Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Call him Dragon Ishii

When Ishii Sogo's rickety homepage suddenly went off line earlier this year, I was more than a little worried. As the Japanese filmmaker who has probably influenced me the most, his long lamented absence from the screen since the experimental “Mirrored Mind” had only been tempered by two comprehensive DVD box sets of his earlier works, the result of a long process of regaining rights to these films in order to put them behind him once and for all. He had finally left Tokyo, a city which the Fukuoka native never quite adapted to, and relocated to Kobe to become a university lecturer, a common career choice for established yet financially-challenged filmmakers lured by the security of a regular wage.

Then the welcome news broke that he was now Ishii Gakuryu (or as the man himself has said, "People can call me Dragon Ishii"), and has several new projects on the boil that are actually coming to fruition. Details began to emerge during Ishii's recent visit to Switzerland for a retrospective organized by the Neuchatel International Film Festival, where he was interviewed by film news site Cinema Today. I've excerpted and translated the key info below.
Cinema Today: This year you announced that you had changed your name to Ishii Gakuryu and would become more active [as a filmmaker], but why the name change?

Ishii Gakuryu: Actually, I'd wanted to change my name for a long time (laughs). When I was in my second year of high school, my parents suddenly made me change my name to Sogo [聰亙], and people would often write it with the wrong characters, so I decided to change it at the same time as the announcement of my new projects. I'm fond of the work of Katsushika Hokusai, and he also changed his name several times. I made up my mind on the name change in the same way that bands rename themselves.

CT: Please tell us about your new projects.

IG: I've been teaching a class at Kobe Design University, plus I'm planning to shoot two features and one short based in Kobe, and we're scheduled to start filming.

Until now I've tried to cram everything I wanted to do into a single film, but from now on I want to keep on churning out as many films as possible within the budgets I have, regardless of whether they're short films or features. The people I've taught at the university in Kobe have been developed as the kind of filmmakers that I'd like to work with, and the progression of digital technology has made it possible to keep costs down, so from here on I want to throw myself into making films. One of my feature film projects is scheduled to being shooting in Kobe in mid-October, and the other one, a fantasy, is being set up with a view to start filming in March of next year. At the university I want to cultivate artists with a craftsman-like approach who can function in any situation, so I plan to continue teaching film classes.


  1. Hey Don,

    Both this posting and the Irie Yu one (where did it go, btw?) are fascinating reads. And both point to the hard lifestyle of Japanese filmmakers. These guys are truly into it for the love of the game, which is inspiring.

    Thanks for translating and posting them!

  2. Thanks a lot Nick. The Yu Irie one got posted by mistake before I'd had a chance to finish the intro and add a bit more info, so it'll be back soon.