Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Creating Films That Invite Viewers to Take a Moment to Look at Things from a Different Angle

Yoshimasa Jimbo
(Film Director)

University Days: Encounters with Foreign Cultures and Films

Yoshimasa Jimbo Film Director

I studied at the Department of Sociology within Sophia University's Faculty of Humanities (today the department is in the Faculty of Human Sciences). We had a good deal of freedom in our selection of courses so I was able to bring together diverse disciplines and study a variety of fields. I took religious studies and other courses in the Asian Cultures Minor at the Faculty of Foreign Studies.

When I was a senior, I studied abroad in the UK for one year at a university in the small town of Bath. The university had a nice, cozy feeling to it. There I studied mainly Indian religion and philosophy/thought. The university also had a faculty specializing in the arts?something that Sophia did not have?and it was exhilarating to study with the arts students. During my time in Bath, my homestay family was hosting me as well as other international students. There was one time when I was studying hard for exams while my Muslim roommate was struggling with the Ramadan fast! I still fondly remember that homestay. I looked forward most of all to going out to the pub. The British have a different way of drinking from us Japanese, and I enjoyed that. What really excited me, though, was the gypsy jazz that I heard live at the pub. I had always had an interest in ethnic music, but I got even more into it after this.

It was also during my university days that I started seriously watching films. Of course, I saw the famous works of Akira Kurosawa and other Japanese directors, but I mainly watched films that would be classified in the "Other" section at the video rental shop, like French New Wave, Iranian, and Taiwanese films [laughs]. One of my favorite directors is Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, a great director who shot one of his films in Japan. Kiarostami does not fill his films with particularly dramatic events; rather, he captures what is happening in the humdrum, day-to-day flow of life. The films give the impression of being slightly influenced by French film, as well. That having been said, I never thought in those days that I would become a filmmaker.

University Studies and Work Experience: Nothing Wasted

Yoshimasa Jimbo Film Director

When I returned to Japan after my year of studying abroad, I took a look at job-search sites on the Internet. There I was greeted with the words: "Job Searching Now in Its Final Phase!" I was clearly getting a late start! I had a strong desire to do film-related work, of course, so I had interviews at a few film distributors. The distributors were impressed that I had seen films that most people do not watch, and the process went quite far. In the end, though, I didn't get any job offers. During the interview process, I was beginning to feel something was not quite right. I started to sense that I was not to introduce other people's films to the public, I was supposed to make the films themselves.

I needed a job, though. At the same time as I was looking at film distributors, I was also interviewing at travel agencies. The major players in the field had already finished their hiring, but I received a fairly good response from some agencies specializing in unusual destinations. They must have looked favorably on my study of Indian philosophy and Islamic cultures as well as on my trips to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region during my sophomore year. In the end, I took a job at one of those agencies.

The agency had a staff of about 40. I worked there for about two and a half years and was involved in the full range of operations: making travel arrangements, doing sales, and escorting tours. When I was able to use the Chinese that I had studied as a second foreign language at Sophia to speak to people in Tibet and when I was able to read the Arabic script in Pakistan, I realized that studies do not go to waste!

I visited various parts of Asia as part of my work. There, I was in direct contact with people for whom the religions that I had studied in the Sophia classroom were truly the cornerstone of their lives. This had a particularly great impact on me. This experience also helped me in my recent film which looks at views on life and death.

After I had worked at the travel agency for about two and a half years, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to make films. I resigned from the company and entered film school. It was the kind of school that you could attend while working, and I learned the basics of filmmaking. It also offered an entrance into the film community and a place where I could find others interested in films.

I was very fortunate to have the first short that I created at the school shown at regular movie theaters. My short, titled Meijin deshita (Imaging Meijin), takes a fresh look at things that might be considered bad luck. For example, you know those people who race to buy an umbrella when they are caught without one in a sudden downpour, but then inevitably the rain stops as soon as they have purchased the umbrella? These people usually just think that things are not going their way or that they just have bad luck when this happens. What would it be like, though, if they considered themselves pros in buying umbrellas and the rain stopping!

In ways like this, I have made films that offer viewers an opportunity to take a moment to look from a different angle at simple things we easily overlook every day.

The Delight of Creating a Film That Children Can Enjoy, Too

Yoshimasa Jimbo Film Director

Boku wa mo sugu juissai ni naru (I'm ten, then I'll catch eleven."), my first feature-length film, talks about a boy who loves insects. He catches them and makes them into specimens. The film shows how the boy starts to think about life and death and, while involving the adults around him, develops his own way of facing death. There is, of course, no one correct way of understanding death; it differs from person to person. Through this film, though, I hope that people will experience a new way of looking at death and be inspired to take a moment and think about it afresh.

Around the time that my proposal for this film was accepted and I was starting to write the screenplay, someone advised me to consider looking at my story from the audience's perspective. In fact, I had all I could do to write an entire feature-length film, and I didn't have the extra mental space to be able to think about the audience's perspective. Even so, I had vaguely assumed that people about my same age would see the film. The film was about views on life and death?something that is hard for children to understand. In reality, though, children who were about the same age as the protagonist?about 10 or 11 years old?were brought by their parents to see the film. The film was shown in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Fukuoka at the height of the summer when there are lots of insects. What were the children thinking as they left the theater after seeing the film? My mind was full of imaginings.

Film magazines introduced the film as "a must-see during summer vacation." It was nominated for the Kyoto International Children's Film Festival, and many children came with their parents to see the film there. At that time, I finally realized, "Oh, my film is a children's film!". At the festival, I received the Audience Award which is decided based on a poll of the audience. I was so pleased.

The children shared some interesting impressions of the film. The one I was most surprised about was the suggestion that there should not be so many close-up shots of insects because some people do not like them ! In fact, I had already started writing the screenplay for my next film at that time. It will be on marriage and Mt. Fuji . . . further details are my business secrets. Other than that, I am interested in Muslims living in Japan as well as in the foreign nurses who are coming to Japan from Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines under economic partnership agreements. I have been thinking for some time now about what kind of film I might be able to put together with these kinds of people as the main characters. Boku wa mo sugu juissai ni naru (I'm ten, then I'll catch eleven) has received a more positive response than I had anticipated, though, and I have discovered that both adults and children are drawn to it, so I am thinking that I will put my energy into promoting that film for a while. It has still only been shown in major cities, so I would like to create some opportunities for people living in regional areas to see it.

I am not thinking too much about the future right now. Ten or even five years ago, I could never have imagined the person I am today. In the same way, in five or ten years I would like to be someone who has gone beyond what I can imagine now. After all, I am a Sophian: I don't pick the straight path; I wrestle with things.

Yoshimasa Jimbo Film Director
Yoshimasa Jimbo
Film Director

Yoshimasa Jimbo was born in 1986 in Tokyo. After entering Sophia University, he became interested in world film and music and was particularly taken by French New Wave and Iranian films as well as gypsy and other ethnic music. He studied in the UK during his senior year at Sophia. After graduation, he took a job at a travel agency and traveled frequently between Japan and various destinations overseas. He resigned in 2011 to pursue a career as a film director. He studied filmmaking at the New Cinema Workshop. After completing the program at the New Cinema Workshop, he continued to direct shorts. His film proposal was accepted by the Tenth Cineastes Organization Osaka (CO2). With the resulting funding from Osaka City, he directed the feature-length film Boku wa mo sugu juissai ni naru (I'm ten, then I'll catch eleven.).

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