The Rich Life of Tora-san and His Family

I saw a touching documentary at a market screening in Tokyo Content Showcase: TORA-SAN OF GOTO 五島のトラさん. Director Masaru Oura kept a visual archive of the Tora family over a period of 22 years, documenting the family’s daily life, separation, reunification, marriage, birth and death – How was this big family led by Tora-san’s strict disciplines? How did the family business manage to raise 7 children, and then expand and pass onto the next generation? How did the siblings take the shared responsibility since their childhood? And to a broader extent, how to live with the bounty of nature, in a rural area in the 21st century? I think this documentary has its social values, not only in Japan, but in current China as well: family heritage, young people’s choices, living with nature, etc.

Later, I found out that it had won the Magnolia Award for Best Documentary at the 22nd Shanghai International Television Festival.

This is an interview I did with Mr. Oura via email. Mr. Oura kindly answered in Japanese, and in English. ありがとうございます、大浦さん。

Xu: How did you come to meet this family, out of millions of families in Nagasaki?

Oura-san: When I was 37 years old,  I covered a family moving from Osaka to the Goto Islands and conducting agriculture, Tora-san was the acquaintance of that family.

私が37歳の時、大阪から五島列島に移住して農業を営む家族を取材した際、その家族の知り合いがTora-sanだった。

Xu: Why did you decide to make a documentary about them? What is the message you want to give?

Oura-san: Tora-san’s way of raising children was unique. Tora-san’s idea resonated with his father’s: Children help the family business by working with each other – the value of money and the pleasure of making things can’t be learned in the school. An ordinary household couldn’t practise that way.

But the children did not accept everything his father said. There was also a conflict between parents and children. Joy, sadness, parting, growth, old age … I wanted to take  the family history and landscape that are familiar to any family. What kind of adults would the children develop into with such a strict father? I wanted to see it. I want to convey that I wish Tora-san’s lifestyle to be used as a reference for my family’ s existence and way of parenting. Besides, I also wanted to tell you that we can live a rich life in rural areas.

Tora-sanの子育ての仕方がユニークだったこと。家業を子供たちに手伝わせることで家族が助け合い、金の価値や物を作る喜びなど学校で教えないことを学ぶという父親、Tora-sanの考えに共鳴した。普通の家庭では出来ないことを実践していた。

しかし子供は父親の言うことを全て受け入れているわけではなかった。親子の葛藤もあった。喜び、悲しみ、別れ、成長、老い・・・どこの家庭にも通じる家族歴史、風景を撮りたかった。父親が厳しく育てた子供たちは、はたしてどのような大人に成長するのか?それを見届けたかった。Tora-sanの家族の生き様を通して自分の家族の有り様や子育ての参考にしてもらいたいというのが伝えたいことである。そのほか、地方でも豊かな暮らしが出来るということも伝えたかった。

Xu: You end up following them for 22 years – did you think of giving up? Did this filmmaking experience change your lifestyle during the past two decades?

Oura-san: At first, I did not expect to record such a long time. But after five years, and then ten years, the children grew up while the parents grew older … When capturing that reality, I thought it would be interesting if I could take it to the end. When I asked Tora-san to keep on shooting, I received a reply “You can take it until you die.” However, some of the children were in the way, because some brothers disliked being photographed. Since I was taking a long family history, I had to keep shooting. I then shot with my camera from a long distance. I didn’t go home on holidays or New Year; I just went to Goto to continue shooting. I began the project at 37 and finished it at 59 – 22 years. It was completed as a culmination of my life itself.

最初は、こんなに長く撮るとは思っていなかったが5年経ち、10年過ぎる中、子共たちは成長していく一方で、親は年老いていく・・・その現実を撮影している時、最後まで撮ったら面白いだろうなあと考えた。Tora-sanにずっと撮影をさせて欲しいとお願いしたら「自分が死ぬまで撮って良い」と返事をもらった。しかし子供達の中には撮影されるのを嫌がる兄弟もいて困った。長い家族の歴史を撮っているので撮影を続けなければならない、頼むからお願いと遠くからカメラを向け粘りながら撮影をしたこともあった。休日も正月も休み返上で五島まで通い撮影を続けた。37歳から撮り続け完成したのが59歳、22年間、自分の人生そのものの集大成として完成させた。

Xu: What is the biggest change of the Japanese society during the past 20 years – in your opinion?

Oura-san: Change in values. The concentration of population. There are more people moving to the city such as Tokyo than living in the countryside. Children’s education is changing with the declining birthrate. The number of families who are allowed to attend the cram school is increasing. Fewer children spend time in nature and playing with friends, while more spend time in video games to gain virtual action and knowledge. As a result, reality and virtual can not be distinguished from each other and various incidents are likely to occur. A lack of ethics and sense of justice may be taken into consideration that children kill parents and grandparents and other immediate family. I hope that you will experience real experiences from virtual with the same idea as Tora-san.

価値観の変化。人口の一極集中。田舎で暮らすより東京など都会に出ていく人が増えた。少子化と共に子供の教育も変わってきている。塾に通わせる家族が増えている。自然と触れたり友達と遊んだりする実体験が少なくなりテレビゲームで遊んだりするバーチャル的な行動や知識の吸収をする子供が増える。その結果、現実と仮想の区別がつかず様々事件が起きやすくなる。子供が親や祖父母など肉親を軽々と殺害したりするな倫理観や正義感の欠如が考えられる。私はTora-sanと同じ考えでバーチャルより実体験をして欲しいと願う。

Xu: Do you think there would be more people going back to their hometown – to live and start a local business?

Oura-san: The number of people who prefer life in big cities gradually increases, and migrants who wish to live in rural areas are also increasing. The charm of country life is one of the intentions that I made Tora-san of Goto.

大都会の生活を見直す人も徐々に増え、地方での田舎暮らしを希望する移住者も増えて来ている。田舎暮らしの魅力は Tora-san of Goto の制作意図の一つである。

Xu: How many hours have you spent on editing this film?

Oura-san: About 3 months. Because the material for 22 years was enormous.

約3ヶ月位。22年間の素材は膨大だったから。

Xu: How would you imagine Japan in 2038 – 20 years later? Considering its social issues like 少子化 and 高齡化?

Oura-san: With a declining birthrate and a lack of labor, nobody would do hard work. There will be no successor to agriculture and fishing. As a result, food shortages occur. Family ties would be even less close. If a major disaster such as a big earthquake occurs in Tokyo, the economy and distribution will be very disastrous and it may become impossible to live in Tokyo. It seems that people from rural areas can only move back to their hometown. Again the importance and necessity of fishery and agriculture will be reviewed.

少子化、人手不足、辛い仕事をする人がいなくなるだろう。農業や漁業をする後継者がいなくなる。その結果、食料不足に陥る。さらに家族の絆の希薄化。もし東京で大地震など大きな災害が発生すると経済も流通も大混乱となり東京での生活が出来なくなるかも知れない。地方出身者は故郷に戻って生活するしかないと思われる。再び漁業や農業の大切さ、必要性が見直されるだろう。

Xu: What do your family think of this documentary?

Oura-san: I myself can understand the feelings of being a parent like tora-san as I am the father of three children, but it is better to respect children’s thoughts and directions. And also listen to his wife speak. The values are different, but it is a work that is made for us to think. My children also visited the movie theater and had a close look. My father appreciated my passion as I am a masterpiece that he had created for many years.

私自身も3人の子供の親でTora-sanと同じように親の気持ちが理解できる半面、子供の考えや進路については、もっと尊重したが良いのでは?等と妻が話すことも。価値観は違うけれど色々考えさせられる作品だと評価してくれている。子供たちも映画館に足を運び、しっかり見てくれた。父親が長年、撮ってきた大作として私の情熱を評価してくれた。

Xu: There are so many Japanese scientists getting the Nobel Prize. Could you share what is the best thing Japanese education offer to the children?

Oura-san: People who have basic knowledge such as important things taught from parents and families when they are young, real experiences gained in nature and such will be of great help in the rest of their lives, in addition to school education. As Tora-san says, parents have a great responsibility in rearing a child.

幼い頃に親や家族から教えてもらった大切なこと、自然の中で得た実体験など基本的な知識が備わっている人が、その後の人生に大いに役立つと思う。学校の教育に加え、Tora-sanが言うように子育てにおける親の責任大きい。

Xu: About the father-children relationship in this documentary: is it typical in Japan? Most of the 7 children really obeyed the father and did what he told them to do. 

Oura-san: Fathers like Tora-san is less typical nowadays in Japan, though it is likely to have been an absolute existence in the past. The number of married couples is increasing, and the husband and wife are equal. I think due to the declining birthrate, there are a lot of fathers who do not scold even if the child does a bad thing or does something carelessly. Tora-san might look like an old Japannese father statue, but I think he was really a child-friendly person.

At the end of this movie, Sebun’s letter shows Tora-san gave strict advice that his children would be reluctant to follow in the future. When both parents are no longer alive and the children have to walk their respective lives. I think that it is gentle parental love that you don’t have to follow your parents’ footsteps. An ordinary father, including me, cannot do it.

以前は父親が絶対的な存在だったかも知れないが今はTora-sanのような父親らいしい父親は少なく典型的ではない。夫婦共働きが増えており、夫婦も対等な関係。少子化で子供が悪いことをしても叱らない、子供が嫌がることを注意しない、そんな父親が多いと思う。Tora-sanは日本的な昔の父親像に見えるかも知れないが本当は子供に優しい人だったと考えます。

映画の最後のSebunの手紙シーンに出てくるようにTora-sanは子供が嫌がることでも将来のためになることは厳しくアドバイスをした。いずれ親は死んでいなくなり、子供たちは、それぞれの人生を歩まないといけない。足を踏み外さないようにとの優しい親心だと思う。私も含めて普通の父親は中々、出来ない。

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