Japan may look very different but little of substance has changed
You might remember the movie Kenny and its longhaired, bearded Quebec- born director, but the name Claude Gagnon will be much more familiar to the Japanese. He scored his first major success with Keiko in 1979, which he shot in Japan, and was the movie that brought him international fame and established his enduring links with this country. Among his many later works, one need only cite Kamataki, as well as his latest movie, Karakara, filmed entirely on Okinawa, which tells the interlinked stories of a retired intellectual from Quebec on a spiritual quest to the island and of a Japanese girl with a complex family history. The film has been a huge hit since its release here in January and has already won plaudits and prizes. While he was in Tokyo, Claude Gagnon accepted JQR’s invitation to explain his love affair with Japan.
Time was, if you were a 20-year-old Quebécois intellectual, you went to France. But I never wanted to do the same as everyone else. I wanted to find the country that was the most removed from my own experience, be it culturally, religiously, philosophically, or geographically.
In the sixties, I left the séminaire (Catholic high school in Quebec) where I was studying the cours classique (classical humanities curriculum) to make movies. Then in 1968, wanting to discover the world outside books, I hitchhiked to Mexico to visit the country during the Olympics. Strangely, it was during that trip that I realized that I knew next to nothing about the U.S.A. What I did know about it was what I’d read in books. At the age of 18 meeting a black guy who takes you to the other end of a bridge and gives you $5 out of charity after you’ve spent the night in a prison cell because you didn’t have anywhere else to sleep really didn’t match up to anything I’d ever read. You might have read Sartre and Camus, and you might think you know it all, and then you get out into the real world. Everything that I thought I knew about Americans was either wrong or only partially true. In the Deep South, a pickup truck stopped to give me a lift. The driver was a real man wearing a cowboy hat and packing a rifle. He looked askance at my beard and the hair that I wore fashionably long. Still I was lucky because I was a sportsman and a big American football fan, and when he asked me about a Texan player in the Canadian League, I immediately replied, “Oh, he’s my favorite!” He was a little mollified. He dropped me off at a barber’s and gave me a few bucks so I could get a haircut! I went up onto the barber’s porch but I hid until my benefactor had driven off! I just wanted to explain how this experience completely changed my perception of how we see other people and of how other people see us.