| JQR Interview

JQR INTERVIEW – Claude Gagnon

My biggest shock:Fukushima

Today’s Japan looks different from what it was in those days, but I find the changes are really quite superficial. It may appear to be spectacularly different, but when you start digging, you find it hasn’t changed that much. Even among the young, I’m often surprised that it’s still the group mentality that dominates––because it’s so reassuring.

I’ve never thought that there is any country that is better than any other. I always tell people that everyone should go and spend a minimum of one year overseas, no matter where. It’s vital to experience something different. From this perspective, there are many things that I love about Japan, and many others that I like a lot less. It’s hard to be an individual in Japanese society. And the individual is badly prepared to go through life smoothly.

What saddens me most––the biggest shock that I’ve experienced during my stay here and the thing that has affected me the most––is Fukushima. On the one hand, I’m bitterly disappointed by the politicians, who lie, who’ll say anything to people––that really makes me sad. And then again, it’s also the lack of reaction among the people themselves. Abroad, when politicians abuse their power, people react. That’s what democracy’ s for––to change governments. When a politician is in favor of nuclear power, and he’s elected not just once but twice––I’m not much into politics as a rule––but that’ s something that I find really appalling. If they open new nuclear power plants, I’m leaving. Even in Okinawa, which is a long way from the closest plant, I won’t stand for it. I’m outraged by the “lack of balls” shown by ordinary people, and how the elites are able to control them so easily–– with TEPCO using its influence with the TV stations and splashing its money around. People are too frightened to say: “We don’t care about the money. Let’s get them!” That’s why Japan hasn’t really changed.

It’s otherness that stimulates me

At the same time, I don’t want to be too negative because Japan is such a paradoxical country that I find so very stimulating. I’m often confronted by something that at first sight makes no sense whatsoever, but when it’s put in the right context, it immediately makes sense. That’s why I always warn foreigners coming here for the first time not to make any hasty judgments. You must never judge a culture you don’t understand. And it was because I was constantly stimulated by new discoveries that my six months stay turned into several years.

I make what I call “mirror movies”: They reflect society without passing judgment on it. It’s up to you to decide whether what I’m showing you is true to life, and whether you like it or not. All my films are based on this type of constant questioning. I’ve spent my life asking myself who I am, and why I am doing the things I’m doing. I’m particularly drawn to human weakness. We all have our weaknesses, no matter how strong we are. I’m more interested in the strong than the weak, but what I’m interested in the most are the weaknesses of strong people, the reasons––X, Y, or Z––that make them break down, mess up, or fall apart. Seeing my life through the lens of Japanese society allows me constantly to ask who I am, about my daily life, and what I choose to do.