Interviews on Tokyo-Ga

Roger Macy macyroger at
Sat Feb 6 05:58:52 EST 2010

Thank you, Jonathan, for your generous response, and for giving me points to ponder.

Your experiences as an interpreter/interviewer are enlightening, but I cannot see that Wenders needed to credit an interpreter, as there is no evidence that he used one.  To me, his whole subjectivity is based not having an interpreter.  As for the valuable interviews, when he came to make his voice-over in 1984, a couple of years after the filmed interviews, he must have used a translation at this point.

The Herzog remarks are presented by Wenders as a chance encounter.  Whether a few tactless remarks reveal racism or not, I do claim that foregrounding - and top-crediting - of these few words by Herzog (lo-behold, in a western language) over the real work of the interviewer is much more revealing of attitudes in which racial-stereotyping and language-chauvinism are intertwined.

And, to try and answer your question as to the root of my dislike; beyond the pontification which you have described, it would be the lack of tact.  I was struck by some remarks by Mamoun Hassan at the recent BFI Masterclass on Tokyo Story, as to Ozu's tact, as a film-maker.  Hassan's point was highly finessed, and I couldn't reproduce it adequately, but it came as a refreshing antidote to Wenders' filming of the difficult child on the subway, where the camera follows the child round and seems intent on looking down his ear.  I have seen such behaviour - and poor parenting - frequently in the UK, the US and Germany, but never in Japan.  Even though the narration pulls back at this point from generalisation, the montage does not.  Tactlessness, in a social context means being unaware of the effect of one's own actions and that encapsulated the camerawork here.  And tactlessness so often extends to generalisations about others, drawn from the unintended effects of one's own borishness.

But enough of this wretchedness.  I'd still like to know who did the interviewing, but there's a feast of Ozu still only half-consumed.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jonathan M. Hall" <jmhall at>
To: <KineJapan at>
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 1:52 AM
Subject: RE: Interviews on Tokyo-Ga

> Dear Roger and all,
> It would be great to hear why Rayns thinks the film is wretched--and why it's far worse than that for you!  I can imagine some reasons.  Certainly, the film is maudlin, sanctifying, and self-important, the interview with Herzog disturbing in its exposition of that director's racism, and the image of Japan a montage of 1980s stereotypes.  Theoretically, it seems to borrow very much from Schrader's Transcendental Film, by which I am not much persuaded.   I can see there are ample reasons to dislike it.  That said,  I do believe it is one of the most successful documentaries about Japanese film in its ability to put a Japanese film into both local and international contexts, to address not only the director but the 'auteur,' and to use Ozu's own work to make its points. Even if I disagree with its vision or dated--even hackneyed--observations about Japan--, I thought Wenders was very successful in getting his viewers to care about the details of Ozu's camerawork.  And the interviews you cite really make me choke up every time I see them--to feel such love and passion.  In its diaristic recounting of his failure to encounter a Japan long gone, I think the film was quite prescient.  If you compare it to other major documentaries about Japan made in the 1980s then it's actually quite refreshing.  In fact, it's not really until the 1990s that we see less stereotyped visions with broader palettes. 
> As for the interpreter, it would be very interesting to hear if someone on the list knows who conducted or interpreted for the interviews.  But I would not think there's any reason to assume that Hasumi conducted the interviews. As a film scholar at the height of his powers, I can imagine him providing introductions, but why would he conduct the interviews?  But maybe not.  It really would be interesting.  Perhaps you could contact Wim Wenders office?
> The lack of credit for an interpreter is hardly surprising--and in fact is  the norm. Interpreting is understood as artless piecework, noticeable usually only for its failures.  I recently did a set of interviews with the major figures (Fuji Tatsuya, Sai Yoichi, Tomiyama Katsue, and Koyama Akiko) involved in Oshima's In The Realm of the Senses for a European documentary.  As anyone who's interpreted for on-camera interviews knows, you often have to go through great gymnastics to simulate an eyeline  that hides the interpreter--to create the semblance of communication with the so-called interviewer.  My request for credit was, I think, surprising to those making the doc.
> Jonathan M Hall
> ________________________________________
> 差出人: owner-KineJapan at [owner-KineJapan at] は Roger Macy [macyroger at] の代理
> 送信日時: 2010年2月6日 8:50
> 宛先: KineJapan
> 件名: Interviews on Tokyo-Ga
> Dear Kinejapaners,
> Thank you all for your responses a while back on the term 'tendency film'.  May I ask questions on another item of Ozu apocrypha ?
> Last month,  at the NFT, I saw, as part of the side-bar series 'Ozu and his influence', the film by Wim Wenders, Tokyo-Ga, released in 1985.  I hadn't, at the time, noticed Tony Rayns' remark in January Sight and Sound, describing the film as "frequently wretched" (p26).  I'd say he was being excessively polite and I only want to remark on the last bit where there are interviews of RYŪ Chishū and ATSUTA Yūharu, Ozu's cameraman.
> My point concerns the lack of credit.  Patently, the filmed interviews are not conducted by Wenders, but by a native Japanese speaker who can occasionally be heard.  There is no credit on the film, or on the Criterion DVD coupling with Late Spring,  to any interviewer, or to a translator (which Wenders must have used specifically for his voiceover of this section).  The literature all talks of Wenders doing the interviewing.
> The only clue is on IMDb, where there are 'thanks' to 'Shigehiko Hasumi'.
> David Bordwell, on pp74-75 seems to cite the interview in Tokyo-Ga and  the French translation of an interview of Atsuta by Hasumi, almost in the same breath.
> 1) Was Hasumi indeed the interviewer on Tokyo-Ga ?
> 2) Since Hasumi's interview cited by Bordwell comes from Hasumi's 1982 book, Kantoku Ozu Yasujirō (which I have not seen), I presume the footage on Tokyo-Ga, are not the same event ?
> 3) Who is doing the thanking on IMDb ? and~
> 4) If someone has made a fuss about this before to get the IMDb credit, why can I find no trace of it, or of Hasumi's work, - at least in any western language ?
> Roger
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