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Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005

No easy answers

Walking to Koji Wakamatsu's office near Shinjuku Gyoen park in the broiling August sun, I was expecting a place appropriately dark and bohemian.

News photo
Director Koji Wakamatsu

Instead, the building of Wakamatsu Production was painted a cheery yellow and, inside, was the picture of un-boho organization. Wakamatsu presented me with a yellow name card -- and looked surprisingly chipper for a man who had recently fought lung cancer to a standstill.

But the angry '60s rebel in him was still alive and well -- his yellow was not, and probably never will be, mellow.

"17-Sai no Fukei" struck me as a kind of experiment for you, a personal film.

I don't think I've changed that much over the decades, but I'm getting older, and with "17-Sai no Fukei" I wanted to leave behind a kind of testimony. Through this 17-year-old boy I said a little of what I wanted to say about where Japan is heading.

The type of incident you describe in the film is not so rare.

There have been a lot of incidents like that in Japan. I researched about 30 or 40. The kids involved tend to be really well-behaved and smart and get good marks. They nearly all respect their parents. The boy in the film fits [that profile] the best of all. When I was 17 I was a typical kid -- I rebelled against my parents. I think that's what youth is all about. On the other hand, when kids respect their parents and do whatever it takes to please them, when they study hard and run along the rails laid down by their parents, their stress starts to build. That stress has reached a bursting point today. When kids are 14, 15, 16, 17, any little thing can set them off. And when they explode, kids often go for their parents, who are the people closest to them. Or if not their parents, they go for their friends -- and then they commit crimes.

But the people who have built this nation and this world are all adults. And adults are only thinking about making money. If they're doing all right money-wise, they're satisfied. I've seen piles of bodies in wartime -- in a camp in Palestine where there had been a mass slaughter. Somehow we have to make kids understand the horror of war, so it won't happen again. In Japan we've been telling kids [about war] for a long time, but now people who can talk about that sort of thing are dying off.

That's why, in the film, I had an old man and old woman talk about their wartime experiences. I don't think the boy knows anything [about what they are saying]. One reason he doesn't know is that artists are no longer talking about war. Not only artists, but journalists and others with the ability to communicate have to keep telling young people [about war], but the number who do is getting smaller.

Films here are really just copying Hollywood -- a lot of them are just showing explosions and people getting killed. In that sense, porno is better (laughs).

At the same time, you don't explain much in the film, at least on the surface.

I don't explain at all. So the audience has to interpret it for themselves. I want people who see the film to go out afterward with their friends to a coffee shop or bar and argue with each other about what Wakamatsu was trying to say. There are different ways to view "17-Sai no Fukei."

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