Naoko Ogigami spoke to The Natural Aristocrat® about directing Riverside Mukolitta, a film that takes us through the looking glass to the reality of Japan’s poor & forgotten. Those who even in death remain unclaimed and without a name.
This Naoko Ogigami interview contains spoilers for the film ‘Riverside Mukolitta’. The movie will be screened in the US for the first time at Japan Society NYC on Friday, November 18.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): Riverside Mukolitta spotlights the poor and the forgotten. Those whose name has been lost to the wind. What were your real life inspirations to write this film & novel?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: I happened to watch a TV documentary about solitary death (dying alone), there was a scene where many ashes (remains) are lined up on the shelves of the city hall just like the scene in my film.
The image was very shocking to me. I was surprised to see so many forgotten people in Japan.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You’ve often been described as a ‘minimalist’ director by film critics. Was the character of Kozo Shimada, who believes in the philosophy of Minimalism, a fun way for you to satirize this concept a bit?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: Am I described as a “minimalist” director by film critics? I thought it would be much more optimistic to say “minimalist” instead of poor.
I did not want to make this story tragic. In that sense, I may be using the term minimalist in a fun and ironic way. But the reality is that I understand that poverty is painful.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: This film touches upon the homeless and how even their remains in death are left uncollected by society. Instead buried nameless together. What message do you hope viewers take away about the homeless?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: We, as human beings, are always questioning the meaning of life.
When I saw the remains lined up on the shelves of City Hall in a TV documentary, I began to think about the life of each of these remains. That each forgotten person has a life of their own.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Kozo Shimada makes a point to describe himself as a minimalist and without money but not a ‘bum’. Would you say the character is dually full of humility and pride at the same time?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: Yes, I agree. Sad to say, but most Japanese filmmakers are poor. I myself sometimes ridicule myself as a useless person, but on the other hand, I have the pride of continuing to make films I love.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The scene where Shiori Minami is implied to be using her deceased husband’s bone on her body is quite dark thematically. Was your intention to show undying loyalty or loneliness?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: It is an expression of her love for her husband, even when he is bone.
Some people eat bones because their beloved has died and there is nothing they can do about their love.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Takeshi Yamada is judged even by Shimada after he learns Yamada is an ex-con. Do you feel those who have been in jail remain unforgiven permanently post-sentence?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: Since social networking have spread to the world, there are many situations where people’s pasts are not forgiven.
It is very sad and painful. And I think it leads to a sense of entrapment.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: There’s a moment where Yamada asks his boss if it’s worth it to work hard for a future 5-10 years ahead which leaves him to hesitate and ponder. Were you trying to say something larger about mundane, routine work?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: Yes, I would. Every job involves mundane routine work. But there is a change that comes from continuing to do it every day.
We live in an age when investors and YouTubers are getting rich and being touted, but I believe there is value in making something from zero to one.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Why in your opinion does Yamada panic and almost pour the ashes in a river?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: Bones are a scary thing. He did not want to keep the bones by his side.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What was the atmosphere like on-set filming the scene where Yamada breaks down crying, wondering if an ‘ex-con like him deserves any moments of happiness’?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: I thought the actor could only do the scene once. Everyone on the crew was focused on making it a success on the first take. And we made it.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What does it mean to you to have ‘Riverside Mukolitta’ be screened at Japan Society NYC as part of ‘The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond’ film festival?
NAOKO OGIGAMI: On the one hand, I am very happy, but on the other hand, for the past 20 years that I have been a filmmaker, I have been called a “female director”. I am getting very tired of it.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Naoko!
– Riverside Mukolitta will premiere in the US at Japan Society NYC on Friday, November 18 at 8:00 pm.
– There will be a post-screening discussion and Q&A with director Ogigami, followed by a reception. Tickets are on sale now.
Riverside Mukolitta Film Synopsis & Trailer:
“Director Naoko Ogigami’s (Kamome Diner, JC 2007) newest feature, Riverside Mukolitta, focuses on ex-con Takeshi Yamada, who is eluding his past by relocating to a quaint rural village in the Hokuriku region.
There, he begins to work at a small factory which makes shiokara (salted fish paste). Through the efforts of his boss, Takeshi moves into a nearby, dilapidated apartment complex.
One afternoon, Takeshi’s vociferously eccentric neighbor Kozo Shimada barges into Takesh’s unit and demands a bath in Takeshi’s personal lavatory.
With the metaphorical ice broken, Takeshi eventually emerges from his shell and warms to a friendship with Kozo and the other residents. Later, Kozo learns the secret behind Takeshi’s relocation to this particular village.
Takeshi’s new friends organize an out-of-the-box resolution to Takeshi’s ongoing angst.”
– Director Naoko Ogigami also wrote the novel ‘Kawapperi Mukolitta’ which Riverside Mukolitta is based on. The book was originally published on June 27, 2019 by Kodansha.
About The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS Film Festival
“A survey of the growing prominence and visibility of women in film.
The latest ACA Cinema Project series The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond focuses on the essential roles that female artists play from behind the camera in Japanese cinema—ranging from directing and screenwriting to production and cinematography.
Presenting an exciting array of screenings and premieres—that include new mainstream and independent works from JAPAN CUTS alumni and rising talents alongside a classics selection.
The Female Gaze offers a much-needed deep dive into the remarkable and overlooked contributions of women in contemporary Japanese cinema.”
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