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 the strict disciplines of Tora-san; how did the family business raise 7 children, and then expand and pass onto the next generation; how did the siblings take the shared responsibility since their youth; and to a broader extent, how to live with the bounty of nature, in a rural area. 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: When I was 37 years old, when I covered a family moving from Osaka to the Goto Islands and conducting agriculture, Tora-san was the acquaintance of the family.
Xu: What was the purpose you decide to make a documentary about them? – What is the message you want to give?
Oura: Tora-san’s way of raising children was unique. Tora – san ‘s idea resonated with his father, the family helping children by helping their families to learn to teach at school such as the value of gold and the pleasure of making things. I practiced what I can not do in an ordinary household.But the child 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 family history and landscapes that would lead to any family. What kind of adults do children grow their fathers severely? I wanted to see it. It is something I want to convey that Tora – san ‘s family life wishes to be used as a reference for my family’ s existence and parenting. Besides that, I also wanted to tell you that we can live a rich life in rural areas.
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: At first, I did not expect to take such a long time but after five years, over ten years the children grew while the parents grew older … When shooting that reality, I thought it would be interesting if I took it to the end. When I asked Tora-san to keep shooting forever, I received a reply saying “I can take it until I die.” However, some of the children were in trouble because some brothers disliked being photographed. Since I am taking a long family history, I have to keep shooting, since I ask, I used to shoot with my camera as I asked for it from a long distance. Neither holiday nor New Year returned on vacation and I went to Goto to continue shooting. It was completed at the age of 37 from 59 years old, 22 years, completed as a culmination of my life itself.
Xu: What is the biggest change of the Japanese society during the past 20 years – in your opinion?
Oura: Change in values. One concentration of population. There are more people going out to the city such as Tokyo than living in the country. Children’s education is changing with the declining birthrate. The number of families who are allowed to attend the cram school is increasing. The number of children who absorb virtual actions and knowledge to touch nature and play with friends fewer real experiences and play in video games will increase. As a result, reality and virtual can not be distinguished from each other and various incidents are likely to occur. Ethics and lack of sense of justice may be thought 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
Xu: Do you think there would be more people going back to their hometown – to live and start a local business?
Oura: The number of people who review life in big cities gradually increases, and migrants who wish to live in rural areas in rural areas are also increasing. The charm of country life is one of the intention of Tora-san of Goto’s production.
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: About 3 months. Because the material for 22 years was enormous.
Xu: How would you imagine Japan in 2038 – 20 years later? Considering its social issues like 少子化 and 高齡化?
Oura: There will be no one with a declining birthrate, lack of labor, hard work. There will be no successor to agriculture and fishing. As a result, food shortages occur. Furthermore dilution of family ties. If a major disaster such as a big earthquake occurs in Tokyo, the economy and distribution will be very confusing and it may become impossible to live in Tokyo. It seems that people from rural areas can only live back to their hometown. Again the importance and necessity of fishery and agriculture will be reviewed.
Xu: What do your family think of this documentary?
Oura: I myself am a parent of three children and can understand my parents feeling like Tora-san,Have you respected your child’s thoughts and career more? And also my wife speaks.It is evaluated that the values are different but thoughtful. The children also visited the movie theater and saw it firmly. My father valued my passion as a masterpiece for many years.
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: People who have basic knowledge such as important things taught from parents and families when they are young, real experiences gained in nature, and so on will be of great help to the rest of their lives, in addition to school education. As Tora-san says, parents’ responsibility in child rearing is great.
Xu: 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: Although my father may have been an absolute existence before now, now fathers like father like Tora – san are few typical. The husband and wife is increasing in number, and the couple also have an equal relationship. I do not scold too much even if my child does bad things because of the declining birthrate, I do not care that children dislike, I think there are many such fathers. Tora-san seems to be an old Japanese father statue, but thinks it is a child-friendly father in a true sense. Tora-san strictly advised if it seems that children will dislikes for the future even if it comes out in the last Sebun letter scene of the movie. Both parents are no longer dead and the children have to walk their respective lives. At that time, I think that it is the true parents feeling that teaching various things and advising various things not to step on foot unless troubled. Tora-san was practicing it. There used to be many such fathers in the past but now it is few.I can not do ordinary father, including me.