« Back

One Man as a Force of Nature

Roots, the recent winner of the HKIFF Firebird Documentary Competition, managed to move the audience not due to the scenes of destruction after Japan’s March 11th earthquake and tsunami, but due to the sheer willpower and tenacity of its elderly protagonist, Sato Naoshi. An inspirational tale that shows one man’s respect for traditional customs and culture as well as his ability to conquer seemingly impossible odds to fulfill his dream, the film is a deserving winner. The director Ikeya Kaoru greeted audiences at an HKIFF screening before the awards ceremony and shared his experiences at the Q&A session afterwards:

Regarding the house that the protagonist rebuilt, apart from the money he received from the government, did he have to use his own savings to build it?
Before answering this question, I just wanted to share a message from Naoshi, the film’s protagonist. Naoshi said that, after the earthquake, many volunteers came to this area from all over the world. He also heard that there were so many volunteers from Hong Kong. I was very touched to hear that, and Naoshi wanted me to convey his sincere appreciation for all the support and help and care that he received from the people of Hong Kong. Thank you so much.
As for the first question about how Naoshi managed to collect the money needed to rebuild the house, as you saw in film, the government provided an assistance of ¥2,000,000. From the prefecture, which is not the government, they also gave him support in the amount of ¥1,000,000. So with these as well as other support money, he received a total of around ¥4,000,000. And of course he also had to pay out of his own pocket. But since he didn’t have any money, he really had to work hard by going to the mountains to cut wood in order to earn some cash. Besides that, as mentioned in the film, he decided to use cedar woods from trees which were already dead due to the tsunami. They had to cut those trees down anyways since they were dead already. So instead of cutting them down and dumping them, he decided to recycle the dead trees to build his house.

Did the protagonist receive some pressure from outside to stop him from building?
The way he built his house was totally legal. He received permission from the authorities and also got the confirmation that he could build on that piece of land, so everything was legal. At the same time, since the area around there had been completely demolished, the city authorities wanted to redevelop the area. But since he is building his house there, it is a bit troublesome for the authorities since this may interfere with their plans. In fact, the city authorities’ plan is to elevate the height of the area since it is currently so low, which means that it could easily be destroyed once again by another tsunami. So they want to bring the soil from other places to prop up the area by something like 8 meters before they redevelop the town. But in order to do that, how many years will it take? No one knows.
After Naoshi completed his house, two other people decided to follow him and come back to build their houses there too. Maybe they will be finished by the end of this year. And one of the new houses is being built by Takeshi, who was seen supporting Naoshi in the movie.

How did you meet your protagonist Naoshi?
Originally I had no intention to make a film about the disaster, even though I am a filmmaker. But I’m originally from the same region, Tohoku, and I have friends there. So one of my friends told me to come over and make a film about the situation there right now.
So one month after the disaster, I went to one of the hardest-hit areas, and I was amazed that they were still doing the cherry blossom party, which is a common thing to do during the cherry blossom season, but this was really an abnormal situation and they still went ahead with it. Then I realized that this was a way to pay respects to those who have passed away, and also it was a way for people who have been scattered by the disaster to gather together and cheer themselves up. And the main organizer of this party was Naoshi. Naoshi made a speech to all the residents and said that the cherry blossoms were blooming in exactly the same way as previous years. When I heard his words, I knew immediately that these words could only come from someone who really loves this area and this land – someone who has his roots in this place. So after I heard those simple words, I decided to follow him and stick with him for 1½ years.