Kaori SAKAGAMI, director of PRISON CIRCLE, born in Osaka in 1965, studied at the University of Pittsburgh. After returning to Japan, she started working as a director for numerous TV documentaries. Since 2001, she has been a Visiting Associate Professor at Hitotsubashi University. Her first feature length documentary LIFERS: REACHING FOR LIFE BEYOND THE WALLS (2004) was awarded at New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, while her following film TALK BACK OUT LOUD (2013) was shown at various international film festivals. In her books as well as in her films, she often deals with therapeutic approaches toward experiences of violence. We are very glad she took the time to answer our questions for our Guest in Focus series.
When and how did you first get into filmmaking?
It was 1990 while I was in the US doing my Master’s degree in International Relations. As part of my preliminary research for my master’s thesis, I stayed in Santiago, the capital of Chile. I happened to participate in a pro-democracy demonstration, where I witnessed various indescribable and dramatic scenes that moved me tremendously.
At that time I felt the limits of the academic world. I was always watching a lot of movies… and suddenly I thought: “Documentary film! This is it!”. Since there was a film school nearby, I decided to enroll there, but as a poor student I could just barely take the basic course in shooting and editing. My first film (a documentary about women in Chilean slums) was a disaster and so boring that my friends called it a “hypnosis video” and made fun of it.
What was the biggest challenge while making your latest film?
There were so many that it’s difficult to limit myself to only one; but at first it was difficult to even get permission to shoot. It took six years, because in the past there had never been a documentary film by a Japanese director set in a prison. Five years passed before our concept paper was accepted. Whenever it almost came to approval, we suffered another setback. Nevertheless, I did not give up and continued to try to appeal to the prison director. After six years, I thought I had finally been granted permission, but I was not allowed to make eye contact with the inmates, let alone talk to them even shortly. The permission was full of prohibition clauses, I hardly got to film. It was a challenge not to give up, no matter what.
What are some challenges women especially are faced with in the world of Japanese filmmaking?
In my opinion, there is a crucial lack of production funds, understanding and sympathetic producers, and an environment for raising children. In Japan, subsidies for film productions are scarce (almost non-existent), so that the majority of filmmakers, including myself, take on other jobs to pay for the productions and make ends meet. Furthermore, documentary films require a great deal of flexibility, which is impossible for a woman like me raising a child or children, unless she has grandparents nearby or a “super dad”. Women are faced with the choice between film or family. This situation makes it difficult for great female filmmakers to emerge, and many things have to be given up in favor of filmmaking; the problem is deeply rooted.
Japan 2019, 120 min
Watch the film HERE from June 9 to 14, 2020
at the 20th Nippon Connection Film Festival
Check out the trailer!