Guest in Focus: Kaori SAKAGAMI

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. 

NC20_Docs_Prison Circle_02

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. 

PRISON CIRCLE
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!


映画作りを始めたのはいつ頃ですか? どのようなきっかけでしたか?

1990年、米国の大学院で国際関係学を学んでいた頃です。修士論文の事前調査でチリの首都サンチアゴに滞在したのですが、たまたま民主化のデモに参加し、そこで言葉にできない様々なドラマを目撃し、心が動きました。当時アカデミズムに限界を感じていて、映画ばかり見ていた私は、ドキュメンタリー映画だ!と思ったのです。近くに映画学校があったので通うことにしたのですが、貧乏学生だったので、撮影と編集の基礎コースを取るのが精一杯。最初に作った作品(チリのスラム街の女性たちに関するドキュメンタリー)は散々で、友人からは「催眠ビデオ」とバカにされるぐらい、つまらない作品になってしまいました。

今回の映画制作・撮影中での一番大きなチャレンジは何でしたか?

ありすぎて一つに絞るのが難しいですが、まずは撮影許可をもらうこと。刑務所を舞台にした日本人によるドキュメンタリー映画は前例がなかったので、6年もかかりました。企画書を受け取ってくれず、たらい回しの5年間。ようやく許可が降りそうになると横ヤリが入って頓挫。それでも諦めずに、所長にアピールし続けました。6年目にようやく撮影が許可されたかと思ったら、受刑者とは挨拶どころか目も合わせてはならず、禁止事項だらけでなかなか撮影させてもらえない。何があっても諦めないでいることがチャレンジでしたね。

日本の映画界で特に女性が直面しているチャレンジは何でしょうか?

制作資金と理解あるプロデューサーと子育て環境が決定的に不足していると感じます。日本では、映画制作の助成金が少ない(ほとんどない)ので、私も含めて制作者の大半が、生活や制作費のために別の仕事をしています。加えて、ドキュメンタリーの場合は柔軟さが求められるので、私のように子育て中の女性は、助けてくれる祖父母が近くにいるか、Super Dadがいない限り不可能です。女性は、映画を取るか、家庭を取るかの選択を迫られています。そんな状況では、優れた女性の映画制作者は生まれにくいし、制作のためには色々諦めなくてはならないので、問題は根深いです。

 

 

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