An Interview with Ryohei Sasatani, Director of SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

ID12_Sanka Nomads of the mountains_director (2)

Winner of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022‘s Japan Cuts Award, Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains is the debut narrative feature of Ryohei Sasatani. Originally getting his start with documentaries, he has released a number of works that concern themes of human beings existing within nature. After winning the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture, production on Sanka was set into motion and shot there.

The story is set in the summer of 1965 and revolves around a teenage boy named Norio (Rairu Sugita) who returns from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma and encounters three Sanka, nomadic folk whose lives are spent wandering around mountains and living off the land. It begins by chasing a spirited teenage girl named Hana (Naru Komukai) then meeting her father Shozo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and the wisecracking grandmother Tae (Yoko Ran). In contrast to a stern father (Kisuke Iida), a budding land developer, and a strict society that is modernising, these three outsiders offer an alternative family who teach the boy to live as part of nature as well as the customs of Sanka culture. This puts him on a collision course with his father who wants to develop the land.

What unfolds is a well-written story of Norio’s growth while under the influence of the Sanka people as he learns from them and reckons with his family ties to the land as well as the burgeoning economic boom that Japan is about to undergo. This story, with themes of environmentalism and the price of progress, also gives a snapshot of the Sanka way of life that has since faded. It is all couched in the gorgeous landscape of Gunma Prefecture which becomes a character of its own as the weather and locations create a deep impression. You can read my review here.

Sanka was due to play at the Japan Cuts festival of new Japanese film in New York but that has been postponed until next year. Since it is currently on release in Japan, the interview will be published now. In it, Ryohei Sasatani talks about the making of the film, from working with the elements, animals, and the rugged landscape to the philosophy he planted in the story and also a little about the Sanka people.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington’s translations.

The Japanese-language interview is followed by the English.


Japanese

JAPAN CUTS award受賞おめでとうございます。とても情緒的であり、また普遍的な関心事である開発と環境についての問題提起もされている映画だと思いました。いくつか質問をあげたのですが、返答いただけたら嬉しいです。

この物語はどんなふうに生まれたのでしょうか?サンカの人たちの生活についてどういったリサーチをされたのか、また何か他の映画や文学から影響を受けたりされたのでしょうか?

私が映画を志すきっかけをくれたのはトニー・ガトリフ監督作品『ガッジョ・ディーロ』でした。この映画では東欧のロマが描かれており、不定住民である彼らのエネルギーや歌、何より美しさに衝撃を受けました。ある日、日本にも不定住民がいたことを知り、調べ始めました。もちろん、文献は様々に読んでいますが、特に参考にしたのは沖浦和光(おきうらかずてる)著『幻の漂泊民・サンカ』です。小説では五木寛之(いつきひろゆき)著『風の王国』です。この小説ではサンカをモチーフにしています。

役者の方たちはこの物語をどのように受け止められたのでしょうか?

俳優陣は、全員、このシナリオに興味を持ち、好意を持ってくれました。それぞれが、それぞれの役に没入するためには何がベストかを考えてくれました。特にハナ役の小向なるさんは、サンカの娘を演じるために、山を駆け抜けるトレイルランを学びました。オーディション時、クランクイン前と、全く違う顔つき、体つきでした。

監督は、青々と木々が茂る山の自然を映画の中で見事に描かれました。背景にある山々や川がこの映画では重要な役目を担っていて、登場人物たちの人となりを形づくる自然力にもなっています。この映画の撮影はどの地方でされたのですか? また、撮影現場にどういうふうに馴染んでいかれたのでしょうか? あのロケ地は撮影前から監督ご自身がご存知の土地だったのですか?それとも作品のイメージや撮影に適した場所を見つけるのにあちこち探索されたのでしょうか

この映画は、群馬県にて行われている伊参(いさま)スタジオ映画祭という映画祭にて、シナリオ大賞を頂いた作品を映画化したものです。この映画祭ではシナリオ大賞受賞作は著者の手によって映画化されるという慣例(慣習)があり、映画祭が行われる群馬県中之条町という場所で映画を作ることも条件の一つでした。中之条町は山が深く、この映画のロケ地としては絶好の場所でしたし、この場所で映画を撮る前提でシナリオを書いていました。またロケハンを幾度となく繰り返したのですが、特筆すべきは当映画祭実行委員会、中之条町によるロケ地の推薦、バックアップ、交渉がなければこの映画のロケ地には巡り会えなかっただろうと思います。

自然を前にした時、役者さんは裸になると言われています。舞台なら場を設定している美術に囲まれ、観客もその虚構に乗ります。(舞台上で、扉がないのにドアノブを引く真似をすると、観客はみんなそこに扉があると理解できるように)

それと比べ、自然はあまりにもリアルなので、虚構の舞台にはなり得ません。難しい現場だったと思います。

絵コンテを用意されたのでしょうか?それとも、監督ご自身と役者やスタッフがその場で感じた事をもとにして、撮りたいと思ったものを自然の成り行きにまかせて撮影されたのですか?

中之条町の山中は緩やかな起伏が多く、演技をできる場所が限られていました。なので場所はあらかじめ設定し、リハーサルをしてもらいその場の空気を感じつつカット割を決めました。絵コンテはどうしても欲しい構図のみ、あらかじめ決めて撮影に臨みました。演技も、撮影プロセスも、とにかく自然に、気のてらい、作為のないように心がけました。

映画のほとんどをあの山の中で撮影されていますよね。起伏の多い場所での撮影は、さぞかし大変だっただろうと思ったのですが…。制作について詳しくお話いただけないでしょうか?撮影スタッフやカメラの数、撮影で苦労された点などお聞きしたいと思います。

まず、天候の問題が一番でした。山が深いので、刻々と天気が移ります。毎日、雨が降りました。川辺での撮影時、突然の豪雨に機材も濡れ、役者、スタッフと全員が(下着まで)びしょ濡れになり、なんとか避難したこともあります。また山中では吸血ヒルが常に襲いかかりました。私たちは塩水のスプレーを常に携帯し、ヒルに備えました。ヒルに血を吸われると1時間ほど出血が止まらなくなります。スタッフの全員がヒルに噛まれたと思います。つまり、スタジオで撮るよりも、あらゆることに注意する必要がありました。また雨のシーンを撮りたい時には雨が降らず、東京から散水車を呼び、川の水を汲み上げ雨を降らしました。冷夏だったので川の温度が低く、極めて冷たい雨が降りました。本当に大変でした。しかし、自然に揉まれながら撮ることで、「自然に作らせてもらっている」というこの映画の本質を、全員が体で感じることができました。

Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Image

あの土地で撮影するのに、何か特別な許可は必要だったのでしょうか?

ほとんどの交渉は伊参スタジオ映画祭実行委員会と自治体が行ってくれました。

映画の中で、実際生きている生き物を殺すシーンがあります。最後の一撃を与えるシーンでは、手の部分だけが映されていました。役柄の人物に応じて手が差し替えてあるように見えたのですが、熟練者にその部分の代役を頼まれたのか、或は役者に実際演じるようにされたでしょうか?

そのような質問をいただいたのは初めてなので、驚いています。確かに手に寄りましたが、蛇の首を切るところ、魚を捌くところは全て役者さん自身に行ってもらいました。

監督によっては、役者とスタッフにロケ地に実際に住み込ませて、その土地に馴染みながら役作りに取り組む人もいます。監督は、役者とスタッフに、屋外で寝泊まりさせたのですか?それとも、ホテルで普段通りの快適さを提供されたのか?あるいは、則夫が滞在していた古い民家のような撮影セットに寝泊まりされたのですか?

屋外では寝泊まりしていません。共同の宿舎、または近所の宿にて泊まりました。その宿舎も快適とは言えませんでした。土地に馴染むという意味では、上に記したように、自然の洗礼を毎日受けていましたので、自分たちの意志とは関わりなく、全員が自然に溶け込み映画作りに向かったと思っています。

たぶん予算上、無理だろうけれど、映画の中に挿入したかったなあという事/物はありますか?

ありません。

最後に出てくる木像と、踊り/舞いについて説明していただけますか?

観念的になるかと思いますが、まず、舞いに関しては「山の神」です。日本には多くの神がいます。水の神、火の神、海の神、山の神など。山の神がお婆さんを迎えに来た、それを則夫が見たのでした。最後の木像は、仏像です。木喰上人(もくじきしょうにん)という江戸時代の遊行僧(各地を放浪する僧)が彫ったものです。日本では、古来より自然は、人間がコントロールするものではなく、神に近い存在です。人間は、自然から恵みを与えてもらい、生かしてもらっているという考え方です。それは仏への祈りに直結します。日本では古来より、自然のすべてが神聖なものだと考えています。サンカの人たちは、その神聖な自然の一部として生きてきました。また、唯物的な現代人では見えない世界に生きているとも思えます。その思いを仏像に託しました。

この映画を作ってくださってありがとうございます。

そしてインタビューにお時間いただきありがとうございます。

こちらこそ、本当にありがとうございます。


Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster

English

Congratulations on winning the JAPAN CUTS award. Your film is very atmospheric and speaks to universal concerns about the clash between “progress” and the environment. I have a number of questions that I hope you are willing to answer.

How did you come up with the story? What sort of research did you do into the lives of the Sanka people and did you have any cinematic/literary influences?

It was the film “Gadjyo Dilo” (The Crazy Stranger, 1997) by Tony Gatlif that inspired me to become a filmmaker. The film depicts the life of Roma. I was swept away by their energy, songs, and above all, the beauty of these wanderers. One day, I learnt that there were also nomads in Japan and started researching them. Of course. I read various kinds of references. In particular, I used ‘Phantom Drifter Sanka’ by Kazuteru Okiura as a reference, and in terms of literary fiction, ‘The Kingdom of the Wind’ by Hiroyuki Itsuki. This novel has Sanka as a motif.

How did the cast react to the story?

The cast were all interested in the script and also liked it. Each actor considered what they needed to do to immerse themselves in their roles, especially, Naru Komukai who plays Hana. She did exceptional work as she learned trail running in the mountains in order to play the daughter of a Sanka. Her face and body were completely different from when I first saw her at the audition and when I started shooting.

Sanka Film Image Naru Komukai

You have depicted a world lush with nature in your film. The mountains and rivers play huge roles as backdrops and also as elemental forces that shape the characters. Which region was this filmed in and how did you settle upon the locations? Were you already familiar with them or was a lot of exploration needed to get the right area?

This film is based on the script with which I won the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture. In this cinema festival, it is customary that the Scenario Grand Prix winner is made into a film by the script writer. Moreover, one of the conditions is for the winner to shoot their films in Nakanojo-machi in Gunma, where the cinema festival is held. Nakanojo-machi is situated deep in the mountains and was the perfect place for the film to be shot. The area had already been in my mind when writing the script. I went location scouting many times, and I would like to mention that I wouldn’t have been able to find the locations without the incredible support of the cinema festival committee and Nakanojo-machi, who recommended and negotiated for the locations used for filming.

It is often said that actors become naked when they face nature. If it is a stage play, actors are surrounded by the set design and the audience is drawn into a fiction that the actors created. (For instance, when an actor pretends to pull the door knob although there are no doors, the audience understands that there is a door).

Compared with that, nature is tremendously real, so nature cannot be a fictional stage. I am sure that it was a challenging film set for the actors.

Did you have a storyboard or did you let the environment dictate how you wanted to shoot based on the feelings it evoked in you and your team?

The mountain in Nakanojo-machi has a lot of gently rolling terrain, so we had limited places for acting. Therefore, I set up the shooting locations beforehand, and we rehearsed there and planned the film transitions while the cast grasped the sense of place. I drew the storyboard only for the frame compositions I was eager to capture before shooting. In the acting and shooting process, I tried my best to make it as natural as possible, not to be deliberately unusual or contrived.

With so much of the film taking place in the mountains, I imagine that it was a difficult shoot due to the rough terrain. Could you expand upon how the production went, the number of crew and the camera used and the obstacles you overcame?

First of all, the hardest thing to deal with was the weather. Since the locations were deep in the mountains, the weather was very changeable. It was raining every day. When we were filming by the river, we had a torrential downpour and the filming equipment, cast and staff were all completely soaked (even down to our underwear). We just managed to escape from the rain, though. We were also attacked by leeches in the mountains. We always carried a spray containing salty water and were prepared for any leech attacks. When a leech sucks blood, the bleeding lasts for about an hour. I think every member of staff got bitten by leeches. So, we all needed to prepare more carefully for all sorts of conditions than we would have, had we been filming in a studio. Also, it didn’t rain when I wanted to have scenes with rain, so we had to call a sprinkler truck from Tokyo to pump water up from the river to create rainfall. It was a cold summer, so the water temperature was low and the rain was very cold. It was really tough. However, as we were shooting whilst buffeted by nature, all of us could feel we were working on something that had the essence of the film that “nature is letting us make”.

if12_1

Was any type of permission needed to shoot on the land?

Isama Studio Cinema Festival committee and the local government did most of the negotiation for me.

It appears that actual living creatures were killed in the making of this film. When the fatal blows are administered, we only see hands and it looks like the hands are different depending upon the character. Did you have experts available to do that aspect of the performance or did you get the cast to do it?

I am surprised by this question because I have never received such a question before. Yes, as you mentioned, I zoomed in on the hands, but I made the cast do all of the actions of cutting the snake’s head off and handling the fish.

Sometimes directors get their cast and crew to live in a location so it helps shape their approach to the material. Did you get your team to try living outdoors or did you stick to the comfort of hotels or a particularly set like the old house Norio stays in?

We didn’t stay outdoors. We stayed in shared accommodation and local inns. The accommodations were not even close to being comfortable either. In terms of becoming accustomed to the land, since we were experiencing all of the severe aspects of nature every day, we blended into the locations irrespective of our will.

Were there any things you wanted to include that the budget wouldn’t allow for?

No.

Could you explain the statues and the dance at the end?

It might sound conceptual, but the dance represents “Yama-no-Kami” (gods of the mountain). There are many Kami (god/spirits) in Japan: the god of water, god of fire, god of sea and god of mountain, and so on. The god of the mountain came to escort the grandmother to heaven and Norio saw it. The figure at the end is a Buddhist statue. It was sculpted by Mokujiki-Shonin, a Yugyo-so (wandering monk)1 from the Edo period. Since ancient times, Japanese people have believed that nature is not something to be controlled by humans, but rather something close to a god. What this means is that humans receive blessings from nature, and humans are also given life by nature. This concept connects with a prayer to the Buddha. In Japan, there is the idea that everything in the natural world is sacred. The Sanka have lived as a part of that sacred nature. I think they have lived in a world which materialistic modern-day people cannot see. I entrusted these thoughts to the Buddhist statue.

1 Itinerant Japanese Buddhist monks who lived a large part of their lives independently from religious establishments.

Yugyo means pilgrimage. https://www.japanese-wiki-corpus.org/Buddhism/Mokujiki.html

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