For Yoju Matsubayashi, making documentaries is nothing new. Being a journalist himself, he has tackled other issues through the medium like the Fukushima incident. However, never before has he presented them through a unique angle as in Reflection. I sat down with director Matsubayashi to get some insight on the making of the film, as well as what he had in store for the future.
A 50-minute documentary, the film spans across 17 cities and the daily lives of their inhabitants. Simultaneously, it also shows the vast economic differences and similarities between them. There is a twist: almost all of the footage consists of reflective surfaces. As detailed in my review, it is a clever way of not only conveying the film’s message, but also providing a form of ‘self-reflection’ for the viewer.
Inspiration for the film came to Matsubayashi while visiting a film festival in Uruguay. This was mainly because he had planned to interview Jose Mujica — the country’s president at the time and also a very far leftist. For Matsubayashi, Mujica offered an interesting contrast with his own country’s prime minister: right-winger Shinzo Abe.
“He is a hero of the left in South America,” Matsubayashi said, noting that Mujica was a former guerilla who helped legalize marijuana in the country. He was someone clearly different from Japan’s prime minister. “His biography is very opposite… so I tried to make opposite images of our countries. [That’s when those important images] hit my mind… so it began there.”
Thus, Matsubayashi made it his quest to capture this kind of contrast between such places. Admittedly, he had intended to make it more politically charged. At one point, he even included questionable statements on Fukushima by Shinzo Abe into the film. This aspect was ultimately dropped as he felt it unnecessary.
Still, Matsubayashi hoped to shed more light on issues global capitalism with Reflection. “The message is about capitalism, to think about how it’s changed [us],” he said. He also remarks that the reflective images are meant to make us realize this. To look at ourselves with the film — himself included.
In making the film, Matsubayashi tried to make this message as evident as possible. Through the heavy footage of transportation, phones and even banks, he wanted to emphasize how people have become too reliant on such technology. The juxtaposition of these images with less fortunate situations was just as essential.
“In Hong Kong, I was surprised there were a lot of banks in the government offices area,” he said. “I put many images of the poor and nuclear waste in the beginning. Then after, it’s connected with [images of] banks. People cannot live without banks nowadays, so I focused on many bank images.”
Matsubayashi also noted that the nature of certain reflective surfaces contribute to this contrast. Whereas shots of muddy puddles are more prominent in India, cities like Hong Kong are bereft with tall glass buildings acting as mirrors.
Apart from social and economic issues, Matsubayashi also took the opportunity to explore other symbols. One example is use of horses in the film. According to him, they also act as a homage to film history, as horses were prominent in early 20th century imagery. “The beginning of cinema was also in the same age, so it is a homage to those horses. My older film was also about horses.”
Yet, despite succeeding on what he set out to do, Matsubayashi admittedly does not feel completely satisfied with the result. Unfortunately, there were some setbacks, including insufficient funding and lack of better equipment. Thus, he was unable to drive the concept to its fullest potential.
“I’m not that satisfied with the quality of the collection or sounds,” he said. “If possible, I would use a drone or other equipment.” He also wishes it were a longer feature that explored more locales. “If possible I’d like to go to the Middle-East — including Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Fortunately, he has ample opportunities for further travels given his future plans. According to Matsubayashi, he obtained a grant this year to do a documentary on Japanese immigrants in Brazil. After that, he will reconsider touching upon the Middle-East, which he was unable to do so for this film.
For now though, he hopes that viewers of his film actually acknowledge what Reflection is telling them. Especially with its subtlety and abstractness, viewers lacking clarity are a major concern for him. Knowing this, it becomes a priority in making the film’s symbolism coherent. “This is a kind of abstract art,” he said. “It has to be more simple, and more clear.”
Otherwise, he at least sees the humour in the worst-case scenario. “Maybe they won’t understand everything… Maybe some people will get tired and march outside!” he joked as he imitated a bored viewer slumping in his seat.