Japanese Days second extended trip 2009

Winding Down

Posted in Japan, Japanese days 2009 on June 27, 2009 by copernicusfilms

Just a few days left before we leave Tokyo. We extended our stay by ten days in order to fit everything in and even with that we wont get everything done. I have shot almost everything I wanted and research wise covered an immense amount of ground. However fatigue is setting in. Constantly on the move and organising each stage of our programme without any back up infrastructure takes its toll. Not that I’m complaining, that’s how I wanted it. Even during my time working on feature films in Europe and Africa before becoming an independent film maker the sense of fatigue in yourself and others usually became apparent after about six weeks into a shoot. We were in Russia for four months in the early nineties so its possible to imagine how people felt after that length of time.The director shot the last few weeks from a wheelchair closely followed by the first assistant director. It was a disconcerting sight to see them both being wheeled around the set but working perfectly normally otherwise. This is different of course, when you are doing things for yourself you can set the pace that you want and the demands of being attached to a large crew with 20-30 actors at one time are a far cry from what I am doing now.

Hakone

After we got back from Nikko it was just a few days before gearing up forHakone. In between times I did more filming in Tokyo as well as a unique park outside Tokyo. The evening before we were to go To Hakone we met with Akira Suzuki and I outlined an idea I have had for a supplementary film and discussed the idea of doing more interviews with him for this new film.The next day w boarded a bus early in the morning which took us out to the Hakone region where Mount Fuji is located. I needed some good shots of this feature for the film. When I woke up and looked out the window torrential rain was falling and the forecast was that it would continue all day. Not a good start as this type of weather would insure that Mount Fuji would be hidden in cloud. We had decided to take a normal tour to the mountain which meant enduring a continual commentary from the guide, although I have to admit she was a good guide as far as it goes, its just we had different goals from a tourist who was in japan for the first time. I chose this method of traveling because there was no way we would get up Mount Fuji otherwise. Also I knew that the next day we would be free to wonder all over the Hakone area unhindered and the tour gave us some good deals on local transport plus as it turned out a first rate hotel with stunning views of the lake and mountains.When we got to mount Fuji, the rain had in fact stopped but as i expected the whole mountain was shrouded in mist. Occasionally there would be break here and there but it wasn’t working at all. Nonetheless the feeling of being halfway up sch a magnificent natural feature was palpable and I we felt the full force of the incredible sight of the snow peaked volcanic mountain. Beautifully formed, if the weather had been better it might have felt like just a illusory few short steps to the top. Even though we were surrounded by snow at the fifth station, as its called it didn’t feel cold. A half an hour was all we got and then it was back on the bus and down the mountain for lunch. Then out to Hakone. It took about another hour and a half to get to the lake which is in fact a collapsed volcano crater.Everyone was bundled into a cable car at the foot of some mountain and we started an assent. Suddenly there it was. The weather had cleared and mount Fuji appeared in all its glory as if floating like and island in a sea of clouds. I knew the next day was going to be clear and sunny so I would get some good footage anyway but the emotional intensity of the view was worth the wait.

We descended to the lake again and we thankfully parted company with our guide and the rest of the group and were taken by a shuttle to the hotel was a couple minutes drive away on the shores of the lake. The hotel was a real find, quite luxurious but not expensive. We had a meal in the restaurant overlooking the lake and then went for an on-sen (volcanic hot spring bath). The on-sen was divided into too sections one for men and one for women. Both were outside bit only the men’s section had a view of the lake. As I sat alone in the steaming pool and gazed out across the lake lit by a stunning full moon I began to feel I was gaining some gradual insight into what the medieval Japanese painters and poets were getting at. A peaceful end to a dramatic day.

The next morning we were up early and straight to the on-sen again to set us up for breakfast. Breakfast was an extensive layout of everything from fruit, salads, bacon eggs, rice soup etc, and good coffee. We didn’t really want to move from the great view of the lake and the fantastic food but we weren’t here just for our health and a days work was beckoning.

The first stop was the Hakone Botanical Garden which Natasha wanted to see. A long hot walk to the bus station and 15 minutes later we were at the cable car to take us up to the volcanic hot spring area. This is an area of Hakone which is still active with hot steam rising out of the water which boils on the surface. The main source of income is boiling eggs in the pools and selling them to visitors. The eggs turn black from the sulfur in the water. More shots of mount Fuji and then further and further up the mountain by cable car to the top and down the other side.

With each stop there is something interesting to look at, either a museum or art gallery or some strange natural feature. It seems to work on the secularised principle of a pilgrimage sites on a set route which were once the mainstay of the Buddhist religion in Japan.

By late evening it was already time to make our way back on the mountain railway branch line to Odawara and then on the Shikensen back to Tokyo.

The next morning we were up early for the local kanda matsuri festival of carrying shrines around the streets where our apartment is located. Noisy and hot all day but we followed it for most of the time. So much so that when the locals stopped for a break for cold drinks they offered us a drink as well.

Oshima

Posted in Japan, Japanese days 2009 on May 5, 2009 by copernicusfilms

We arrived on Oshima slightly the worse for wear after a musical evening with some friends of Akira Suzuki the night before where we consumed large quantities of Japanese food and drink. I slept for most of the time on the hi speed boat which took us out there. We were met by the curator of the Goro Mikura memorial Museum of Traditional Peasant and Folk Art, Mr Fuji and he took us straight to the museum to do some quick filming and for to get acquainted. Mr Fuji’s father was an artist who kept alive a unique folk tradition of wood sculpture indigenous to the island of Oshima(more about this later). Then we went up to Mount Mihara to film the volcano. We didn’t seem to be getting as close as I wanted(Its not active – last eruption was in 1983 and Mr Fuji was part of the team of fire-fighters and rescuers drawn from the local population). We drove around for bit more and then Mr Fuji turned off the road and onto a black lava dust trial which opened up into an enormous expanse of lava dust stretching for miles all around us. We spent an hour or more here and then roamed around the island looking at various things of interest and finally returned to the museum around 6 o’clock. Then we walked a short distance to our hotel which was a typical family Japanese hotel with Japanese style rooms and incredible views of the mountains and volcano.

The next day we were up early and headed out for some more locations in and around the main town including the hotel or at least the site of the hotel in which David Burliuk stayed in 1920 when he came to Oshima. A lot has obviously changed since then but it is still a unique feeling that you are following in the footsteps of one of the great artists of the 20th century and featured in the film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde”, which we filmed in 2004/5. David Burliuk wrote a book about his time on the island simply called “Oshima” which Akira Suzuki has translated into Japanese. After lunch we filmed an interview with Mr Fuji along with Akira Suzuki. We left Oshima about 3 PM on the Jet Foil and got back to Tokyo early evening where we had a good meal to finish off the trip.

Organising Next Locations

Posted in David Burliuk, Japan, Japanese days 2009, Nikko, Oshima on May 3, 2009 by copernicusfilms

Finally getting somewhere with some of the more complicated locations that need to be organised, namely Nikko, Oshima and Atami. Akira suzuki with whom I worked on the film “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” has invited us to go with him to the island of Oshima. Its one of the first Islands Burliuk visited when he came to Japan. Akira Suzuki wll introdcuce us to the curator of the island museum and I will film as much as possible. It takes a few hours by boat to get there so we will stay overnight and come back the next day. We have also finally got the trip to Nikko settled as well. Nikko is a small town at the entrance to Nikko National Park. It also has one reputably of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. All the same everything depends on the weather.

We have been meeting with old friends the last few days as well which takes up quite a bit of time and Now that the Sakura(Cherry blossom) period is over its worth reflecting on a few ideas

Tokyo Shinjuku Filming

Posted in Japan, Japanese days 2009, The Russian Avant-garde – Renaissance or revolution on April 7, 2009 by copernicusfilms

Today in Shinjuku was one of those days were you start to understand what you are doing how it will work and things will fit together. Its a rare experience which perhaps has something to do with the weather and wont last long but its a good feeling all the same. We spent almost the entire day filming in Shinjuku Goen park. Spectacular sight of cherry blossom in full blaze. Its very difficult to escape at the moment but all the same its an incredible sight. I’m not usually one for the postcard visions of a country but experiencing the cherry blossom in Japan is an unexpected delight and goes well beyond the cliches of cherry blossom romantic vision of Japan. There is a genuinely spiritual meaning to the festival in that the fleeting appearance and disappearance of the blossoms represents or embodies the fleeting character of life itself. Most of the footage I am getting at the moment will fill in gaps which will have a qualitative effect on the over all direction of the first film which is centred around traditional Japanese art. In many ways at the moment there is nothing new coming in just a building up of layers and shades to add depth to the film. When engaged with any film or any project for that matter, when you start, it takes some time to reach an understanding of the outer parameters. In other words the limits within which the film will be formed. These limits are never actually reached as any creative project is forever in the stage of formation but at some point you do get a sense of what that territory will be. With these two films I don’t think I have reached that point. As I film and collect material here in Japan those limits and that territory is still in a significant state of flux.

The same thing was true of the series The Russian Avant-garde – Renaissance or Revolution whereby I was never really sure with each film and the series itself whether I was coming to the end or beginning a new phase of the series. It was only after the six films were completed that I felt as if the outer parameters of the project had been reached.

Copernicus Films – Tokyo Filming

Posted in David Burliuk, Japan, Japanese days 2009, The Russian Avant-garde – Renaissance or revolution on April 5, 2009 by copernicusfilms


Several days of filming around Tokyo. Mostly general stuff but at the same time bearing in mind the archive footage I already have and how the archive footage might be integrated with contemporary scenes of Tokyo. This will hold true for the traditional film and the contemporary film both of which will make up the project. Filming and writing almost simultaneously which is a very new sensation. I have already done a considerable amount of research leading up to this trip but there is nothing like being in the field so to speak and seeing how things actually are on the ground and in reality. Have been spending time with Akira Suzuki who gave me a copy of his new translation of David Burliuk’s book about Siberia. Its about the fifth or sixth book he has translated of Burliuk’s work – its just a shame that I don’t read Japanese. Information about Akira Suzuki can be found on my web site as well as an interview with him in my “David Burliuk and the Japanese Avant-garde” the fifth in the series “The Russian Avant-garde – Renaissance or Revolution”.
At the moment its the cherry blossom festival in Japan so I feel a bit dominated by it but at the same time I am looking at other things which are going on around Tokyo. In some sense I am still finding my feet and trying to get into some kind of rhythm. Kyoto was much easier because we had a short space of time in which to fit everything in and so we were quite focused. Here in Tokyo things are a little bit more open ended and so it requires more discipline. Some of the evening material looks interesting although I haven’t had a chance to look at it all.

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