jpgAs the media mix changes with the advance of information technology, changes are demanded of the work we create. But there is a large gap between our work and what the government defines as "intellectual property," as a subject of national policy.

Films are not like passports, issued with the stamp of government authority. Throughout history, films have crossed national borders with ease. I'd like to see Japanese film conduct itself with an awareness of that history. I personally have begun working with actors, staff, and producers from other countries. Though still in its infant stages, this is a trend in Japanese film.

There needs to be a variety of genres within Japanese film. Of course, there will be large, commercial films, but there also need to be noncommercial films. There has to be breadth and fusion among genres. There is a traditional style of Japanese film that has made a contribution to the world of film. But we need to build on that tradition and develop new "hybrids."

Some years ago, a Hollywood actor came to the Tokyo International Film Festival and asked, provocatively, "Where is the Ozu in today's Japanese film world? The Mizoguchi? The Kurosawa?" I understand the feeling, but we cannot be tied forever to the masters of the past. We are proud of their work, and of the films of Oshima, Fukasaku, and Yamada, but the future of Japanese film lies in addressing the world as a whole, not just Japan.

In 2006, the box office for Japanese films surpassed that of imported (mostly Hollywood) films. But at the same time, overall audience figures were stagnant. There are ever increasing numbers of films to screen, but the audience has not grown. That's a big problem, and we need to think creatively about how to address it.

It is not enough to think just of film as an industry, as the government tends to do. Films are commodities, of course, but to think of them only in this way runs the risk of reducing the audience to one dimension. To pursue audience figures by imitating the high-tech style of Hollywood risks impoverishing the spirit of storytelling that is at the heart of film.

The idea that "all worlds exist within film" is one that comes naturally to our nearly 600 members, who span all genres of film.



How do you envision the DGJ interacting with the international film community in the future?

sai_3.jpgTo begin with, we would like our fellows around the world to see more Japanese films, both past and present.

Second, as an organization dedicated to establishing and protecting the copyrights of directors, we want to continue to find areas of common concern and to fight for these rights together with our fellow film directors around the world.

There are many barriers to working in other countries, differences in the legal, cultural, and industrial contexts of each country. But we have worked together in the past on such issues as copyright and the defense of cultural diversity, and we will continue.

A third area of concern is Asian film. Historically, we in Japan have focused on the films of the West, but we need to deepen our connections and interchange with Asian film directors. Again, this is not easy, given the different perspectives and values of people in each of the Asian countries, but it is time to mount a collective effort to explore areas of shared concern.

Korean film is booming, as is Chinese film, while Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian films are beginning to gain world attention. The production of Asian film is truly prolific. The DGJ has, to date, had no more than a formal relationship with the rest of Asia, but I believe we can make progress, one step at a time, toward a borderless involvement with the region.



Do you have a message to overseas fans of Japanese film?

There are many fans of Japanese film throughout the world. For better or worse, Japanese film has been a relatively easy way of looking at Japan, often colored with a sense of the exotic. For example, with many young people around the world, their image of Japan is based solely on Japanese animation.

I would hope that film viewers do not hastily reach the conclusion, "This is Japan." Among all of the many films produced in Japan, none is a definitive reflection of the country. So, I hope that viewers will look at many films and animation, and develop an image of Japan on their own.

This will lead to a deeper understanding of Japan, not necessarily as a film critic or a Japan specialist, but simply as a person. Curiosity and inquisitiveness. These are critical not just for film viewers, not just for film directors, but for humans to enjoy life to the fullest.

To this end, I hope that people overseas will be exposed to the full range and scope of the films that are produced in Japan.





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