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Hey all, continuing our coverage of the Japan Cuts film festival, we got to chat with Junichi Inoue, director of A Woman and War; a rare glimpse into the hardships endured by female civilians in Japan during World War II.  We spoke about the controversies behind this disturbing, sometimes brutal feature debut.

Dig it!

 

A Woman and War

Junichi Inoue

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  A Woman and War is your first feature.  What a way to make an entrance.  It was so intense, I felt queasy twice during the film, but I couldnít stop watching.

Junichi Inoue:  Ah, yes, I completely understand that.  Everybodyís been telling me that thereís no way that this film could have premiered in the States or any of the Western world.

 

LMD:  What was the inspiration behind this film?

JI:  It all started with my producer, Ken Terawaki, and he works in the Pink Eiga industry.  The policy of that industry is that as long as you have say, 4 or 5 million yen and you have as many erotic scenes as possible, you can basically do anything you want.  Our plan was to make the lowest budget war film that we could make.  One of the things that Mr. Terawaki said to me that really inspired me was that the term PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - is very known in Vietnam and Iraq, and there are a lot of films about that disorder around those times of Vietnam or Iraq, but there are now no such terms in a film that depicts that condition in this specific war {World War II}.  So I wondered what happened to those people that really suffered some disorder at the time and were they in Japan and what they were doing when they were back?

So, I guess you could say that 3/11 inspired me, too, because one of the things that stood out to me was that there were so many films in Japan about 3/11, but for myself, personally, there is not enough distance from the incident itself for me to depict that in a film.  But at the same time, I felt that the post-3/11 world is very similar to the post-WWII world 60 years ago. So in that sense, I saw the correlation of problems and issues that we were facing.

 

LMD:  I canít imagine A Woman and War wouldnít be controversial in Japan.  Has it been seen there yet and what was the reaction?

JI:  Yes, it has premiered in Japan already.  Unfortunately or fortunately, all the comments that I have received - I donít know if they are filtered - but they have all been positive.  The one thing that really stands out to me was that I did get praise and credit from people.  The Japanese society is progressively leaning toward the right; it astounds a lot of people that I was able to make this sort of film in that sort of atmosphere.  I think thatís the biggest reaction.  And of course a lot of people just bypass the theme altogether and say the cinematography is rather cheap, or there are too many sex scenes and things like that.

 

LMD:  I wonder if the film was motivated by the Japanese governmentís various denials or offensive statements made about war rape, particularly with regard to the ďcomfort womenĒ and the justification that all is excusable in wartime?

JI:  Yes, youíre absolutely right.  In fact, just when the film was showing in Japan, Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka, made a statement that the ďcomfort womenĒ were a necessity during the war.  And there was a Twitter hashtag in which everybody was telling Hashimoto himself that he should go see this film.  But of course, at the same time there were a lot of harsh criticisms that I received online: The online right wingers that didnít even go see the film told me, ďWhy pinpoint Japan? All countries were responsible for so many brutalities during the war, but why just pinpoint Japan? This must be an anti-Japan film.Ē So there was that criticism, as well.

 

LMD:  The film is disturbing on many levels, most of all for its harrowing and graphic depiction of rape.  Why did you decide to make it so shocking?  How did you judge how far you could go?

JI:  The woman in this film, she says, ďBurn, burn more.Ē  So, the thought behind that dialog is that the woman in the film is from a very poor household and she was sold into prostitution at a very young age.  The reason why she desires everything to burn is because if everything was burned and if everything was erased, everything would be equal.  I feel like the original novel by Ango Sakaguchi is a sort of a contradiction or an oxymoron in a sense because he wrote it a year after the end of the war, so he was experiencing all these emotions himself, but he decided to channel that through this figure of a woman.  Supposedly Sakaguchi was a sort of a floater in Japan; he didnít adhere to any sort of career, he wrote a thesis called War is Hope.  So what was that interesting about this young man that wrote the thesis was that he said in the class-divided, stultified society in Japan, war was the only hope, because if war occurred, everybody would be poor.  He was saying that exact same dialog that the woman did in A Woman and War.  But he wasnít saying it with any censure or sarcasm; Sakaguchi was very earnest about it - that is a big difference.  When I heard him say that, it really bothered me because the truth is, to get to that point where everybody is poor, consider how many people have to die or be murdered or killed?  So when I confronted this dialog, ďBurn, burn more,Ē I knew that while she was saying that and desiring for everything to burn to a crisp, at the same time that reality was that so many people were dying in the smoke, and there was a mother carrying an infant and dying in the fire.  But because of our low budget, we couldnít depict such specific absurdity and atrocity of war.  So since I couldnít present big bomb explosions and huge scenes like that, I knew that if I depicted the rape scenes, of course those women, they are victims that arenít in the frontlines of war; they are sort of secondary in a way, but I knew that through them I could still portray the atrocity of war, even with the budget restrictions.  So of course we have the figures of the people that died in Hiroshima and the Tokyo air raids, and even today, we know about 100,000 people died in Syria, but they are sometimes only seen as numbers to us, but at the same time all these victims that we see in the news, they are just like us: They get up in the morning, they are hungry and they want to eat breakfast, and they go through moments of joy in their daily lives, and they have parents and lovers just like us, but the fact is that their lives are cut short by war.  I really wanted to portray that and I knew these women that were raped in the film were central to that because their deaths are very crucial in depicting the injustice and horrors of war, and that was my particular challenge.  So itís not the rape scenes that are horrific; itís the rapes themselves that are horrific - thatís the distinction.

 

LMD:  You mentioned being surprised you could produce this film in the current political climate.  Did you have any issues with censorship either with the graphic rape or with the potentially explosive political content? 

JI:  Youíre exactly right.  In the current status of the Japanese film industry where most of the content is produced by the major film studios, theyíre very clear-cut films: simple tearjerkers and so on.  So youíre right that a lot of the shocking scenes do get cut away.  But this work is mine and my producerís way of resisting that trend in the Japanese film industry, and we had minimal production values, so in that sense we were free to do anything we liked, so we had no fear in encountering censorship.  Itís kind of a contradiction; in Japan you have to use your own funds and your own money to do what you want. I think itís pretty strange.

 

LMD:  The womenís nudity is shown quite graphically in the film, yet there is not one penis to be found.  Why is that?

JI:  I am very pensive about that.  I am very sorry about that, actually.  This is a very shameful thing for me to admit, actually: The thing is, the male actors in the film were more prominent than the actresses, so in their current status, for them to even be featured in this film is quite amazing, so I couldnít ask on top of that for them to appear nude.  Of course, this is no way to excuse myself, but I knew some sort of criticism would come my way even when I was shooting it, but I was prepared to face it and admit my faults.  So perhaps itís true that even though I was shooting this film as the director, as a male myself, there were certain boundaries that I couldnít overcome.

 

LMD:  It is common in Japanese film that they simply will not show a male fully nude?

JI:  Yes, I think in a way thatís true because depicting sexual organs in Japanese cinema - even the rules for women were quite a high hurdle to overcome, so when it comes to the maleÖ  Oh wait, thatís not right: thereís Nagisa Oshima, In the Realm of the Senses.  So youíre right, cross that; people who do have the capacity to ask that from the male actors do, so I guess itís my fault.

 

LMD:  Was having that experienced cast helpful to you as a first time feature director?

JI:  Yes, absolutely.  They were unbelievable.  Their power - I couldnít have done this without them.

 

LMD:  Noriko Eguchi is really the engine of the film and gives and incredible performance. How did you know she was right for the role?

JI:  Itís not quite that I was able to choose her; she gave me the honour of being in this film.  The reason why I was attracted to her was that if she had been a conventional beauty that you would see in Japanese cinema, I think it would have been a lot more sexualised.  But with her hard-boiled demeanour and delivery of lines, I thought that she would be the firm axis that would hold Nomura and Ohira together and I would be able to clearly depict that triangle relationship.  She was asked if she was worried she might lose a lot of work after appearing in a film like this, and she responded, ďNo matter what kind of film Iím in, if I make a mistake, or if I donít do a good job, Iíll lose work. So itís the same. Regardless of the politics or theme of the film, I was attracted to the woman.Ē

I think the same thing can be said for all the other actors; they all feel the same.  And I think any actors with soul working in Japan right now, are frustrated with the current film industry.

 

LMD:  So they actually were willing to do anything you asked them?

JI:  No, I donít think so.  Iím sorry to talk about money, but at the same time, they worked for about 1/10th of their fee.

 

LMD:  What would you like audiences to take away from A Woman and War?

JI:  Since most of the audience here will be American, I have to speak a little bit about my frustrations with America after 9/11 and the administration, and I guess the message I would love for American audiences to take away from this film is that the places where you dropped the bombs are the lives of those people that you see in this film.  And the same thing can be said about Japan; I mean Japan is starting to become more militaristic, as well, so I pose the same criticism toward Japan.

 

LMD:  What is next for Junichi Inoue?

JI:  Iím screenwriting about the nuclear incident post-3/11.

 

LMD:  Itís interesting that you opted not to screenwrite A Woman and War.

JI:  When I knew that I was going to be directing this, I couldnít get myself to write because I was so consumed about the pressure that it was beyond my skills.  I had a bit of writerís block.

 

LMD:  When will we see the film youíre currently working on?

JI:  Unfortunately, I canít answer that right now because although this movie has premiered in Japan, itís hardly a box-office success.  But at the same time I know that if people like me donít struggle, the fighting spirit of our older generation of filmmakers wonít live on.  Iíll look forward to your support.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 17th, 2013

 

 

 

 

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