Late 2007, Eric Richer went to Japan for the fourth time. Tired by the way medias (mis)treat the country's image, he decided to set up his camera along the Kamo river in Kyôto during a year in order to catch a piece of real japanese spirit.
Be side by side with the people of Kyôto in Kamo River, a film between essay and documentary. Sharing this common space, just be captivated by the passers by, the meetings, the laughs and the silences. An original point of view, overwhelming you in the blue of the Kamo river, in the reflecting sky and in the innermost part of yourself.
Born in 1971, Eric Richer is a filmmaker and a projectionist. As part of the Z.O.O.M. organisation, he's involved in many events related to Cinema and Image. Having a passion for Asia, he started the Kamo River's project during his fourth journey to Japan.
Syntax 5.2 2006
Creation of pictures for the musical work L'homme qui est aimé de Dieu (musique concrète) by Guillaume Contré.
Short film for checkpoint animation of the Photo Marathon 2005 held in Montpellier and organized by les Photogènes.
Short film selected for the fourth Night of the Amateur Cinema.
Blockbuster Destroyer 2003-2005
Visual identity of the Nights of Amateur Cinema: short films for the opening and closing ceremonies.
Short film broadcasted during the festival O Crépuscule, Nuit du cinéma Hors-Normes in Nîmes.
Children of the Sun 2004
Short film, in collaboration with Machine théâtre company, from the work of Maxim Gorki and directed by Alexandre Morand.
L'expérience Antremonde + Sodium 2003
2 short films for Improjections, cinema-concert with the band Absinthe (Provisoire).
Interview of Eric Richer
When did you start thinking about the project?
In 2004, during my first journey. I was in shock, but not in the way books/movies/press or documentaries accustomed me about Japan. I met true kindness there, people still know how to live together despite the harsh rhythm of their system and social customs. My 3 following journeys convinced me that I had not been experiencing a rare phenomenon that first time. Then in 2007, in reaction to a certain kind of documentaries which, according to me, continue to pollute the image of Japan, I felt like showing my own vision of things.
One reason for it is that in French media, Japan is still associated to geisha, sushi, samurai, sumo, neon, manga, cosplay, love-hotel, college prostitution, death by exhaustion, and so on... Japan is always represented as the ultimate place for extreme behaviour, and this is what french and a lot of western medias want to show us, when they are not boring us to death with their endless clichés of tradition and modernity crap !”Japan, I love to fear you !” We tend to perceive it as the complete opposite of our “world”, the place where you must be mad or too weird to live.
I had enough of that, this is why I wanted to make a film about the Japan I met, the one that moved me, touched and changed me. The Japan that brings back to me a certain kind of faith in human being.
Why the Kamo river in Kyoto?
Even if this sounds a little “new age”, I think that unconsciously I’ve always been looking for that kind of place, but in fact the place found me first ! I wanted a melting pot site, where we could be able to see a large array of social classes, a place where japanese could and would be themselves. Fate, or maybe destiny (told you it could sound a little “new age”...) brought me in to Kyoto that year, and my apartment was near the river.
After a week there, I knew it was the perfect location for what I planned to do: looking, without any form of judgment, the people who would pass in front of the lens of my camera/eye, like the traveler novelist photographer Nicolas Bouvier and his "theatre-wall" in Tokyo, where he shot passers by. Going down to the river, to be side by side with the japanese people, watching them, in a very simple way, living altogether fun, strange, moving things and real moments, in peace, with them and thanks to them, this was my aim. Like a video travel sketches, trying to make you feel that serene kind of local soul. And I saw a lot of things along the Kamo banks, moving my camera from north to south (about 10 kilometres), during a year.
You propose a modern and new vision, but the movie opens with a Super 8 sequence...
Yes, because I wanted the opening to collide with the rest, visually and musically. The sequence is like a final call to arms towards the poisonous stereotypes (those I mentioned before) that still clings on to the archipelago. I wanted to get rid of them once for all. The Super 8 square frame represents the old image of Japan in the film, like a “Supertourist” souvenir, which contrasts with what’s coming next : the ac- tual opening, a shot of the river filmed in a HD widescreen format, definitely washing us of those tenacious clichés and leading us in the adventure with new eyes.
The music had to follow the same rhythm, crazy with the Super8 and then calmer when the river enters. At first, I wanted to use J-Pop for the intro, but didn't want to disrespect the genre nor the people shown in that sequence. And then one day, as I was listening to One Foot Dancer's new album called "Dead Note Theory", I came upon the song “The Dreamer”. And there it was, in the exact spirit of the Super 8 intro, with the exact same length ! Even better, the lyrics were talking about a guy dreaming about being caught in a middle of a hurricane, but who will kill the person who could wake him up ! For me that man was the perfect spectator/tourist clichés lover who will execute anyone bringing him any other things than sushi, geisha or neons... One Foot Dancer lead keyboards happens to be a real close friend of mine, and that was it.
By the way the Super 8 sequence was also a farewell to that format, with which I shot a lot.
Regarding the music, you worked as well with a colombian artist...
Yes, and I am very grateful and more than happy about that encounter with Andres Velasquez. I discovered his music by chance on the internet, while shooting the film in Kyoto. And just like with the One Foot Dancer's song, something clicked inside me when I first heard Andres' music. It was fluid, simple and beautiful in an experimental lo-fi way, full of grace. Hearing that music during the shooting comforted me a lot in my creative process at that time, because Andres went in bold places musicwise, the same places I wanted to explore filmwise.
That's why when I tried to incorporate a musical breathing in the documentary (the former version, musicless, put asleep my screen-tester of a father 14 times), a friend suggested me to contact Andres. So I did, showed him a trailer, told him about the concept of the film, and explained how hearing his music helped me in moments of artistic doubts. Andres liked the project, and graciously offered me to use the four songs I listened years ago along the Kamo river. The wheel had come full circle.
Why so much time between the shooting and the release of the film?
First, the arrival of my son, and me being in a “daddy-at-home” position ! I have to admit it was a pretty nice break... But I don't want to blame my poor child.
Actually, my problem was that I wanted to show everything. I wanted the spectator to experience the place in a very immersive manner, almost in real time. One year, one year to show ! Kamo River's first edit was 6 hours long, and I loved it, but I think people simply didn't have the time (or the will) to follow me! It took me months to reduce it to a more appropriate 2 hours and 15 minutes "all age groups" version, introducing that concept of the year told in 12 days. Months mourning my deleted scenes, each cut chopping for me little bits of that peculiar Kamo soul... Lots of computer problem, the waiting and the hope to find the good people to help me through the post-production, more computer problems, the arrival of the right people for the post-prod process with brand new eyes, and acute ones, pressing where it hurts, for the good of the film. More cuts, more mourning, no more computer problems (just a few), more open-heart surgery, and voilà...
Today the film's length is 1hour and 10 minutes, and I'm proud of every second of it.
Don't you find it too risky to not include a voice-over or any commentary during a documentary?
No, I refused that eventuality from the very beginning. The film is not meant to give answers nor directions. This in order to simply open the way to feelings and let the spectator free with his perceptions. My goal was, once the documentary viewed, that the spectator should feel like he just shared along the Kamo river a true instant of japanese life. That’s all.
Interview réalisée par pensées images