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When Currents Collide: Chinese Independent Cinema and Japan

AKIYAMA Tamako cTranslator: Michael TSANG

My First Encounter with Chinese Independent Cinema

Beijing Film Academy, 1992. The city of Beijing was still covered in a depressing gloom following the Tian’anmen Incident. Inside the academy, I was following a man with a large build and close-cropped hairstyle, who was walking briskly along a dark, deserted corridor. We entered an empty classroom, and I sat on a chair anxiously. As soon as the man closed the classroom door, words poured out from him as if a dam had burst, and in a bass voice with a strong Yunnan accent, he spoke eloquently about the first foreign documentary director he had met, Ogawa Shinsuke ⼩川绅介 from Japan. This man was director Wu Wenguang 吴⽂光, who had just finished the film Bumming in Beijing 流浪北京 (1990) a year or so earlier.1

Since then, I have been invited to private gatherings with Wu and his friends whenever I visited Beijing, and have acted as their interpreter when they were invited to Japanese film festivals, doing my own small part by acting as a bridge between them and Japan. It was by pure chance, then, that I came to bear witness to nearly thirty years of Sino-Japanese documentary conversations ever since the birth of Chinese independent cinema (a term that did not even exist back then).

As an epilogue to this issue, I will retrace the trajectory from Bumming in Beijing’s screening in Japan in 1991 to a new exploration of collaborations in a post-Covid era, using documentary-related events and examples that I have witnessed to contour a network of Sino-Japanese exchanges in three main focuses: the Asian boom, film festivals, and television. I will then conclude with a short introduction to the overall structure of this issue. It goes without saying that with my limited experience and exposure, there are bound to be many works, directors, and perspectives that we have not been able to cover in this special issue. Comments are most welcome, and it is our hope that more multi-faceted discussions on SinoJapanese documentary exchanges will take place.

The Asian Boom and the ‘Tidal Fronts’ of the Film World

Hong Kong was the first key window through which Chinese independent films were exported abroad. Ever since self-produced Chinese films first appeared, the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) ⾹港国际电影节 had always actively promoted such works thanks to the efforts of programmers such as Wong Ain-ling 黄爱玲. Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing was also screened at the 15th HKIFF in spring 1991, not long after its completion in 1990.2

Benefitting from its unique and rich exposure to Eastern and Western cultures, the HKIFF was known for its avant-garde programming and attracted many filmmakers from Japan every year, who would then screen many of those films in Japanese film festivals several months later. Wu Wenguang was not present at the 1991 HKIFF, so the first international film festival he was invited to was the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival in August 1998, followed by the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in October that year. In between those two months, Wu Wenguang stayed in Japan thanks to the generosity and hospitality of Japanese documentarians who were enthusiastic about new creations from China. He met the Japanese documentary director Ogawa Shinsuke, and could feel Ogawa’s fervent passion beneath his broken English. He was also able to bathe in the light of many of Ogawa’s films at Ogawa Production’s (hereafter Ogawa Pro) down-to-earth studio in Tokyo.3 All these took place within half a year from Bumming in Beijing’s first screening in Hong Kong. In this way, Chinese independent cinema was able to unlock a circuit of exchange with Japan in its earliest days through such personal introductions and connections.

Japan was then in the midst of an ‘Asian Boom’, which refers to a government-initiated cultural policy starting in the mid1980s that aimed at facilitating dialogue in the region and capturing new cultural currents in Asian film, art, music, theatre, literature, and so on.4 The policy was the result of a number of local, regional and international factors, including the restoring of diplomatic relations between Japan and China in 1972; the thriving of newly industrialising economies (NIEs) in Asia; the easing of Cold War tensions; and a period of continuous economic boom in Japan between 1986 and 1991 now known as the ‘bubble era’.5 Such enhanced attention to Asia, it must be pointed out, was very much driven by a flush of countercurrents against political and economic trends in Japan at the time, as well as genuine concerns towards things that had fallen between the cracks. These concerns include, among others, contempt for heightened commercialisation, cherishment of things lost due to developmentalism, and reflection on the negative legacy left by the Second World War.6

To describe this web of interaction with a metaphor, we can think of this as a tidal front where cold water currents collide and mix with warm ones. From ancient times, tidal fronts are often seen as a great venue for fishing. This is not simply because it easily attracts fish that thrive on mixed currents: in oceanography, a front is formed when large bodies of ocean water with different physical and chemical attributes such as speed, direction, temperature and density collide with one another. In the process, vortices of different sizes occur due to the rugged terrain of the seabed, creating various turbulences, including rising currents called upwellings and sinking ones called downwellings.7 Fish breed easily in such an environment, because these vortices and currents increase the oxygen content in water and, by invigorating nutrients in the sea, allow plankton to proliferate, which ultimately become food for fish.

This metaphor of the tidal front could be applied to describe the exchanges between Japan and Chinese independent cinema I have witnessed so far. People from different streams crossed paths with each other, new introductions were made, and then one thing led to another. Complex turbulences and vortices – including downdrafts called eddies and updrafts called kolks – could be formed by a pre-existing landscape etched with Japanese cultural and social backgrounds, as well as by the slightest swells and hollows that would bring up unexpected sediments accumulated in people’s minds and in history. This process might then reenergise other people present on the spot, bringing much-needed nutrients to their work and generating surprising results. 

Film Festivals

International film festivals are a typical manifestation of a ‘tidal front’.8 Just like how the topography of the ocean floor can be unpredictable and uneven, plenty of domestic film festivals emerged and were unique in their own ways, fully reflecting the diverse environment of filmmaking in Japan.9 During the torrent of the bubble economy in the 1980s, large scale international film festivals were established one after another, and many of them shared a common focus on Asia. The Tokyo International Film Festival 東京国際映画祭/东京国际电影节 (1985-) was initiated by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in the central government, but there were also festivals organised by local municipal authorities, such as the Yamagata Independent Documentary Film Festival ⼭形国際ドキュメンタリー映画祭/⼭形国际纪录⽚电影节 (1989-; hereafter YIDFF) and Focus on Asia: Fukuoka International Film Festival アジアフォーカス・福岡国際映画祭/聚焦亚洲:福冈国际电影节 (1991-). The fact that many local municipalities were all planning to start as big a project as a film festival in the few years following 1988 also had a coincidental historical undercurrent at play: 1988 was the centenary of the municipal system that the Meiji government announced in 1888 as part of its centralisation policy.10

However, what determined the nature of these film festivals were not the political and economic factors I mentioned, but by a different inflow that resisted that economic and political tide. For example, the city of Yamagata launched a discussion with director Ogawa Shinsuke, who so happened to be living in the neighbouring city of Kaminoyama and, having just returned from international exposure at the Berlin International Film Festival 柏林国际电影节, wanted to explore ways to collaborate with like-minded cineastes in Asia. At Ogawa’s initiative, Asia’s first international documentary film festival was thus born in Yamagata as a biennial (Dokyu yama raibu!, n.d.). Ogawa said: The ‘Asian platform’ created by the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival was not simply about finding sponsors and having them fund the festival financially. It was to provide a venue for the confluence of our ambitions through all our films. And to me, above all, it will not mean much if it does not become a cradle that gives birth to documentaries filled with new visions and ways of expression. It should create an enjoyable vortex that inspires new films that can anticipate all the different potential futures of the Asian region. (Ogawa 1993, p. 251).11

Ogawa conceptualises all the different natures, speeds, and directions in various dichotomies between the government and the public, capital and the arts, Japan and Asia – or what Hatano Tetsuro 波多野哲朗 (1992, p. 138) calls the ‘dichotomous relations that characterise modern binary thinking’ – with a rich and optimistic metaphor: ‘enjoyable vortex’. But before these vortices even appeared, the ‘Asian platform’ that enabled everyone to exchange their views and ideas was established and funded amidst an optimism brought by the bubble economy. For instance, the YIDFF was funded by the budget of Yamagata city, and was able to pay for the voyages of young Asian directors, add Japanese and English subtitles or voiceovers to most of the films screened, and station interpreters for various languages at different discussion venues (see Akiyama 2019).

Tidal fronts also often show a proclivity for disruptions. The first YIDFF in 1989 for instance invited Tian Zhuangzhuang ⽥壮壮as one of the jury members, who was known for his narrative films.12 Later, Li Ying 李缨, who was a former director for China Central Television (CCTV) and later studied visual anthropology in Japan, was one of the first to participate in the international competition section of YIDFF with 2H (1999), a work that blurs the boundary between reality and imagination.13 These examples show that in the tidal front between Chinese and Japanese documentary filmmaking, there was no absolute distinction between documentaries and narrative films, or between what counted as independent and what did not. In a way, such disruptions were even encouraged.

The only time I met Ogawa Shinsuke was in March 1991, in an avant-garde art space that could only be said to be a symbol of excess under the bubble economy – Seed Hall in Shibuya 涉⾕. In this event hall on the top floor of a department store selling trendy fashion and branded items, Peng Xiaolian’s 彭⼩莲 narrative film Women’s Story ⼥⼈的故事 (1988) was screened. Sitting in the audience was Ogawa himself, standing up many times to pose questions in his high-pitched voice to those on stage, including Peng Xiaolian and Peggy Chiao 焦雄屏. For a month in August the same year, Ogawa brought Peng 400 kilometres away from the hustle-bustle of Shibuya to Ogawa Pro in Magino Village 牧野村 in Yamagata Prefecture ⼭形县, and let her experience the making of documentaries. This was a tiny realisation of Ogawa’s dream in his late years, which was to nurture young Asian documentarians, and which Ogawa had been concerned with since Ogawa Pro was downsizing in the late 1980s.14 Sadly, he died the following February of cancer, without getting to witness whether his dream came true.15

Peng Xiaolian, known for her Golden Rooster-winning narrative films like Me and My Classmates 我和我的同学们 (1987) and Shanghai Story 美丽上海 (2004), would go on to take up the last film project Ogawa had left behind, Manzan Benigaki/Red Persimmons 満⼭红杮 (1992). She then spent six years directing the historical documentary Storm Under the Sun 红⽇风暴 (2009), tracking what had happened to people involved in and affected by the arrests and trials of the socalled ‘Hu Feng’s clique of counterrevolutionaries’ 胡风反⾰命集团. Among this clique was Peng’s own father – the poet Peng Boshan 彭博⼭ of the ‘Qiyue’ (七⽉ July) School named after an eponymous journal – who was collectively punished and later lost his life (Li 2016).16 Based on production footage from Storm Under the Sun, Peng also managed to persuade, though not without huge difficulty, the Art Media channel of Shanghai Television to fund the production of To Write the Character for ‘Human’ Properly 把⼈字写端正 (2016), a documentary about the famous writer Jia Zhifang 贾植芳, who was a trusted ally of Peng Boshan and survived several jail terms. Peng Xiaolian’s last work before her death in 2019 was a work she had intended to make as a documentary film, but ended up turning into a book: A Paper Documentary of Zhong Shuhe 编辑钟叔河:纸上的纪录⽚, about the twisted life path of the former right-wing editor.17

In this ‘enjoyable vortex’, it was not only Japanese filmmakers, like Ogawa Shinsuke, Tsuchimoto Noriaki ⼟本典昭 and Sato Makoto 佐藤真 and others, that the Chinese directors could meet.18 At the YIDFF in autumn 1993, I got to witness, by coincidence, how excited Wu Wenguang, Duan Jinchuan 段锦川 and Hao Zhiqiang 郝智强 were when they saw Frederick Wiseman’s 弗雷德⾥克.怀斯曼 Zoo 动物园 (1993), their first exposure to direct cinema.19 In hindsight, it was indeed Wiseman to whom the trio paid particular attention, even though other directors were present that year, such as Abbas Kiarostami 阿巴斯.奇亚罗斯塔⽶, Alexander Sokurov 亚历⼭⼤.索科洛夫, Errol Morris 埃洛.莫⾥斯, Hara Kazuo 原⼀男, Sato Makoto and Tian Zhuangzhuang. After the festival, Wu Wenguang brought back to China many VHS tapes of Wiseman’s works which he got from the YIDFF office, and showed them to his friends. Duan Jinchuan then brought The Square 広场 (1994) to the next YIDFF, a work of direct cinema co-directed with Zhang Yuan 张元. Ogawa had the dream of making the YIDFF ‘a cradle giving birth to new films’, but it must have been completely beyond his expectation that the YIDFF would help inspire a steady stream of direct cinema from Chinese directors. It is always up to the individual to decide, among the many things heaved up by the colliding currents, which kind of ‘nutrients’ they want to absorb.

In this tidal front of documentaries, there were also times when currents from other fields converged. The first subtitle translation I did was for Zhang Yuan’s Beijing Bastards 北京杂种 (1993), which was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival without being censored and, together with Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Blue Kite 蓝风筝 (1993), became the reason why that same festival would subsequently only show works that have passed through censorship.20 Nonetheless, Beijing Bastards was later screened in cinema in 1994 through the producer Fuseya Hiroo 伏屋博雄 at Ogawa Pro, but this was partly thanks to the popularity of Chinese rock music – also a phenomenon under the ‘Asian boom’ – and its promotion on Japanese television channels.

Around the time of the student movement and the Tian’anmen Incident of 1989, Beijing Bastard’s producer-cum-main-character, Cui Jian 崔健, was occasionally introduced on Japanese news programmes as a hero among those young people fighting for reform. Musicians and music fans in Japan, who had then been disappointed with the commercialisation of rock music in Japan and in the West during the bubble era, suddenly fell in love with the raw energy and charisma of Chinese rock.21 In particular, the flagship network Fuji TV frequently broadcast late-night programmes introducing the latest music from Asia, and from time to time promoted the music videos of Cui Jian and Ai Jing 艾敬 directed by Zhang Yuan.22 Cui Jian himself took part in music festivals and held solo performances in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Kyoto and other cities across 1993 and 1994, after which he released Japanese versions of his CDs under the major recording label Toshiba EMI. Ever since the production stage, Beijing Bastards already received some level of attention even among music fans, seen as a work that could express a renewed charisma of rock music. The film was thus released in such a countercurrent in the music scene, and later was even broadcast on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting station.

Thanks to fierce competition between Japanese manufacturers like Hitachi, Sony, NEC, Panasonic and others, new waves of consumer-use, high-performance analog and digital video cameras stirred up vortices after vortices at the ‘tidal front’ of film festivals.23 The biggest of these vortices was the participation of filmmakers with a variety of backgrounds. Starting with Yang Tianyi’s 杨天⼄ (a.k.a. Yang Lina 杨荔钠) Old Men ⽼头 (1999) and Zhu Chuanming’s 朱传明 Beijing Cotton Fluffer 北京弾匠 (1999) in 1999, the YIDFF has since seen more and more young Chinese filmmakers – who had no working experience at a TV station or film company – producing works with their consumer-use video cameras, some of which have even gone on to win awards like the Chinese directors that came before them.24 At the next YIDFF in 2001, the three Chinese films in the New Asian Currents competition were all made by directors born in the 1970s, accelerating the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers. Among the three, Du Haibin’s 杜海滨 Along the Railway 铁路沿线 (a.k.a. Along the Railroad Tracks, 2000) and Wang Fen’s 王芬/王分 More than One is Unhappy 不快乐的不⽌⼀个 (a.k.a. Unhappiness Doesn’t Stop at One, 2000) both got awards, achieving a milestone that would open the door to the next step of their careers. Zhong Hua’s 仲华 This Winter 今年冬天 (2001), a film that made a vivid demarcation between past and future, had no wins however, even though it garnered quite some attention during the festival, including being invited to a workshop by Pedro Costa 佩德罗.科斯塔 (see Akiyama 2002). After the award ceremony, I could not bear to look at a dispirited Zhong Hua, but it was he who said, as if to comfort me, ‘I know awards shouldn’t determine the value of a work, but awards are important for getting to the next stage of one’s career’. Such harsh realities await those edged out of the upwelling currents.25

Acknowledging that digital videos were quickly becoming popular in the world, video works, which hitherto were limited only to the festival’s New Asian Currents competition, could finally enter the International Competition section. Thanks to this, the number and quality of Chinese works entering this part of the competition continued to increase, bringing in wave after wave of awards. These include, in the International Competition section, Wang Bing’s 王兵 Tie Xi Qu: West of Tracks 铁西区 (2003), Li Yifan 李⼀凡 and Yan Yu’s 鄢⾬ Before the Flood 淹没 (2004), Wang Bin’s Fengming: A Chinese Memoir 和凤呜 (2007), He Yuan’s 和渊 Apuda 阿仆⼤的守候 (2010), Sha Qing’s 沙青 Lone Existence 独⾃存在 (2016), Wang Bin’s Dead Souls 死灵魂 (2018); and in the New Asian Currents section, Sha Qing’s Wellspring 在⼀起的时光 (2002), Feng Yan’s 馮艳 Bing’ai 秉爱 (2007), Cong Feng’s 丛峰 Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic 马⼤夫的诊所 (2008), Ji Dan’s 季丹 Spiral Staircase of Harbin 哈尔滨旋转楼梯 (2008), Mao Chenyu’s ⽑晨⾬ Ximaojia Universe 神衍像 (2009), Gu Tao’s 顾桃 Yuguo and His Mother ⾬果的假期 (2011), among others.26

The increasing attention on Chinese independent documentaries overlapped with a period when Japan’s economic bubble burst in 1992, as a result of which Japan suffered a long period of economic downturn and both national and local finance were on the ebb.27 As a result, the organising body of YIDFF was handed over from Yamagata city to a non-profit organisation in 2007 (later on a certified nonprofit organisation in 2013).28 Another current that underlay the development was the heightened awareness of volunteering work among citizens as an aftermath to the 1995 Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake and the resulting enactment of the so-called ‘NPO Act’ (Act on Promotion of Specified Non-profit Activities) in 1998 (see Tsujinaka et al. 2012). This undercurrent – in parallel with the ebb tide of the economy – also had an impact on film festivals, especially many of those founded in this period, since they were often mid- and small-scale activities led by non-governmental forces, and relied on volunteers who agreed with the clear message and character each festival displayed. Volunteering also enabled screening activities to take place in universities or among citizens themselves.29 Thus, the picture became very different from that when YIDFF had been first founded as the only documentary festival in Asia; new international film festivals were born all around the region,30 and non-governmental film festivals in China also received much attention. The tidal fronts were spreading beyond Japan, across oceans, to other countries.


Research on Japanese television documentaries has not progressed much even in Japan, let alone abroad, due to missing materials and the lack of archival endeavours. However, recent archival efforts will, with hope, lead to a re-evaluation of the role played by television documentaries, both in terms of how they provided an important avenue for documentary or fictional film directors of various generations to produce experimental works – whether it was Tsuchimoto Noriaki or Oshima Nagisa ⼤岛渚, Kore-eda Hirokazu 是枝裕和 or Mori Tatsuya 森达也; and how television producers like Ushiyama Jun’ichi ⽜⼭纯⼀, Kimura Hidefumi ⽊村栄⽂ (a.k.a. Kimura Eibun) and others have produced uniquely flavoured works that influenced film directors despite their different training backgrounds and career paths.31 Hence, television and film in Japan have never ceased exchanging currents with one another, and these collisions in turn brought a convectional effect to Chinese independent documentaries.

The first interaction between Chinese and Japanese television – the first mixing of currents on the tidal front of TV – was triggered by torrents in politics. Immediately after Japan and China restored diplomatic relations in 1972, NHK continuously sent invitations to CCTV for co-productions. Eventually, with Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Japan in 1978, the documentary series The Silk Road 丝绸之路 (1980-1981) began filming (Amagi 2020). For both Japanese and Chinese television stations, this was their first international co-production. Amagi Yukihiko 天城韧彦, the director of the programme, recalled a moment of mixed feelings when an esteemed Japanese researcher in relics and artefacts of the Silk Road said to him in a preparatory interview for the show: ‘I have been doing research on this topic for decades, but I have never been able to visit the actual site’. 32

After that, as if exchanges that had once dried up were rejuvenated, large-scale documentaries co-produced between China and Japan aired one after another, including Sada Masashi’s Choko 长江 (Yangtze River, 1981) 33, NHK’s Dai Koga ⼤黄河 (The Great Yellow River, 1986), TBS’s The Great Wall 万⾥长城 (1991) and others, taking a frontline position in Japan’s ‘Asian boom’. Choko was, in fact, the first film I ever saw in a cinema, having been brought by my family to see the film. Indeed, many among my generation of Chinese studies researchers came to be interested in China after watching this film or The Silk Road (see for instance Oikawa 2015 and Kobayashi 2008). Both TV stations had their individual rights to edit these international co-productions. The Chinese side re-edited the footage into a series of programmes including The Story of the Yangtze River 话说长江 (1983), River Elegy 河殇 (1988),34 and Odyssey of the Great Wall 望长城 (1991), and these helped shape the cultural fever and the root-searching (xungen 寻根) fever in the 1980s, paving the way to the advent of Chinese independent cinema later.35

In the tidal front of television, apart from politics which was also a major force, it was technology and economy that were the main currents that collided with one another and with their respective countercurrents. This gave rise to various accidental vortices. Thanks to satellite broadcast that began in the second half of the 1980s, the proliferation of TV channels in the heyday of the bubble economy gave revolutionaries and rebels within and without television stations an opportunity to produce experimental programmes in a style never seen before.36 With a view to broadcasting content that came from filmmakers rooted in Asia, existing works by Asian independent directors were aired, and new streams of production emerged even by providing capital for their new projects.37 The release of Bumming in Beijing at the 1991 YIDFF led to an offer from NHK to fund the production of a sequel, to which Wu Wenguang accepted and made At Home in the World 四海为家 (1994), tracking down subjects in the earlier film who left for abroad and finding out what had happened to them.38 The television version of At Home in the World was a 120-minute programme that included an interview with Wu’s trusted ally, the director Sato Makoto, and was aired on NHK’s BS channel.39 Years later, seeing that I was surprised to learn that the film had been filmed with NHK funding, Wu said to me, dumbfounded: ‘You didn’t know? How could we have done all the overseas shootings so crucial for At Home in the World at the time if we didn’t have the money?’ In the early 1990s, Japan’s GDP was eight times that of China’s (see Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2018). I remember that producers from NHK and other TV stations would visit Komian ⾹味庵, an exchange lounge available at the YIDFF every night. While I was there to relax after a day of interpreting, those producers were there for work, thoroughly focused on finding new documentarians and bringing new currents into television. Examples of works co-produced between NHK and Chinese directors who exhibited at the YIDFF include Li Ying’s Dream Cuisine 味 (2003), Yang Lina’s Let’s Dance Together ⼀起跳舞 (2006), Ji Dan’s Spiral Staircase of Harbin (2008), and others.40

As time went by, further technological advancement in filming and editing equipment has produced new vortices in this tidal front, bringing in figures that are now central to Chinese independent cinema. In 1987, the sharp-minded former photo journalist Nonaka Akihiro 野中章弘 started a group of freelance photo journalists called Asia Press International, in an attempt to fight back at mainstream media which had been eroded by ‘commercialisation and bureaucracy’ and create a new stream of journalism that would involve multiple authors including the stakeholders themselves (see Nonaka 2003, p. 186). With improved functionalities of consumer use video cameras and watching clips of the end of Cold War that filled news programmes in the 1990s, Nonaka identified a potential for ‘video journalism’, substituting photos with video footages, and attempted to proactively cultivate young Asian video journalists. In the beginning, many TV stations were sceptical about clips taken by non-professionals, but over time, Nonaka managed to win the approval of some of the non-mainstream people in TV stations, and to create opportunities to show more video journalism, mostly on satellite broadcast channels (ibid., pp. 187-195).

In this tidal front, the currents of journalism and documentary mixed with each other from time to time. In early 1990s, not only did Nonaka air Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing on a CS channel, but he also asked Wu to produce programmes, such as those introducing Chinese rock music. Through Wu’s introduction, I came to know Nonaka, and through visiting Asia Press International’s then tiny office in an old riverside apartment block in Meguro, I met many young energetic talents from Asia, among whom were Ji Dan and Feng Yan who had been studying in Japan. Even though the two had never made films at that point, Nonaka invited them to the 1993 YIDFF, and with this opportunity, Feng Yan translated Ogawa Shinsuke’s book Harvesting Film into Chinese. Ogawa’s work had never been released on home video formats, but his words created ripples in the Chinese-speaking world and greatly stimulated readers’ imagination, and the translation successfully inspired some of the readers to make their own documentaries.41 In the mid-1990s, Japan’s GDP was 10 times that of China’s, the biggest gap ever (see Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2018). With the space that he created little by little in Japanese television, Nonaka allowed Asian creators to make programmes with as much freedom as possible, and by returning the production fee, built a framework in which they could support their living while creating their works. This continued until the early 2000s when the budgets of TV stations were gradually cut.42 Thanks to this framework, Ji Dan and Feng Yan, who had since returned to China, helped produce several television programmes for Japan while making their own films. When Nonaka traveled to China for shootings, he would often leave many filming and editing equipment with the two, and encourage them to pursue their own documentaries alongside working for Japanese television. Without him, perhaps we would not have been able to appreciate Ji’s and Feng’s delicate works today – beginning with Bing’ai (2007) and Spiral Staircase of Harbin (2008) – that drew us to people who held so much love and pain in them.

Once, in China, Nonaka was introduced to Ji Dan’s friend Hu Jie 胡傑, who was then a painter and was trying to find a medium of expression that better suited the things he wanted to communicate. Having met Nonaka, he then put down his paint brushes and took up cameras instead, and went on to produce works that captured life’s vicissitudes of those living in the margins of modern society, as seen in his earliest masterpiece Remote Mountains 远⼭ (1996) and others. Many of his works were aired on Japanese television. Such was the beginning Hu Jie’s career as a documentarist, who then went on to become an extraordinary independent director known for depicting hidden histories in contemporary China.43

It was not only the documentary directors who accumulated experiences of filmmaking from working on Japanese television programmes. Otsuka Ryuji ⼤塚龙治, who was then working as a director at a major TV programme production company in Japan, was mesmerised by the colours in Chen Kaige’s 陈凯歌 Yellow Earth 黄⼟地 (1984) and Zhang Yimou’s 张艺谋 Red Sorghum 红⾼梁 (1987), and left for China to study at the Beijing Film Academy in 2005. This was the period when China was developing its economy at breakneck speed, and its GDP has almost caught up with Japan’s (Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2018). Otsuka’s abandoning a stable job in Japan to chase after his dream in Beijing was like a reprise of Bumming in Beijing 15 years later. At the Beijing Film Academy, he met Huang Ji 黄骥, then studying at the Department of Film Directing, and in 2008, the two started producing a documentary series of more than 20 programmes for BS channels in Japan. Even though the budget was small, they were given much liberty in their production process, and could decide where and who to film within a broad given theme. This allowed the duo to search for a perfectly matched collaboration style that maximised their respective strengths and complemented each other’s weaknesses, and explore techniques of extracting stories from people’s daily life which they would go on to use in their narrative films later.44

Immediately after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, some people in the television industry in Japan witnessed the messy information reported abroad and felt an acute realisation of Japanese media’s lack of communicative power to the world. That sense of crisis, together with shrinking budgets that hit documentary programmes due to the economic ebb, gave birth to Tokyo Docs, a forum event that promotes international co-productions with a view to producing multifaceted programmes and strengthening Japan’s communicative power to the world. The main organiser is the Association of All Japan TV Program Production Companies (ATP for short), and the chairman is the director of The Silk Road, Amagi Yukihiko. The main component of Tokyo Docs is its pitching sessions which, compared to other long-running pitching forums in Europe and North America such as the IDFA, Hot Docs, and Sheffield Doc/Fest, have a stronger Asian focus. It is now known for attracting decision makers in this aspect, and every year, more and more Asian filmmakers, documentarians included, apply to participate in the event (Ogaki 2018). Over the years, projects led by Fan Jian 范俭, Han Meng 韩萌, Du Hai 杜海, Guan Qiang 关强, Shang Ming 商明, Kang Shiwei 康世伟, Pan Zhiqi 潘志琪 and Che Yicen 车怡岑 have received high acclaim, and many of them went into production.

Tokyo Docs and the YIDFF share deep-rooted connections.45 When Du Haibin’s A Young Patriot 少年⼩赵 (2015), a film that I had translated for the YIDFF, was screened at a pre-festival event of the 2018 Tokyo Docs, I took part in a negotiation to invite the film’s protagonist, Zhao Changtong 赵昶通, to the festival as a guest. With this, from the same year I also came to be involved in the festival’s newly created pitching session, ‘Colors of Asia’.46 This is an initiative set up in 2015 that pairs up an overseas director with a Japanese partner, with the intention to cultivate producers that can lead international co-productions in the future.47 Thanks to such initiatives, there have been more opportunities in recent years to allow young Japanese producers who are based or have studied in China to collaborate with Chinese independent film directors. For example, the producer Yamamoto Tae ⼭本妙, who had once been stationed in Beijing, arranged shootings in Fukushima for Zhao Liang’s 赵亮 forthcoming documentary I Am So Sorry ⽆去来处 on nuclear disasters. She also took part in Tokyo Docs, beginning with Pan Zhiqi’s project in 2020, as the Japanese partner to several Chinese directors. Through the introduction of Zhu Rikun 朱⽇坤, Hirano Ai 平野爱, a graduate of Shanghai Normal University, came to know director Ma Zhandong 马占冬 in Beijing, and was so impressed by 5 years’ worth of unedited footage Ma had filmed and accumulated that she turned it into a film project. After winning an honourable mention at Tokyo Docs, the work, called China Blue 中国蓝/蝼蚁 (2016), was later produced by NHK and won an ATP Award.48 Because it places strong emphasis on speaking to the world, Tokyo Docs has also campaigned for a more flexible use of copyright, which has been a main hurdle for Japanese television so far. At the time of writing, the copyright of China Blue remains with director Ma and filming is ongoing, and he is preparing a director’s cut that will be different from the NHK version.49

In parallel to the thriving of Japanese producers who gained experience in China, post-80s Chinese directors who have studied in Japan are also attracting attention for their documentaries in recent years. Fang Manman 房满满, who studied with Nonaka Akihiro during her time at Waseda University 早稻⽥⼤学, made the television documentary Coming Out 出柜 (2019) with NHK about young LGBT people in China. The director’s cut won the grand prix in the Short Film section of the Tokyo Documentary Film Festival, and later managed to screen in cinemas.50 Guan Qiang, who was a graduate student at Tokyo Zokei University 东京造形⼤学 studying under Suwa Nobuhiro 诹访敦彦, began producing a series of documentaries since 2014 dissecting China today for NONFIX, a late-night programme on Fuji TV. Among these, he won the Best Newcomer Award at the ATP Award TV Grand Prix with Hedonism and Beyond: The China that I Saw – Sexual Emancipation 风花雪⽉:我所看见的中国.性解放 (2015).51 NONFIX began as a late-night programme on Fuji TV in 1989, amidst the vigorous historical currents of the bubble economy and the end of the Cold War. Although ratings and budgets were low, it was known for being a ‘free zone’ that encouraged experimental productions, where directors like Kore-eda Hirokazu and Mori Tatsuya produced many uniquely-flavoured documentaries in their youth.52 China’s GDP surpassed Japan’s in 2010, and in another decade, is set to triple that of Japan (see Nihon Keizai Shimbun 2018 and Marukawa 2021). Even though the budget is limited, Japanese television as a ‘free zone’ still appeals to post-80s Chinese directors, because they can make films that ‘cannot not be made in China’ (see Cinema Journal 2021).

At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has become one of the latest ‘currents’ that have swept across the world, and naturally, has also greatly affected the tidal front of documentary exchanges. Given the difficulty of traveling to China for shootings, producer Hirano Ai and director Fang Manman have taken up the challenge to liaise with local collaborators and produce documentaries that incorporate those local perspectives. Their post-Covid works include Hong Kong: Convulsed by the National Security Law “国安法”に揺れる⾹港 (2020) produced by Hirano Ai, and Life Under Lockdown in Wuhan – 76 Days of Civil Record 封鎖都市・武漢—76⽇間市⺠の記録 (2020) and A Black China Dream 黒⼈中国夢—ブラック・チャイナ・ドリーム (2021), both directed by Fang Manman. All of them received critical acclaim and were broadcast again. A local and authentic view of China, which used to be off limits before The Silk Road when China was in political isolation from other countries,53 can now be shown in Japan through remote collaborations, ironically caused by another isolation, this time due to viruses.54 This paradox becomes the latest turbulent flow in the tidal front of television.

Tidal Fronts and the Pathos of Countercurrents

In the above, I have painted broad strokes on various aspects of a tidal front of Sino-Japanese exchanges since the 1980s. Tidal fronts in an ocean feature water masses of different characteristics colliding with one another but largely retaining their main attributes. Hence, what takes place is not fusion or dissolution, but updrafts and downdrafts that eventually turn into kolks and eddies, above or under water. In documentary fronts, this means that instead of dichotomies – China versus Japan, capital versus anti-capital, film versus television, narrative films versus documentaries – double, or even multiple, principles and situations interfere and co-exist with one another.

Ogawa Shinsuke took advantage of the bubble economy’s rippling effect to establish the first international documentary film festival in Asia, where, near the end of his career, he shared the wounds of modernisation in Japan with other Asian filmmakers. Peng Xiaolian, a director of narrative films, turned her back against the thundering speed of economic development in China and, as the seeds Ogawa sowed germinated over time, also produced multiple documentaries unearthing hidden episodes in Chinese modern history. Nonaka Akihiro rode on the wave of technological advancement in satellite broadcasting and filming equipment, and attempted to spin a new whirlpool of video journalism amidst the mass media in Japan of which he was critical. The post-80s Chinese filmmakers took a critical distance from China’s gaudy prosperity, and, using an economically stagnated Japan as their base, made portrayals of those swept to the margins in China today.

Tidal fronts have no fixed structure. What seems to emerge as a structure may change completely the next moment. When currents collide in an ocean, the collision is often non-linear and unpredictable. But if one common feature exists among the tidal fronts we have examined so far, it would be that against every mainstream, there was always an implicit or explicit influx of a pathos of countercurrent. Ogawa Shinsuke writes the following about his obsessive passion towards Asia:

What I am trying to say are not arrogant things like, ‘as an advanced economy, it’s such a good thing to see other Asian people still having […] the qualities we have lost’. […] Rather, we must continue to open up about the painful scars that our foolish misgivings have left in our hearts – the things that have eroded away, the mistakes that we have committed. (Ogawa 1993, p. 40)

Ogawa Shinsuke, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Sato Makoto and Nonaka Akihiro – they all observed closely and made visual records of people, environments and cultures that were either damaged greatly, or expelled and abandoned, by political, economic and social torrents that were difficult to completely resist. And these figures do not shy away from revealing their own indiscreetness and the gloomy shadows of ‘painful scars in their hearts’.

But they are not the only ones. Stirred by the pathos of countercurrents, many filmmakers, programmers, organisers and viewers have exposed the ‘painful scars’ that have accumulated in their own hearts, and in the tidal front where they could meet and interact with different ‘water masses’ of people, they hoped that their feelings could find an echo in others in the dazzling currents of the moment.

Ogawa’s Sanrizuka and Magino Village, Tsuchimoto’s Minamata, Wu Wenguang’s bum-around wanderings, Wiseman’s direct cinema, Cui Jian’s rock music, shadows that came with building the Three Gorges Dam, painful war memories, traumas of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, isolation and alienation under Covid lockdowns – the pain that accompanied all these scars transcended time and space and, with the help of major centripetal forces in the movement, mixed with many countercurrents and was driven up by kolks to the water surface. And, just as fish thrive in a tidal front with increased nutrients, other people would hear the pain, muse on it, give new meanings to it, and elevate it into a new piece of creation.

Putting Together This Issue

I trust that readers will learn from the many straightforward and reflective testimonies, intellectual and experiential analyses, and critical and flexible interpretations penned by our diverse range of authors in this issue. Together, these works discuss what kinds of kolks and eddies whirled up when various currents collided, who rode along which of those kolks, how they brought about new waves and energies, and what happened to those that could not get involved and ended up settling in the dregs. Of course, this issue has only been able to cover a portion of Sino-Japanese cultural trajectories, and many topics remain worthy of further investigation, including a large number of important works and film festivals that we could not cover (for the latter, especially local film festivals outside Tokyo); Japan’s reception and comparisons of other films from Asia; the connection between documentary films and other fields in the arts (fine art, music, literature, and so on); Japanese directors who were influenced by Chinese independent cinema; the reception of Japanese independent films in China; analysis from a gender perspective; and so on. Tidal fronts, when observed from a different position, give a totally different picture. We hope that this small themed issue can become something like the priming water for a pump, so that new streams of explorations and examinations can fountain in the time to come.

The purpose and content of each section has already been concisely and precisely discussed in Ma Ran’s 马然 introduction. Here, I will make some short remarks on the order of articles within the sections and the language used in the issue.

The way with which we ordered the articles in each section reflected both temporal and spatial trajectories. The sections ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ and ‘Film Reviews’ were ordered chronologically according to when the film festivals were established and the films were released. The sections ‘Journeys To/From Yamagata’ and ‘Interviews’ also broadly follow a chronological order, but convey a spatial trajectory as well. ‘Journeys To/From Yamagata’ in particular records a continuing journey that begins with travelling to Yamagata (Wu Wenguang), then within Yamagata (Akiyama; Nornes), followed by a trip from Yamagata to China (Tsuchimoto), finally reaching out to the Chinese-speaking world (Feng Yan). Meanwhile, the two pieces in the ‘Articles’ section zoom out from a microscopic viewpoint (Akiyama) to a macroscopic perspective (Yu Ning). It goes without saying that our organisation and ordering is but one possibility out of many others. Last but not least, the film list appended at the end of the issue under ‘Research Archive’ is a pilot effort that invites readers to interpret the data themselves and discover new linkages.

On the topic of language, the Chinese Independent Cinema Observer is a bilingual academic journal in Chinese and English. The unique editorial policy that sees the two languages as equal can be taken as another of those editorial ‘attempt[s] to break all kinds of boundaries’ (Sabrina Qiong Yu’s Launch Statement). In this issue, apart from the introduction, the epilogue and the research archive which are bilingual, we have respected authors’ wish to write in, or translate into, whatever language they desired (and if there was no particular preference, the editors made the call). To help readers understand the content as much as possible, pieces written in only one language (either Chinese or English), except the film reviews, come with abstracts in both languages. This issue, as the debut issue, posed particularly complex challenges to the editorial work, given that, on top of Chinese and English, many of the materials and articles were written in Japanese. The rules and conventions we have explored in this issue could be subject to change, and we thank readers for their comments and feedback.

Last but not least, my heartfelt thanks are due to CIFA, all the authors, translators, informants, peer reviewers, proofreaders, as well as everyone who showed interest and concern for this issue: they spent huge efforts to make available the content we have – which so far has been much confined to Japan due to linguistic limitations – to a broader Chinese- or English-speaking readership. In particular, this issue would not have materialised if not for my fellow co-editor Ma Ran’s lionlike activism filled with wisdom, intellect and passion; the chief editors Sabrina Qiong Yu and Luke Robinson’s untiring leadership and problem-solving skills, elegantly and decisively working out solutions to whatever problem we had; and Wang Wo’s typesetting which elevated the visual aesthetics of the texts.

With this, I hope that all the ideas and pathos about films, as well as all the currents and countercurrents involved, that we have communicated in this issue will continue to create ‘enjoyable vortices’.

March 2021



This research was supported by The Kikawada Foundation and JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number 19K00259.


1 In the early 1990s in Japan, Wu Wenguang was a widely known figure not only within film circles, but also among researchers in Chinese studies and film studies. This was all thanks to Karima Fumitoshi 刈间⽂俊, a professor in literature and film at the University of Tokyo. Karima was particularly close to the so-called fifth generation of Chinese directors. After watching Wu Wenguang’s Bumming in Beijing at the 15th Hong Kong International Film Festival ⾹港国际电影节 in 1991, Karima flew to Beijing to interview Wu, and later published an article based on the interview in the journal of the Association for Studies of Culture and Representation 表象⽂化论学会 at The University of Tokyo (see Karima 1991). I also first heard of Wu Wenguang in a private conversation with Karima in 1991 when I was a graduate school student.

2 Wong Ain-ling, who unfortunately passed away in 2018, also made great efforts to organize the first ever screening of Ogawa Shinsuke’s films in Hong Kong in 1988. See Li Tiecheng’s 李铁成article in this issue, ‘Ogawa Shinsuke’s Connections with Hong Kong’s Social Movement Documentary Culture – An Interview Series’.

3 For a detailed account of what had happened in this period, see articles in this issue by Wu Wenguang, ‘The Road to Yamagata’, and Yano Kazuyuki ⽮野和之, ‘From Bumming in Beijing to Dead Souls … Thirty Years of Chinese Independent Documentary at Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival’.

4 In this period, Japan expressed immense interest to Asian cultures not only in films, but also in modern art, literature, theatre, music, and other artistic avenues. In modern art, for instance, both governmental and non-governmental art institutions, such as the Japan Foundation, the International Association of Art Critics, the Tokyo Gallery, the Shiseido Gallery and others, frequently invited Chinese artists and curators to Japan. I for instance have translated and interpreted for the art critic Li Xianting 栗宪庭, the artist Fang Lijun ⽅⼒钧, and others. Fang’s works were shown in the Japan Foundation-funded exhibition, ‘Fang Lijun: Human Images in an Uncertain Age’ (1996), to which Li was also invited. Later, Li created his own Li Xianting’s Film Fund 栗宪庭电影基⾦ (2006-), and Fang became one of the sponsors.

5 For a clear discussion of Japan’s Asian Boom and cultural policies through the perspective of modern art, see Kishi (2019).

6 Many articles in this issue have discussed and analysed the impact of the war and its representation. See reviews by Ito Satoru 伊藤悟, ‘The Documentary Film Choko (1981): A Journey Through the Past and Towards the Future’; Shen Nian 沈念, ‘Alienated Spaces in Li Ying’s Zainichi Documentaries’; Yuan Jinbo 袁⾦泊, ‘“East Asia” in Miniature—From Border-crossing to Understanding’; Fukunaga Genya 福永⽞弥, ‘“My Spirit Will Keep Fighting for Justice”—The “Comfort Women” Issue and the Responsibility to Respond in Give Me the Sun (2015)’; and the interview by Tsuchiya Masaaki ⼟屋昌明, ‘Chinese Independent Documentary’s Hidden History with Japan: An In-depth Conversation with Producer, Journalist Nonaka Akihiro’.

7 [Translator’s note] In this article, the translator uses the word ‘vortex’ – which has both a technical and a general ring to it – to refer generally to the multiple ideas of swirls in water communicated by the word ‘uzu’ 渦 in Japanese. In a tidal front, swirls occur in all directions as a result of collision, and can manifest both visibly on the water surface and under water. I am aware that in oceanography, vortex more specifically refers to swirls that have a downdraft (i.e. they suck things down). In this article, I use the word ‘eddy’ for these downdrafts, and this complements the word ‘kolk’, which is the scientific term for the oppositional concept of ‘updrafts’, i.e. swirls that bring things up from the bottom. As will be clear below, the author of this article has both eddies and kolks in mind when the word ‘uzu’ is used. In short, in this article’s understanding, ‘vortex’ is the general term for swirls/uzu, which can be further classified into ‘eddy’ the downdraft and ‘kolk’ the updraft.

8 The feature section ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ in this issue consists of articles written by the programming directors or organisers of 10 Japanese film festivals or screening events that have the strongest connections to Chinese independent cinema.

9 For example, the Image Forum Festival was founded in 1981 and has since been the frontline of introducing the latest experimental films in Japan; for more, see Yamashita Koyo’s ⼭下宏洋 article in this issue, ‘Underground Vein Stretching Across the Sea: Showcasing Personal/Experimental Chinese Films in Japan in the Context of Image Forum’. For a discussion on the rich complexities and webs of connection among film festivals in Japan, see Ma (2020).

10 International film festivals established in this period were not only funded by public money. Before Focus on Asia: Fukuoka International Film Festival was established in 1991 and supported by abundant governmental budget, public citizens from the same city of Fukuoka had already founded the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival 福冈亚洲电影节 in 1987. The founder of this festival, Maeda Shuichiro 前⽥秀⼀郎, produced a program that thoroughly manifested the spirit of independent cinema, being the first to screen Wu’s Bumming in Beijing to a Japanese audience, and in turn introducing Wu to Ogawa.

11 The book has been translated into traditional Chinese as Ogawa (1995) and into simplified Chinese as Ogawa (2007).

12 Tian Zhuangzhuang was, in the end, not able to take part in the 1989 YIDFF due to the Tian’anmen Incident. In 1993, after participating at the Tokyo International Film Festival with The Blue Kite, Tian stayed behind in Japan and adjudicated for the YIDFF that year. See articles in the feature ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ in this issue: ‘From the Blue Kite to the “Dragon Seal”: Thirty Years of the Tokyo International Film Festival and Chinese Cinema’ by Ishizaka Kenji ⽯坂健治, and ‘From Bumming in Beijing to Dead Souls … Thirty Years of Chinese Independent Documentary at Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival’ by Yano Kazuyuki.

13 See Shen Nian’s film review in this issue, ‘Alienated Spaces in Li Ying’s Zainichi Documentaries’.

14 Nornes (2013) and Akiyama (2019) have discussed how Ogawa connected the sunset of his own career to a broader concern for Asia and Asian documentaries.

15 For more on the Documentary Dream Center which at least in part inherited Ogawa’s ‘dream’, see articles in this issue: ‘Time Traveling through Asian Documentary’s Pasts and Futures’ by Markus Nornes 马克.诺恩斯, ‘Encounters (Japan, Documentary, Those People and Those Events)’ by Feng Yan, and ‘Kunming, Yunnan: The Land Where Documentaries Begin to Dawn’ by Tsuchimoto Noriaki. The founder of Documentary Dream Center, Fujioka Asako, is now branching out into an artist-in-residence programme known as the Yamagata Documentary Dojo (Documentary Dream Center, n.d.).

16 Thanks to the efforts of Jia Zhifang’s students, Chen Sihe 陈思和 and others, the director’s cut of this documentary was screened at a ceremony celebrating Jia’s 100th birthday (Li 2017).

17 The book was published posthumously in August 2019 by The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press. The product page on the press’s website shows interview footage Peng Xiaolian took during her interview with Zhong (Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, n.d.).

18 This issue includes beautifully written articles by the three directors, recounting their chance meetings not only with fellow directors, but also with many named or unnamed Japanese and Chinese people on different occasions. See Wu Wenguang, ‘The Road to Yamagata’; Feng Yan, ‘Encounters (Japan, Documentary, Those People and Those Events)’; and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, ‘Kunming, Yunnan: The Land Where Documentaries Begin to Dawn’.

19 See Akiyama Tamako’s 秋⼭珠⼦ article in this issue, ‘The Spark that Lit the Fuse: Chinese Documentary Directors’ Encounter with Frederick Wiseman’.

20 See Ishizaka Kenji’s article, ‘From the Blue Kite to the “Dragon Seal”: Thirty Years of the Tokyo International Film Festival and Chinese Cinema’ in the section ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ in this issue.

21 Funky Sueyoshi ファンキー末吉, the drummer of the hugely popular band Bakufu Slump 爆⾵スランプ, was so captivated by Chinese rock music that he learnt Chinese and went to China to make and play music. I came to know Sueyoshi through Cui Jian’s connections, and I recall Sueyoshi’s consistently cynical attitude to the Japanese music scene in which he himself was involved (see Funky Sueyoshi 1998).

22 In fact, since the late 1980s Fuji TV had made use of the late-night slots to broadcast many experimental and ambitious programmes that would otherwise be difficult to air during prime time. Among them were Asia N Beats [Ajia N bito], which introduces the latest music news in Asia, and the documentary programme NONFIX which will be discussed later (see Niwa 2020, pp. 186-187).

23 See Museum of Obsolete Media (n.d.) for an evolution of video formats. For more on the competition between Japanese camera manufacturers, see Kuroda (2010).

24 See the tables prepared by Nakayama Hiroki 中⼭⼤树 in the Research Archive section of this issue for the rich collection of works screened at the YIDFF and other film festivals.

25 For a cogent critique of how vortices and eddies – currents and trends – can also produce invisibilities and minorities, see ‘InterAsia Referencing and Minor Transnationalism: The Dissemination of Chinese Independent Queer Films in Japan’ by Yu Ning 于宁 in this issue. 26 Among these award-winning works, I had the pleasure to translate the subtitles for Wang Bin’s Tie Xi Qu: West of Tracks and Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, He Yuan’s Apuda, Sha Qing’s Lone Existence, and Cong Feng’s Doctor Ma’s Country Clinic. For more on the subtitling and translation of Fengming: A Chinese Memoir and the film’s reception in Japan, see Akiyama Tamako’s ‘The Liberty Coerced by Limitation: On Subtitling Fengming: A Chinese Memoir’ in this issue.

27 See Idei Nobuo and Ono Eiichi (2015) for an analysis of the worsening financial situation of the municipalities in Yamagata Prefecture.

28 Since then, the city of Yamagata has become a co-organiser.

29 The feature section ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ in this issue provides much information on nongovernmental film festivals born in this period. See Uzu Ruriko’s 宇津留理⼦ ‘Green Image Film Festival: The Oldest International Environmental Film Festival in Asia’, Ichiyama Shozo’s 市⼭尚三 ‘Chinese Independent Cinema and the Tokyo FILMeX International Film Festival’, Teruoka Sozo’s 晖峻创三 ‘Transformations and Multiplicity–Chinese Cinema as Shown by the Osaka Asian Film Festival’, Nakayama Hiroki’s ‘An “Independent” Film Festival: The Story of the Chinese Independent Film Festival in Tokyo’, and Yamazaki Yutaka’s ⼭崎裕 ‘Transgressing the Borders Between Film, Television, and Drama: Za Koenji Documentary Film Festival as a Festival Established by Creators’. For more on exhibition events in universities, see Yoshikawa Tatsuo’s 吉川龙⽣ ‘Celebrating a Diverse Chinese-Language Cinema Culture: Hiyoshi Festival of Chinese Cinema at Keio University’ and Tsuchiya Masaaki’s ‘An Overview of the Chinese Independent Documentary Screening Series in Tokyo’. For an academic discussion on the new possibilities from film festivals that place film subjects at the centre of agency, see Yu Ning’s ‘Inter-Asia Referencing and Minor Transnationalism: The Dissemination of Chinese Independent Queer Films in Japan’ under ‘Articles’.

30 Examples of these subsequent Asian documentary film festivals include the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in Korea, the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala in India, the West Lake International Documentary Festival in China, and others. Before its establishment, the Taiwan International Documentary Festival sent a large observer group to YIDFF and learnt how to organise film festivals (Miyazawa 1998).

31 Niwa (2020) provides latest research on Japanese TV documentaries. Also, Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s essay ‘Kunming, Yunnan: The Land Where Documentaries Begin to Dawn’, in the feature ‘Journeys To/From Yamagata’ in this issue, touches on the work of his old friend, the TV director Ushiyama Jun’ichi, and shows huge interest in Chinese TV producers’ reflective practices. Finally, on the establishment of documentary film festivals, which helped bridge the gap between films and TV series, see the article by Yamazaki Yutaka in this issue, ‘Transgressing the Borders Between Film, Television, and Drama: Za Koenji Documentary Film Festival as a Festival Established by Creators’.

32 Private conversation with Amagi Yukihiko, 11 June 2020.

33 Sada Masashi 佐⽥雅志, the first Japanese singer to hold a solo concert in China, used the footage filmed for the co-production to produce the NHK TV programme Hello! China 你好!中国! and the documentary film Choko. Choko in particular was produced partly with the help of important Japanese directors such as Ichikawa Kon 市川崑, Hara Kazuo and others. For more on this film, see Ito Satoru’s film review in this issue, ‘The Documentary Film Choko (1981): A Journey Through the Past and Towards the Future’.

34 The CCTV considered the footage on the Yellow River co-filmed with the NHK a failure and feared for a low rating. The writer of the narration, Su Xiaokang 苏晓康, was said to have then propose to re-edit the available footage and add new ones to shift the focus to a cultural perspective; River Elegy was the result (Jinzhong 2009).

35 Wu Wenguang was among the Japanese film crew who went to China to film Dai Koga. Speaking of the shooting experience, Wu expressed a sense of discomfort with the length the Japanese crew was willing to go to request the filmed subject be represented in an unreasonable way for the sake of aesthetics. This reminded Wu of his dislike of a similar obsession in Chinese artistic documentaries with representation for the purpose of ideological propagation. Both of these thoughts have contributed to Wu’s belief later to film a subject freely in its most natural form (Karima 1991, pp. 47-48).

36 Satellite broadcasting came in two types, BS (using broadcast satellites) and CS (using communication satellites). Both types offered many channels.

37 Apart from satellite broadcast, the terrestrial telecasting station Yomiuri TV set up the ‘We Love Cinema!’ Awards in the YIDFF, named after an eponymous late-night TV programme airing since 1984. In 1997, the awards went to Li Hong’s 李红 Out of Phoenix Bridge 回到凤凰桥 (1997) and Yu Lik-wai’s 余⼒为Neon Goddesses 美丽的魂魄 (1996), with prize money that covered the screening fee.

38 See Sun Heying’s 孙何凝 film review in this issue, ‘From Bumming in Beijing (1990) to At Home in the World (1995)—Idealism’s Voyage and Return’.

39 The main version is 87 minutes in length. The TV version was broadcast in October 1994 in the NHK programme Documentaries to Asia Episode 1 – China [Ajia hatsu dokyumentarī dai 1 kai – Chūgoku] (Cinematrix, 2008).

40 See in this issue Shen Nian’s film review, ‘Alienated Spaces in Li Ying’s Zainichi Documentaries’ and Wen Hao’s 闻豪 review, ‘Ji Dan’s Spiral Staircase of Harbin (2008) and When the Bough Break (2011): The Clash of Individuals and Worlds’. Often, the version shown at film festivals is the director’s cut, different from the version broadcast on TV.

41 For more on this translation of Harvesting Film, see Feng Yan’s ‘Encounters (Japan, Documentary, Those People and Those Events)’. And for more on how this translation brought influence to the Chinese-speaking world, see Li Tiecheng’s ‘Ogawa Shinsuke’s Connections with Hong Kong’s Social Movement Documentary Culture – An Interview Series’ in this issue and Akiyama (2019).

42 See Tsuchiya Masaaki’s ‘Chinese Independent Documentary’s Hidden History with Japan: An In-depth Conversation with Producer, Journalist Nonaka Akihiro’ in this issue.

43 For more on Nonaka’s exchanges with Chinese directors, see Tsuchiya Masaaki’s interview, ‘Chinese Independent Documentary’s Hidden History with Japan: An In-depth Conversation with Producer, Journalist Nonaka Akihiro’, and Feng Yan’s sharing, ‘Encounters (Japan, Documentary, Those People and Those Events)’, in this issue.

44 To read more about Otsuka’s and Huang’s experiences, see Yoshikawa Tatsuo’s interview in this issue, ‘Creativity, and the Future of Chinese Independent Cinema: An Interview with Directors Huang Ji and Otsuka Ryuji’.

45 Fujioka Asako of the YIDFF is also a member of Tokyo Docs, and has organized Tokyo Docs events in collaboration with YIDFF.

46 The pre-festival event to which Zhao Changtong was invited took place on 4 November 2018 at Hibiya Library. Tokyo Docs judge Yamazaki Yutaka, a cameraman known for his work on Kore-eda Hirokazu’s and Kawase Naomi’s films, came to the screening. In addition, Yamazaki screened A Young Patriot at Za Koenji Documentary Film Festival which he organised, and held an online talk with Zhao. See Yamazaki’s account ‘Transgressing the Borders Between Film, Television, and Drama: Za Koenji Documentary Film Festival as a Festival Established by Creators’ in the section ‘Exhibiting Chinese Films in Japanese Film Festivals’ in this issue.

47 See Chi (2018) for a report on Colors of Asia.

48 See Wang Hongbin’s 王宏斌 film review in this issue, ‘China Blue (2016) Review: The Dual Lives of a Chinese Entrepreneur’. The ATP Awards is the only award in Japan that is selected by film production staff (producers, directors and others working in film production companies).

49 See Wang Hongbin’s film review in this issue, ‘“Everybody lives as humble as an Ant”—an Online Interview with Filmmaker Ma Zhandong’.

50 See Guo Lifu’s 郭⽴夫 film review in this issue, ‘Out of the Closet and into the Sun?: The Politics and Experiences of Coming Out in Coming Out (2019)’.

51 For more of Guan Qiang’s work, see Zhu Yonghuan’s 朱永欢 film review in this issue, ‘“The China that I Saw” Documentary Series (2015, 2018): Breaking Down Differences through Dialogue’. Also, Otsuka Ryuji was the cinematographer for most of Guan Qiang’s films, starting from Hedonism and Beyond.

52 Of course, there were also boundaries. Mori Tatsuya’s masterpiece, A (1998), about the Aum Shinrikyo sect, was supposed to air on NONFIX but later pulled from the programme. Mori then made it as an independent film (Niwa 2020, pp. 185-187, 199).

53 Tokieda Toshie 时枝俊江 of Iwanami Productions 岩波映画 made the documentary Land of the Dawn 黎明之国 (1967), a rare attempt capturing half a year’s time from summer 1966 and the daily life that transpired in the early days of the Cultural Revolution (see Tsuchiya 2008; Imaizumi 2003).

54 See Fang (2020) for more on shooting Life Under Lockdown in Wuhan remotely. 319


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