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Incredible Interview! Documentary -Film – WHAT ARE YOU SCARED OF? is the BEST Doc on Feminism in Japan we have ever SEEN! #JAPANCUTS2015 *nyc International Premiere

We can barely begin to describe the immense accomplishment of director Hisako Matsui’s forceful but well balanced documentary, WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

But the interview she gave LuckyGirl MEDIA is a knockout MUST READ.

WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF is an Excellent Film — Very thorough and very clear! Director Hisako Matsui makes a very good decision to focus on the subject through the eyes and voices of the participants who made the history. The use of montage with actual participants in the movement gains power throughout the doc, with the remembrances of many of the original participants, authors, and heroines of the movement showing how their lives grew to embrace global concerns in local ways. Their lives and focus, very compelling, give a very human touch to the subject not just of gender discrimination, but of personal resistance to discrimination.

What Are You Afraid Of?
FILM

What Are You Afraid Of?

何を怖れる (Nani wo Osoreru)

What Are You Afraid Of? 何を怖れる © 2014 Essen Communications, Inc.

DOCUMENTARY FOCUS

International Premiere

Hisako Matsui.

 

A (her)story told through the very people involved in the women’s liberation movement beginning in Japan in the 1970s, filled with personal accounts of why they joined the movement and ideas about work that is still left to be done. Female director Hisako Matsui (Leonie, JAPAN CUTS 2012) draws out episodes from these torch-bearing women, touching on a wide range of subjects from gender inequality, marriage, social structures, women’s studies and journalism to aging. A testament to feminism in different forms, the film serves as both a powerful introduction to those unfamiliar with the history and a celebration of the women who paved the way and continue to work for a better future.

Japan. 2015. 120 min. Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Hisako Matsui. With Mitsu Tanaka, Chizuko Ueno, Kimiko Tanaka, Tomoko Yonetsu, Keiko Higuchi.


Part of JAPAN CUTS 2015.

Background:

Hisako Matsui (What Are You Afraid Of?)
Born in Tokyo in 1946, Hisako Matsui graduated in drama from Waseda University and began her career as a writer and editor at several popular magazines. In 1979 she established an actors’ agency, and a decade later she created her own production company, Essen Communications. There, she produced numerous TV dramas and documentaries, making her feature directorial debut in 1998 with the award-winning Yukie, earning several prizes at festivals in Japan. In 2002, her film Oriume, which Matsui herself directed, wrote and produced, received high acclaim and was screened in over 1,300 locations and viewed by over one million people. She presented her film Leonie at JAPAN CUTS 2012, based on the life of Leonie Gilmour, mother of sculptor Isamu Noguchi, which was shot on location all across Japan and the U.S. Matsui found inspiration in Leonie’s life story seven years before when she read Masayo Duus’ The Life of Isamu Noguchi. Determined to share the tale of this extraordinary woman with the world, Matsui spent several years working through 14 drafts of the screenplay. The resulting film, shot on location all across Japan and the U.S., brought together an impressive, international ensemble of talented filmmakers.


LuckyGirl MEDIA’s Q&A with director Hisako Matsui

 

How did you first get involved in the project?

There is a magazine called WAIFU (Wife) that began in 1963 as a magazine that women can contribute articles to and it is a magazine intended for all women, especially those who were feeling frustration about their circumstances.

 

Kimiko Tanaka who was the Chief Editor of WAIFU for 30 years contacted me about making this film. The magazine by the way, is still around today after more than 50 years.

 

Kimiko Tanaka along with other feminists of the time wanted their legacy to be preserved as a film. There are a lot of written words about them but no film record has been made of them.

 

I am of the same generation as the women of the Women’s Lib Movement. However, when I was young, I was not personally involved in the feminism movement. I believe that was because I was working in the media and television field- an environment that was and still often is dominated by men. I was working in an environment where I had to work and compete in a “man’s world” and so when Tanaka san asked me, I was very hesitant but once I started reading their books and written words, I started to think about how I had worked, lived my life, married, divorced and had children and I realized that I had lived my life as a feminist.

 

I don’t know about USA but in Japan, I feel that people step away from wanting to claim themselves as a feminist.

 

Did you have any academic or personal background as a student? Were there still demonstrations when you were in school?

As a student, I was a Drama major in college. My generation is that of the baby boomer and while it was a time of demonstrations, I was steeped heavily in the men’s world – the media world – and therefore I was very apart from the women liberation movement, though not a stranger to demonstrations.

 

Were you familiar with any of the participants beforehand personally or through readings of their works?

Most people I interviewed, I met for the first time. I believe that these women are not your typical person and as a result have been looked upon with prejudice. If I had been part of the women’s liberation movement, and was speaking as an insider, I believe that people would have looked at my film the same way. However, as an outsider, I felt that I can bridge the gap between those who were part of it and those who may want to judge them and be looking at them from a distance.

 

I want to add a little historical background here: Up until 70s the women’s suffrage movement was strong. From the 70s onwards, the women’s liberation movement from the US began to influence and was getting re-appropriated by the Japanese. And often the demonstration tactics were bold and the media immediately took to sensationalizing them as ‘ugly and aggressive women’ and the movement became more oppressed and stilted. It was only when in ’75 when the UN began hosting the World Conferences on Women, that the movement was accepted again.

 

Chizuko Ueno along with other scholars and schools began to teach Women’s Studies in college in the 80s and started another wave of people taking the issues seriously. However, today, I feel a decline again and I think it has a lot to do with our current conservative government. They claim that they are supporting women. However, Japan’s population is aging and decreasing rapidly and the Government’s interest is in using women to alleviate the situation. They want women to be in the workforce and give birth and is putting more pressure on women to do things that they may not necessarily want to do. The hard job is again, left to the women.

 

Now that it seems more accepted for women to be working, people may be asking why I am making a movie about women in the workforce today. But in reality, truly successful women are really only a handful and many are working in poverty and working jobs that are less than ideal. With the declining economy, it is no longer the case that a husband can provide for an entire family and therefore women are having to work and take care of the children and house at the same time even if they may not want to. Women seem to be asked of a lot. Our Government is claiming to work towards having 30% of managerial positions in Japan be women by the year 2020. And it seems as if things are going well for women and it might be great for people who are getting MBAs in the US and coming back to Japan- maybe good for the “economic elite” but I feel like it’s getting more and more difficult for the regular women – being told to work! and give birth!

 

I knew of the women but in some ways I feel like I had been avoiding them and I hadn’t read much about them. It was through this project that I really read a lot and found myself feeling the same things as these women.

 

Some of the interview footage was made in 2009. Was that your footage?

I had originally thought of only including footage of feminists who were still alive. However, Kimi Komashaku was such an important figure in Japanese feminism and her interview footage was still available from back in 2009. So I decided to include it in the film. It was not something that I took.

 

Was there reluctance on anyone’s part to be included or interviewed?

There were a few people who declined the interview. About two people said that they do not want to look back on what had happened.

 

It seems that not only is this the best film on feminism in Japan, but it is also the first. Why did it take so long for the subject to be addressed in film?

LOOKING FOR FUMIKO directed by Nanako Kurihara who grew up in New York made a documentary on these women before me. It was a documentary made from a young person’s perspective

 

Also Chieko Yamagami – Sanjuunen no Shisutaahuddo (30 Years of Sisterhood) she was part of the womens lib movement. Her perspective is from a person who was part of the movement about her

 

My film is from that perspective of the typical average women.

 

Several of the subjects are very prolific. Why has the subject received so little attention in the West?

Even in Japan only a few people are really seen as famous. I believe it has a lot to do with the fact that there have been no media attention. Many people are scholars and critics and while they used to demonstrate a lot, they no longer do so today. Many are scholars and researchers and don’t get much media attention. If we talk in terms of famous or not famous, I would say maybe only one or two are even known widely in Japan.

 

Was there reluctance on the part of the West to acknowledge their Japanese counterparts, or is it a more general ignorance of their existence?

Japan is ranked 104th in the Gender Inequality Index (GII). In other words, I believe even in the West, people see Japan as a place of gender inequality. So maybe people in the West really don’t know about these people even though there are many people who have been doing amazing work. People in the West maybe just have not bothered to find them.

Also, I believe that the studies that have come out of it really does not get much attention. As a result, in some ways, because they don’t get all this attention, maybe they can do much more fundamental work. I do however hope that the West will be more interested in the Feminists in Japan too.

 

Although the existence of forums and demonstrations by women in Japan dates as far back as 1969 and clearly 1971 over gender issues, the resolve of the woman has been unshakable. Have there been tangible effects that are now mainstream in contemporary Japanese culture?

I really don’t think today’s mainstream culture has been influenced by that era. 1969-71 is also when the Japanese Red Army era was coming to an end. Even the men’s demonstrations fell apart as did the women’s.

 

The World Conferences on Women that happens every 5 years is a bigger influence. I believe that the Japanese women who participated in these in the 80s really has had a big influence on the work that women do today.

 

In other words, in Japanese society, I believe it is difficult to have a forum for people to have an environment for women’s work. So maybe it is through these big world conferences that women can really speak out and also receive influence from the West and other countries.

The third World Conferences on Women in Beijing is mentioned in the movie as one big example of Japanese women reporting to the wider world about the situation in Okinawa.

 

Does the modern generation easily acknowledge these pioneers as idols?

I believe that I was able to do that work through this movie. Most people really did not know them. I believe that in 100 years, this record will become even more important. Unless they studied women’s studies in college, most typical people do not know.

How easy or difficult was it to make your film? Did you have financial backing from outside sources or was it all privately raised?

It was not difficult. It was funded by people who wanted to see the film. 80% were through crowdfunding via word of mouth. I have groups of wonderful people who support my filmmaking and they helped me gather funds for this film.

 

Can you talk about your personal history with the subject? Can you tell us your history with filmmaking?

I married very early in my life and I was a victim of Domestic Violence. At 33 I divorced. I have also been working in a conservative environment full of men and I feel like I have been living my life in many ways as a lived feminist. I also believe that the current political situation has a lot to do with what is wrong and so I wanted to reinvigorate the political hearts and minds of people.

 

Can you describe to us how personally empowered you became by just meeting these women and interviewing them?

I am more interested in the idea that these people’s words encourage others. There is a sense that aging means to decline in society but I also want to empower people to think that even people who are aging or deemed as aged can still do a lot.

 

Did they provide most of the archival material or was there a much broader search?

Broader search.

How many hours of material did you put together ?

I shot approximately 3 hrs per person of about 15 people so about 45 hours total.

Did you work with an all female crew?

No. There was barely a crew really (laughs). I really began by researching by myself in universities and at the time, didn’t really think that it would come to something that I would show to a wider public. Therefore, I just took a small camera around with me and really just did everything myself.

 

We enjoyed that fact that, from their very beginning, over 300 women from all over Japan responded. Is there a huge movement now that also has that same appeal throughout the entire country?

No there is not. Though actually, some young mothers today were inspired by the film to do something similar. Today it is easier to call on people using things like Facebook and it seems so amazing to me too that over 300 people showed up back then before social media.

 

Japan CUTS represents the International Premiere of the film. Is distribution in Japan already in place? When will be the first public distribution? Are you ready for it? What type of response are you anticipating in Japan?

Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Kyushuu etc. In about 6 theaters for 2-3 weeks. Otherwise, I have been doing independent screenings organized by various groups around the country such as feminist and women groups. It is still continuing now.

 

I really hope that in Japan, people will raise their voices and really do something. I really think in Japan, people often think that the political and personal are in different spheres. I really want people to start moving and doing things with the understanding that their personal lives affects the political. It has been 70 years since the end of WWII, in these past 70 years in regards to our relationship to the US, we are now being questioned about the choices we make. We’ve been avoiding it for so long… I really hope that this film can be a catalyst to create discussion.

 

I don’t think that people in the US have been curious about the feminism movement in Japan or the consequences of US occupation in Japan. I have put in a lot of information in my film and I wonder how much of it can be translated and be understood by the US audience via subtitles.

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August 10, 2015 - Posted by | CULTURE, ENTREPRENEURS, FILM, LIFESTYLES, opportunity, We Recommend | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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