Interview with Anne Koizumi, filmmaker of In the Shadow of the Pines, presented in the section Seeking Communities, available from November 12-18
How did you come to feel the need to explore through filmmaking your childhood and your relationship to your father?
For me, as a child, it was difficult to process my feelings of shame. I wanted to belong, I didn’t want people to think that I was different, and I really didn’t want my friends to know the school janitor was my dad! But as an adult you understand the complexity of your parent’s experiences and how choices are not based on whether your child is going to feel shame but out of necessity. I didn’t really dig deep into these feelings of shame until my father passed away in 2012. I was longing to make connections with him that I was never able to when he was alive. How do I tell him I’m sorry or that I can now see everything he did for us? If I was trying to do something by making this film, it was trying to connect with him even after his death.
Your film deals with very intimate and sensitive topics. What was difficult for you in the process?
Yeah, I have considered making my personal narratives the subject of my work, but I was really afraid to pursue and uncover the stories that for many years I tried to hide. There were many difficult aspects to making the film, first and foremost I was dealing with my grief and loss and second, I had to confront my own shame and guilt. I cried so much making this film… I would be making a set or a prop and I would just start crying. Forcing yourself to face difficult emotions and memories is never easy and it takes time. In my case, it took over three years. I can talk about the film without crying now but every now and then when I’m in a space where I’m allowed to be vulnerable, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes.
Can you tell us about your animation work in that film and the creative process and thinking behind it?
I’ve described my creative ethos as "DIY". I studied filmmaking but at schools that didn’t have an animation program, so I taught myself the basics of animation through a book that was published by the Aardman studios. The process of creating with my hands, finding my own solutions and trying things on my own is important to me as a filmmaker, probably more important than having a super fluid and smooth animation style. I also like being resourceful and figuring out what I can do with what I have, this is something I learned from my father. As for the animation in this film, I’ve been making short independent stop-motion animations for fifteen years so I naturally thought to work in this medium but the form of stop-motion made perfect sense in that I was exploring childhood and often when we think of childhood, we associate it with plasticine, puppets, miniatures, and tactile forms such as paper cut-outs.
At one moment, through a tv, we see clips from interviews with people who knew your father. When did you do those interviews, were they part of your method to approach your memories ? Did you have the chance to learn more about your father and this past?
I wanted to approach the project as a documentary and I knew that I had lots of research to do. The interviews you see in the film were the first thing I did when I started the research, now almost four years ago. I started with my family members in Calgary, Alberta and then travelled to Japan to speak to my father’s brothers, extended family members and friends. I visited the orphanage where my father was raised, which still exists as an orphanage in Kumamoto, Japan. My father never spoke about his childhood or of his life in Japan so it was through these interviews that I learned about him and was able to construct his story for the film.
What did making this film bring to you in the end? In what way that work helped you to reflect on your history and feelings?
It’s a strange feeling to share a story with the world that I’ve been trying to hide for so long. My parents gave me a Japanese middle name, Mayuko, when I was born - that’s my legal middle name. The characters that they chose were 真由子, the first character means ‘truth’, the second character comes from the word ‘freedom’ (自由) and the last character means child. My mother told me she chose the characters from the expression; the truth will set you free. Making this film for me was about revealing and telling my truth and that act has allowed me to reclaim my father’s story and my own story. And without sounding overly cliché, there is a huge freedom in that.
RIDM 16 - 26 Nov. 2023