#7 Linda Hoaglund
2012-04-24 / Interviewd by Rena Suno, Video by Dorian G. Stone
Linda Hoaglund, a film director, was born and raised in Japan. Since 1996, she has subtitled 200 Japanese films whose directors include Kurosawa Akira, Oshima Nagisa, and Miyazaki Hayao. She represents Japanese directors abroad and is actively producing several film projects. Her interest in controversial issues between Japan and the USA and arts has led her produce her original documentary films, Wings of Defeat and ANPO. In our interview, we asked her about her passion to make movies and her new movie, Things Left Behind.
Interview with Linda Hoaglund
– You are one of only a few American who are familiar with both Japanese and American culture and languages. Where do you find Japanese and American virtues as an American, who was born and raised in Japan?
I grew up in rural areas of Japan such as Yamaguchi and Ehime. When I was little, I lived in a wooden house with no heater, and was immersed in traditional Japanese culture that has been preserved for centuries such as eating homemade miso and having a Japanese style bath. Therefore I have a Japanese sense of beauty rather than American one. For example, I prefer simple styles and color that most Japanese people like, and Japanese movies, whose themes are fragile life instead happy ending that American movies tend to prefer.
Japanese people are generally described as “discreet” in English. Since I was surrounded by Japanese culture since I was born, I am more comfortable with Japanese culture that cares about others and does not intervene with others too much. On the other hand, I feel that one of the drawbacks of Japanese culture is the tendency to avoid facing issues, which symbolized Showa era, and has led to the accidents at the nuclear power plants in Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Although the USA also has a history that does not want to be known, resistance forms the basis of its history. Since the USA was built after revolutions, it is accepted that you resist society, try to change the world, and take an initiative to make something happen. I respect Martin Luther King Jr. the most in American history. I think it is because of the USA that such a person who sacrificed his own life to change the status of black people, has been admired by many people. In Japan, people who triggered the ANPO movement in the 1960s are not as respected in Japanese history as Martin Luther King, Jr. is in American history. The main reason that I directed the movie, “ANPO,” is that I especially wanted Japanese young people to know the history of resistance, which I think is beautiful. At the same time, I wanted American people to know that there are still more than 100 American military bases across Japan, and how they have influenced Japanese people’s lives for a long time.
What I want to deliver as a movie director is a little bit more complex than information broadcasted in Japan. By doing so, I would like to convey a message that Japanese people are human beings the same as Americans, and also to change the stereotypical image of Japanese women that they are only calm and beautiful just as Geisha. My recent movie “Things Left Behind” features many independent Japanese women including Ms.Miyako Ishiuchi to carry information that is contrary to what American people tend to have.
– Your debut movie, “Wings of Defeat,” describes kamikaze pilots, who attempted suicide attacks on enemy ships in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War Ⅱ. The second movie, “ANPO,” focuses on the 1960 controversy surrounding the renewal of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security – also known as ANPO. How did audiences react to these movies?
“Wings of Defeat” conveys the message from kamikaze pilots that they wanted to live the same as other young people wished. It must have been an eye-opening movie, especially to American people. I always think human beings are complicated creatures, and like to view things from different viewpoints. A renowned Japanese movie director Mr. Hayao Miyazaki, whom I used to work with as a translator, says people face black and white everyday. When he was told by the American media that it was hard to judge between right and wrong in his movies, he replied that he applied the standard of good and evil to his everyday life, and always struggled with a sense of crisis that he would be defeated by the evil. He even said that if it were hard for American people to tell right and wrong, the USA would have caused a war without a reason in 1998, which was five years before the US military attacked Iraq.
I think 10% of the population in both the USA and Japan want to contemplate things around them, and “ANPO” was produced for these people. How many people know that more than 800 US military bases continue operating abroad? Only a few people know that there are still American military bases in Korea and Germany. It may be hard for American people to watch this movie because pictures, photographs and movie clips, which described this time of ANPO movement in Japan, visually appeal to audience instead of just showing significant opposition developed throughout Japan. Although this movie has not been aired in the USA, it was featured at American universities including Harvard and Yale.
“ANPO” has been especially praised by people familiar with Japanese modern history or contemporary art. The best things are pictures stored in closets for years and later acclaimed as art. The movie is getting popular along with a feature at Guggenheim Museum in NY in 2010, and was also nominated for the best art movie by the Agency for the Cultural Affairs. In 2012, “ANPO” will be on the cover of an American annual magazine, “American Society Japanese Art and History.” I am glad that Japanese art has been admitted not only as an art itself but also as historical masterpieces. The movie was aired in Tokyo for only 3 months, but it has left a message with audiences in Japan, which gave me a chance to make another movie.
A series of my movies consists of three movies, “Wings of Defeat,” “ANPO,” and “Things Left Behind,” all of which deal with controversial history between the USA and Japan.
– You are currently working on your 3rd movie “Things Left Behind.” What is the theme of this movie and what made you make this movie?
I came up with an idea to make this movie when “ANPO” was featured at a Vancouver movie festival. Ms. Miyako Ishiuchi had a chance to have her photograph exhibition at Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver from October 2011 to the middle of February in 2012. She has shown photographs of mementos left after the atomic bomb in Things Left Behind. She chose 48 items such as a blouse made of silk, glasses that were all donated to Peace Memorial Museum in Things Left Behind, and put them into life as artistic pieces by taking these pictures. I was amazed by her pictures, and asked a photographer, Mr. Yutaka Yamazaki, who shot “ANPO,” to make a movie about these pieces and history behind them. Coincidentally, I arrived in Japan on March 11, 2011 when the Great East Japan Earthquake happened to make my new movie. Miyako’s exhibition in Vancouver earned a good reputation due to her great photographs along with increased awareness to the danger of nuclear energy after the earthquake in Japan. With help from NHK, a leading Japanese TV company, I am planning to produce a special TV program for NHK based on this movie. I also received an offer from organizations in Europe, and I want to feature this movie in Europe, too.
– What would you most like to tell your audience through your new movie, “Things Left Behind”?
I want to tell how art is powerful. In this movie, Miyako’s pictures of remains after an atomic bomb attack in Things Left Behind play a main role. Her pictures have an unlimited potential to convey messages to people, and I am curious to know the possibility of art as a messenger.
– Japan is recently losing power that it used to have politically and economically. What do you think is necessary for Japan to bounce back?
I think the bubble economy in Japan from the late 1980s to the early 1990s was an illusion. Although I do not know much about how Tokyo was like in the bubble economy because I was growing up in a rural area in Japan, I doubt that everyone was inclined to buy luxurious things from Western companies. Japanese long-established companies have built high quality products for centuries. I think Japanese people should respect their original culture, which have been preserved for years but is starting to fade from their daily lives. They should try to make an effort to revive it.
Why did you choose NY as your working place instead of Japan?
I graduated from a public elementary and a junior high school in Japan. After graduating from an international high school in Kobe, I went to the USA to go to Yale University. I decided to live in NY because I was used to living in American society since graduating from Yale, and I also thought that a women’s status in society after graduating from university was better in NY than in Japan. My work is to make a bridge between Japan and the USA. I think it would be better for me to live in NY in order to introduce up-to-date information and expression in NY to my work. Although I am living in NY, I go to Japan three or four times a year, and I cannot live only in the USA.
– Please let us know about your future plans and your dream.
I do not think so much about the future. All I have to do now is concentrate on shooting and editing my current movie, “Things Left Behind,” to make it have the best shape. I had the same feeling when I was producing “ANPO”. Therefore, what I am thinking now is all about how to compose my work next week and a week after.
Linda Hoaglund was born in Japan, the daughter of American missionary parents, and was raised in rural Japan where she attended Japanese public schools. A graduate of Yale University, she was a bilingual news producer for Japanese television between 1981 and 1987. In 1987 she joined an independent American film production company as a producer. Since 1996, she has subtitled 200 Japanese films whose directors include Kurosawa Akira, Oshima Nagisa, and Miyazaki Hayao. She represents Japanese directors abroad and is actively producing several film projects. She produced and wrote the documentary film, Wings of Defeat, which is about Kamikaze pilots who survived WWII, and ANPO, a film about Japanese resistance to U.S. bases seen through the eyes and works of celebrated Japanese artists. She is currently working on making her third film, Things Left Behind. In 2004, she received a commendation from the Foreign Minister of Japan for her work promoting Japanese film abroad.