Dir: Kohei Oguri
103 min., 35mm, 1:1.66, Color
Produktion: Space Co. Ltd. Buch: Kohei Oguri, Kiyoshi Kenmochi. Kamera: Kiyoshi Kenmochi. Ausstattung: Yoshinaga Yokoo. Musik: Toshio Hosokawa; Orchester: Gunma Symphony Orchestra unter der Leitung von Ken Takazeki. Ton: Soichi Inoue. Special Effects: Art Durinsky. Schnitt: Nobuo Ogawa. Produzenten: Munashi Masuzawa, Hiroshi Fuji-kura, Hiroyuki Kodera.
Darsteller: Sung-ki Ahn (Takuji, der schlafende Mann), Christine Hakim (Tia, Barfrau aus Südostasien), Koji Yakusho (Kamimura, Takujis Jugendfreund), Masaso Imafuku (Kiyoji, Takujis Vater), Masako Yagi (Omani, Besitzer des Fahrradparks), Fumiyo Kohinata (Wataru, geistig behinderter junger Mann), Takahiro Tamura (Denji-bei, alter Mann an der Wassermühle).
Uraufführung: 3. Februar 1996, Tokyo.
Weltvertrieb: Gold View Co. Ltd. 1-17-3 #306 Fujimidai Nerima-Ku Tokyo 177. Tel: (81-3) 3825 8612, Fax: (81-3) 3825 8611.
Fri 14.02. 19:00 Babylon Mon 17.02. 16:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Mon 17.02. 19:00 Delphi Tue 18.02. 10:00 Arsenal Wed 19.02. 12:00 Akademie der Künste
Several Southeast Asian women work in a bar. One of them, Tia, once had a son who drowned in a flood caused by deforestation in her own country. Kamimura is Takuji's schoolmate. Coming to visit his friend, he starts to remember how they would play as boys, and visit a hut deep in the forest.
As the seasons pass, the villagers come to know Tia, and she learns of Takuji.
The summer brings a change in Takuji's condition. His family and several villagers gather. His mother notices a dust-devil and announces that Takuji's spirit has left his body. They try to call the spirit back, but to no avail. Takuji is dead. After the performance of a Noh play, Tia walks alone into the forest. She spends the night in the abandoned hut. Meanwhile Kamimura, looking at the full moon, senses that Takuji has returned to the mountains...
At dawn Kamimura climbs up into the mountains, to the hut. There he finds Tia and they hear the sound of water in the well which was supposed to have dried up.
Oguri was commissioned to make this film by Japan's Gunma Prefecture, in celebration of its surpassing two million people in population. This is the first time that a local government in Japan has ever invested in the production of a dramatic feature film.
In Hitosuji, a fictitious village of the sort to be found everywhere in rural Japan, everyday life goes on as it always has around a man who does nothing but sleep. There are mountains, forests, rivers and fields; the seasons come and go, but life and death, humankind and nature, are portrayed in unity rather than in their conventional opposition.
Underlying SLEEPING MAN are the traditional Japanese attitudes to nature, to life and to death. The past century has brought the rapid modernization of the country and the forcible turn of the Japanese mind towards Europe and North America in the economic development following World War II. The price, however, has been high, as the Japanese now find themselves bereft of an inner life with which to live through the ages to come. In this film, Oguri tries to extract the richness of the ,life' that Japan has lost.
In casting the film, Oguri realized a long-cherished desire to transcend the national boundaries of Asia. In the role of Takuji, the sleeping man - a Japanese - is the Korean actor Sung-ki Ahn. The part of Tia, one of the Asians its economic development has brought to Japan, is played by an Indonesian actress, Christine Hakim, star of the film Tjoet Nja' Dhien. Koji Yakusho, who plays the electrician Kamimura, Takuji's friend, is an actor known throughout the Japanese film industry. The Noh sequence of the film features Tessenkai and Akio Kanze, both famous in their field.
After a long time, we have a masterpiece of Japanese cinema. It is rich in content, with beautiful images (...). Nature - the river, the forest and the mountains - is portrayed in its full presence, in contrast with the trivial details of everyday life. The film takes the aspects of the natural cycle, and evokes the communication between human beings and nature that comes with their return to it.
At its deepest level, the film deals with life and death. The sleeping man himself can represent nothing other than the soul that looks out over the panorama of life and death.
Director Oguri, in his quiet portrayal of a little country town, makes it a light source that illuminates the nation of Japan in its entirety. With its ear on the pulse of the age, the film considers humanity and the world. He achieves his effect through his images and his techniques of suggestion, and one must not forget the poetry conjured by these images and the care with which he has selected his cast. This is a highly praiseworthy film that cannot fail to leave a strong spiritual impression on the viewer.
(Noboru Akiyama, in: Asahi Shinbun, February 1, 1996)
SLEEPING MAN is a very strange film. A wooden hot-spring bath-house, a mill with a large water-wheel, a tiny eatery tucked away in one corner of a bicycle parking lot: all these places appear with no thread to connect them, and the characters talk to each other about things that have no link to each other either. The bar-girl Tia, the ,woman from the Southern island' is singing a karaoke song in the roadhouse where she works when the power fails, and several days later the electrician Kamimura comes to make repairs, but the talk they exchange doesn't mean very much. And Takuji, the ,sleeping man' and thus the central link of the story, has fallen from a mountain before the film begins and is unconscious.
"Among the people who've seen the movie there are some - not many, but some - who can't relate to it," says director Kohei Oguri. "I certainly thought there was something about it that might be confusing. Most films are made so that you can follow them through the conversation, and that's what people have become used to."
But he says that in real life communication is not always over when conversation ceases, and when you come into wide open spaces like forests and rivers the grip that conversation has on things begins to weaken.
"I don't think our sensibilities are formed to human scale," he says. "We grow up, not just with conversation, but listening to the sound of water and wind, and our ability to appreciate things is formed by all this long before pictorial images make their appearance."
Film was born about a century ago in Europe, in a way of looking at things that drew mainly on the traditions of western culture, and carrying the weight of the modern rationalism and humanism that most influenced the thought of that time. Films were thus conceived in correspondence to a human scale, and a story would develop in terms of the conversation exchanged among the characters in it.
What Oguri tells us, however, is that perhaps in Japan, with its different cultural roots, there is a completely different way in which it can be done. Looking in the past for filmmakers who have searched for such a way, one finds the names of Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi.
While in an Ozu film the story does move through conversation, says Oguri, there is not much emotional movement or uplift that comes from it. The conversation does nothing more than hover at the surface while the two people in it maintain their own separate worlds. Thus Ozu was able to make film after film on essentially the same story, and what is important is what sort of contemplative world can be constructed.
Mizoguchi, on the other hand, sought in camera work something unique in Japan. His technique, moving in one sweep out of a house into the garden, beyond that into the landscape beyond and back, would never have occured to European filmmakers who considered interiors and exteriors as two different worlds. Oguri explains that it was because of this technique that Mizoguchi was able to capture the emotion of the classical Japanese heroine so wonderfully.
"This technique influenced foreign filmmakers," he says. "You can see it in the way people like the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos will have a setting change a hundred years with one long camera pan. But the reason he doesn't handle inside to outside the way Mizoguchi does lies in modern Greek history. I think how you seek out an individual way of doing things is the task of a filmmaker."
But leaving aside the quests of Ozu and Mizoguchi, how does one portray our own era, Japan of the late 20th century? Oguri searched for his own approach, and the result is SLEEPING MAN, in which the conversation does not have one particular direction, and in which the line of the camera is one that abandons a ,human point of view'.
"It's been 50 years since the end of World War II," says Oguri. "The tempo of things has increased over the last century, and people now find themselves feeling short of breath from running to stay up with it. After the war Japan gave priority to economics as it set out to catch up and pass other countries, but now we find ourselves stopped dead both economically and politically. You can't use conventional methods to portray a time like this. I don't know where this film will lead, but I feel that it's a necessary first step."
The climax of the film, in a grove of trees in full leaf, is an outdoor noh drama performance. The play being one in which the dead speak to the living, symbolizes an Oriental feeling of life and death, and at the same time is a unique Japanese cultural expression of abstraction and stylization with six centuries of history.
"People say that Japanese today are completely cut off from the sense of life and death, and the sense of nature, that was formed from noh, but that's not true," he says. "While noh may be further from real life than film, it still holds its own ground!"
(From the Sankei Shinbun, February 14, 1996, Evening Edition)
I am one of those who would like to add his voice to the praise director Kohei Oguri's SLEEPING MAN has already drawn from critics and admirers (...). The film portrays a way of life that does not revolve around competition and achievement, which is to say a way of life in which value is placed simply on existence, a way of life in which wind and trees, moonlight and flowing water are part of one entire living whole. There is thus no character in the film who ,does' anything special; in this way of ,being' one's existence and that of nature are laid side by side as equivalents. Things that have ,being' exist in a cycle that proceeds from birth to death and back to birth again. The moon waxes and wanes as though it were an image mediating the relation of life and death.
(...) All Takuji does is lie silent, a living being freed from action or function. His classmate in school, the electrician Kamimura comes and tells the sleeping Takuji that ,there was a man walking along in the middle of the river with a long pole...why, I wonder...wouldn't that be great to be like him? It'd be great to have a job like that, would it..' In very little of the dialogue do two characters sit and face each other. Speakers are lined up beside each other, or separated into different spaces and caused to speak as if their words were floating up towards a surface of silence. The volume of sound as they speak does not reflect differences in their location respective to the camera. The tempo floats slowly at a short remove from the dimension of the everyday. All of these factors combine to form a scene set in a certain dimension of symbolism.
To hear the words of nature and of the spirit, it is necessary to make a place where landscape and silence can speak, and care is taken to ensure that neither the characters nor the dialogue shoulder their way past to push that landscape and silence into the background.
After Takuji's death, a bar-girl named Tia attends an open-air performance of the Noh drama Matsukaze, at which his spirit summons her into the forest. Walking there, she encounters his ghost.
"Where do I come out if I keep going straight ahead?" she asks, and he answers, "On the other side of the forest is another village."
There is an esthetic purpose to the stylization of this film: it aims at a beauty that exists in its very form. The esthetic sense perceived over the centuries as ,transience' and nurtured to intimacy through the literature of tanka and haiku poetry is portrayed here in images that seep into the heart as something that, amid the scheme of life and the forebodings that come with it, includes important values worthy of being remembered. By his casting and way of making the film Oguri is, I think, trying to suggest that perhaps our realizing that we ourselves, other people and nature share equally in ,being', will incline us toward living together with one another, and that perhaps this inclination will combine the spiritual values common to people all across Asia, to incline us to amity among ourselves.
(Kohei Hanasaki, in: Asahi Shinbun, March 5th, 1995, Evening Edition)
Born in Maebashi, Gunma prefecture, Kohei Oguri graduated in drama from the Literature Department of Waseda University. As a freelance assistant director, he then took part in films by Masahiro Shinoda and Kiriro Urayama.
Oguri directed his first film, Muddy River (from a novel by Teru Miyamoto) in 1981. In 1984, he directed For Kayako (from the novel by Hue-Song Lee). In 1990, Sting of Death (from a novel by Toshio Shimao) brought him both the ,Grand Prix 1990' and the ,International Critics Prize' at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1993, he co-directed Correspondence by Film with Slamet Rahardjo Djarot from Indonesia. SLEEPING MAN is his fourth film.
1981: Muddy River. 1984: For Kanako (Forum 1984). 1990: Sting of Death. 1993: Correspondence by Film. 1996: NEMURU OTOKO.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.