Shinoda and Iwashita Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Movie Experience: Conversation with director Masahiro Shinoda and actress Shima Iwashita; 2/27/99 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Theatrical and Cinematic Influences

Mr. Shinoda, you were a student of theatre in college and your knowledge and understanding of theatre very much influenced Double Suicide. Alfred Hitchcock said, "Movies are not pictures of people talking." You use the theatrical setting to comment on the action of the characters and thereby add another layer to the camera's power. Is that correct? Would you comment?

In terms of learning from theatre in Japan, also, we have learned most from Shakespeare -- the power of the word that Shakespeare imparted, and also that words create character.

Japanese traditional theatre of course has dialogue, beautiful dialogue, but it is all set in a musical tone of speaking. The words are very rhythmical and musical in traditional Japanese theatre, so that it is not something that imparts thought or ideas or even ideology. It doesn't have that kind of role and at times in the past I had quite a lot of antipathy toward that way of thinking. It is very hard to see the structure, how a Japanese theatre piece is constructed. In Double Suicide I wanted to bring out the black-dressed Kuroko to show how this piece of theatre is constructed, to expose that. So my great worry was that the Japanese theatre, with this musicality in its dialogue and its presentation, appealed to the emotions but it wasn't able to convey human philosophy or ideology.

The writer of the Double Suicide was Monzaemon Chikamatsu, who was from a Samurai family. He wrote very, very definite and strict types of dialogue and he had a very good observation of different classes of Japanese society. I was impressed by that. I was very moved by the comment that he made (as long ago as the early seventeenth century) that the theater cannot be just showing reality. It must show some reality but it also must include fiction in order to be able to reach the audience. Truth lies in the very thin layer, a layer like skin, that lies between fiction and reality.

Now, I would like to express my opinion about Hitchcock's films.

Good!

Watching Psycho, the fact that fiction is presented in such a very realistic way made me see from the screen that walking that tightrope between fiction and reality is very, very moving.

How does film empower you to navigate in this gray area between reality and fiction to reveal the truth?

I always think of King Kong. The kind of monsters that people can create are worse than one can imagine. But in another way, King Kong is the ghost of the fear of the modern that people have, this unseen fear of the modern. In one respect, it is a fantastic spectacle but it is also allegorical. That is what I think about -- to show what kinds of fears and problems people have without showing King Kong in a film. I think that is what is very difficult in terms of getting the fiction and reality, it is that kind of approach that I think about.

The audience watches these efforts. What happens to them? They are entertained, they are educated. What else?

It's hard to think how I would answer what kind of influence I myself have received from watching films. But I think we have lived many lives and see many kinds of lives inside movie theatres. It's a kind of virtual reality. We see a lot of murders, car chases, violence in movies, but does that make us murderers, violent people? Not at all. I think it is a kind of virtual reality that people can play in. And maybe it is because people realize that their lives are really not real, and that they can also be watched by a viewer.

Ms. Iwashita, do you agree? If so, what is the responsibility of the actress?

I think that when I play roles I become a completely different person for that time. But of course it is a virtual, an unreal person. Playing those roles gives me great pleasure and enjoyment. I think what happens with the audience is that they themselves identify maybe with one of the characters -- it might be any character in a movie -- and for a time they can enjoy being somebody else and enjoy another life for awhile. It gives them that opportunity.

I would like to add something else too. In actual life, of course, we live and have experiences, have certain emotions. But I think movies have shown depths of emotions and kinds of emotion that we might not normally come across in our own lives. So we are emotionally educated by seeing films. And some of our emotions might be much more heightened than they are in real life. I wonder sometimes and I worry that I might have become a person that is capable of a murder, for example, because of that deep emotion that we are able to feel through movies.

One of the people who has educated us most in that regard is Orson Welles -- Harry Lime in The Third Man, and Citizen Kane -- of course, that is based on a San Francisco newspaper owner. That kind of great darkness that human beings are capable of is the kind of thing we probably would not come across in our own lives, but can feel in the movies.

So the darkness that one might find in some of your movies is there, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are as pessimistic as you are accused of being?

It is much more fun to look at evil than to look at good!

I think I continue making films because it is a way that I can investigate evil. In reality, of course, it's the minimum obligation as citizens that we have to try to live and lead a good and decent life. But in terms of actually looking into what is the maximum capability of people in various different ways, looking at the evil parts, the dark parts of people, is very interesting. So rather than investigating why we should have peace or the ways we can have peace, it is much more interesting to me to investigate why we have war.

This is my personal thought But also perhaps most Japanese feel this way, that when they experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think it made us all think about what it was that we experienced. Maybe Americans find it hard to believe, but I think that Japanese people mostly think that it was not the Americans who dropped the bomb. I think the general way most of the people in Japan think about it is as something that occurred from inside human beings in general. And that is also the way I look at it too.

There is no causal relation in terms of Hiroshima and Nagasaki like the Germans have, that Nazism and the Jewish population lead to Auschwitz. That sort of causality does not exist for us. It was technological development during wartime that ultimately lead to the development of the atomic bomb and the dropping of the atomic bomb. And it is the sin of human beings that is this result. This kind of strength can be used in good ways, too, but of course it can also flip over into being an evil use, so that evil gives us a great motive for doing things. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy has said something quite wonderful: "All happy families are the same but all unhappy families are each different in their own way." So unhappiness gives us a very fertile, rich ground for emotions and educating emotions.

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