Tsuchimoto Noriaki

John Junkerman reported on KineJapan that the great documentary filmmaker, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, has passed away. A search of the news serviced confirms the bad news. He died today (June 24) of lung cancer. He was 79.

Matsumoto Toshio had mentioned to me at the JASIAS meeting that Tsuchimoto-san was not doing well. I was very sad to see this was true. 

Along with Ogawa Shinsuke (the subject of Markus Nornes's great Forest of Pressure), Tsuchimoto was the most important postwar Japanese documentarist, famous for his films covering the mercury poisoning incident in Minamata like Minamata: The Victims and their World (1971). He produced many other great works such as PR films like Document: On the Road (1964) or An Engineer's Assistant (1963) and the radical documentary Pre-Partisan (1969). His filmmaking was quite partisan, as he would take the side of the victims in the Minamata incident, quite powerfully, for instance, filming them as they press their case at the Chisso stock holder's meeting at the end of the first documentary. But he also kept his camera back, letting the subjects tell their story as Tsuchimoto, sometimes on screen, sat beside them listening. He even showed them edited versions to ask for their impressions and suggestions.

I had the privilege of meeting Tsuchimoto-san many times, the most memorable being when Yasui Yoshio (of Planet) and I traveled to Minamata to interview Tsuchimoto-san for Documentary Box. Tsuchimoto-san not only showed us around Minamata, including taking us to the showroom of Chisso (I was surprised they didn't block him at the gate!) and sitting down with us to talk on tape for four hours. Yasui and I spent a long time editing that 4 hour discussion into a reasonable length, but when we sent the text to Tsuchimoto-san, it came back half-rewritten. I would joke in later years that this interview with a documentary filmmaker was not much of a document, but his rewrite was a labor of love. He wanted to include more about Segawa Jun'ichi, his cameraman who was on his death bed at the time. In particular, he wanted to include Segawa's discussion of the famous Lupe debate between the documentarist Kamei Fumio and Miki Shigeru (cameraman for directors like Mizoguchi, Kamei and others), which sprung from a time when Miki refused to film a child who had just escaped a burned out Chinese village in WWII. To Segawa, as with Tsuchimoto, documentary -- if not cinema -- was a profoundly moral endeavor. The rewritten interview was Tsuchimoto's last tribute to Segawa, one of his teachers. I heard that he put a copy of the magazine in Segawa's casket. 

You can see a trailer for Fujiwara Toshifumi's TV documentary on Tsuchimoto, which includes scenes from several of his films, here. The trailer for Fujiwara's theatrical documentary on Tsuchimoto, Eiga wa ikimono no kiroku de aru, contains several scenes from Victims and their World, such as when a victim's mother confronts the president of Chisso.

I should note that you can purchase a two-hour, English-subtitled VHS version of  Minamata: The Victims and their World from Siglo

Update: You can now get four of his films on DVD in the USA.

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