How was this film born?


For me, the « mother » who raised me was my grandmother. This film is born from her voice.

My grandmother is getting old and moving closer to death. I was raised by my grandfather and her, but I’ve had very few opportunities to hear them talk about their lives. My grandmother especially, who is a woman, has told me, her grandson, almost nothing about her life ; as I was sure that I would definitely regret it later if I didn’t listen to her story now, I started going to my grandmother’s side two years ago to gradually record her words. The stories she told me for the first time, about how she had been loved for a short while, of her meeting and break-up with the person she had loved the most, somehow sounded to me almost like folk tales.

At the beginning of last year, my grandmother’s condition deteriorated, and it became impossible for her to speak as she had done while I was making the film. Seeing her speak as if her memories had gone murky, my father said : « Now, she’s dreaming of her memories ». I’d heard of the saying, « Dreams you see at dawn are oracles from the other world, » but nobody knows what kind of world « the other world » is. Using images to expand on my grandmother’s stories and memories, I made a film about love and the Buddhist Pure Land (that « other world »).



The film is built around your grandmother’s words, but you never show her. Why did you make this choice? How did you work with her to get her to speak?


My grandmother is a very shy person, so I didn’t think it was good to turn the camera on her. What’s more, even though the film originated in my grandmother’s stories, in the end I wanted to make it into a universal tale about women, so I thought it was better not to show my grandmother’s figure. Since I wanted to collect her stories as naturally as possible, I shared her daily life, as she cooked or took a nap. Whenever she allowed me to record her, I started recording and talked with her as she relaxed, and recorded the entire conversation. I finished the script by writing what she said. In the film, my grandmother’s voice is the main character.


It is also a film about a place, and in particular a house. How did you work on this spatial dimension?


The house that is seen is the house I once lived in with my grandmother. It is also the house where I lived with my biological parents. Now, no one lives in that house anymore. When my grandmother’s condition worsened and I stopped interviewing her, she was trying to sell the house. That was the end of an era. I did a field recording of the sounds of daily life inside the house and around it, at two different moments: when there were still remains of a daily life and the house still « breathed », even if only barely (when it was alive), and when the furniture was gone and there was nothing left inside the house (when it had died). In the film, those two periods and their sounds are mixed.


Why was it important for you to shoot on specific film stock?


As mentioned earlier, I wanted to make a film about love and the Buddhist Pure Land by using images to expand on my grandmother’s voice and memories. There is no colour in my dreams, and Monochrome film was perfect for capturing that worldview. The reason I used a 8mm camera is that this camera used to be used for filming home videos, and it retains certain inconveniences that modern cameras don’t have anymore. It’s a camera that records and registers time and people who matter to us. There’s a sense of distance in that camera’s viewfinder that transmits the love we have for the subject we’re shooting, and it was very fitting for shooting images of « love ». What is more, with 8mm, there is the inconvenience of not being able straight away to check the images you’ve just recorded, as you would with a digital camera. You only find out what you shot later, after having developed the film, most of the time you end up with not even half of what you intended. But things that you hadn’t even imagined (that you hadn’t intended) are there too. The time it took me to reorganize the film’s structure based on this was a time for me to think about the film and discuss it. As the film’s theme is personal, and I had to find some distance from it, I think that it was very important for the work that I took that time.


There is colour only in once scene: can you comment on this choice?


Because that scene is the only sequence of « life ». But, as inside the memory it shows a period of life that has already passed, I used a colour reversal film stock that had already expired. We edge towards death from the instant we are born. To express that, I wanted to link the wind that blows when the baby is born, and the wind that blows at the table during the meal in the next scene (in Paradise). I don’t think that the worlds of life and death are separate, I think they are two sides of the same coin.


The film is built on a counterpoint between two voices that end up speaking together. Why did you choose to end the film this way? Can you tell us more about the text that the two voices speak at that moment?


The young woman’s voice is not my grandmother’s when she was young, but the image of a « universal woman ». At the end of her happiness with the man she loved, « The Hymn of Love » by Koshiji Fubuki (the original song is by Edith Piaf), my grandmother’s favourite song, comes on. At this moment, I imagined their lives tied together even beyond the end of their story.
What we hear at the end is the poem Hirogari (« Expansion »), by Tanikawa Shuntarō, a poet my grandmother loved. This poem is about the interval about oneself and what one can or cannot take part in, and I thought it was the perfect ending to this film that is always expanding. Though these are not my grandmother’s own words but a recitation of a poem, her own voice is opened up, and the images of my grandmother and of the universal women intersect. When the final stanza is read by my grandmother’s voice alone, her voice is separated from the simple timeframe of her life, and expresses a connexion to the eternal flow of time (the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth).


Interviewed by Nathan Letoré