We are saddened to hear of the untimely death of Japanese filmmaker, Koji Wakamatsu. Our associate Yoshitsugu Yubai had interviewed Wakamatsu for RE/Search’s forthcoming new edition of Incredibly Strange Films [which is still in production]. Here is part of that interview.
— How did you enter the movie world?—
(Wakamatsu) I entered the movie world by accident. When I was 20 years old, I was a juvenile delinquent. At 17, I ran away from the country to Tokyo, then entered the world of Yakuza when I was 20 years old. Then I got arrested and went to jail at 22 years old. There in jail, I was bullied by cops – it was raw deal. The cops treated me inhumanely. Therefore, I meditated how I could best get revenge on them. If I used violence on them, I would have to go back to jail, so, I thought the best way to get revenge on them would be in an imaginary world, by writing novels or making movies. I thought about my abilities. Then, I decided to leave Yakuza world to be a movie director. I started out by carrying lunches for TV productions, and when I was 25 years old, there was an offer to be a director. I directed my first movie in 1962. In a word, if I kill people in an imaginary world, it is just imagination and I am not guilty of killing cops – as many as I want! So, I thought it was the best way to take revenge against authority. I had never planned to work in movies – I just thought it was the best way to get revenge against cops and authority.
— In my image, the Yakuza world is not connected with art. When you were Yakuza, were you interested in art? —
(Wakamatsu) No, not at all. If I had not been arrested, I have no idea what I would be doing. I might be in jail, might be dead, or might still be Yakuza, maybe would have become a Yakuza boss. Now, when people shoot a film on location, they must pay their respect to the Yakuza who control that area, for example Shinjuku. My [Yakuza] boss had ordered to me to guard the camera, and that’s how I discovered filmmaking. My entry into filmmaking was as a bodyguard of cameras, protecting equipment from crowds. Besides that, I had only watched movies on my time off. But I resented the power of cops who had bullied me, and I could kill cops in movies. I am not an artist.
— When you started shooting film, did you start it by yourself or with friends? —
(Wakamatsu) At the time, the field of movies and television was absurd. I quarreled with an actor but I could not hit him because I was on probation. If I hit him, I would have to go back to jail. While I was thinking about leaving the filmmaking – going home and starting to farm, someone asked me to direct a movie. I did not think I had talent, but I wrote screenplay and shot the movie. The last scene of the movie was killing cops - it was a great hit. From then on, I got many commissions. I was lucky. My break into directing came from my anger – and a lucky meeting with the right people.
— How do you get ideas? —
(Wakamatsu) Anger and questioning of affairs of the world. I have shot over a hundred movies and written most of the screenplays.
— Your movie titles are very beautiful.—
(Wakamatsu) I deceive audiences by titles.
— Were the 60s a very special period for you? —
(Wakamatsu) In Japan, campus activism was getting big. In America, the assassination of Kennedy, the U.S. - Japan Security Treaty, and Vietnam War. The world was chaotic and there was no end of material for movies.
— Did you get along with the underground scene and hippies in 60s? —
(Wakamatsu) Yes, I was invited to an underground film festival in Brussels, and attended it. I had visited N.Y. to see underground scene during 1967 – 68 and I became acquainted with Andy Warhol. I mostly hung out with people from underground scene.
— Are you acquainted with Tadanori Yokoo? —
(Wakamatsu) I have often drunk with Yokoo in Shinjuku. The colors of Yokoo’s posters are like a rainbow. I would call his posters images of LSD.
— The psychedelic movement – Love and Peace and Yakuza seem so opposite. Did you feel discomfort or a gap? —
(Wakamatsu) No, not really. I have many friends who are extreme left wing, extreme right wing and foreigners who live in Japan. I do not discriminate – Yakuza and hippies are same for me. I do not like discrimination.
— Please tell me about Yakuza. Foreigners are interested in that. —
(Wakamatsu) Yakuza is not cool at all. When I had normal job, a friend died in the field. His parents came to get him. If it happened today, they would receive life insurance. But after that happened, I decided to become a Yakuza – to live thick and short. I started out becoming a gangster. For example, I would bodyguard the cameraman or the prizes of a Pachinko parlor. After 2 years, I had a follower, but he was beaten by another group of Yakuza. I went to seek vengeance, to beat them up. But the gangsters told the police about it and I was caught. Yakuza is terrible because they disturb you. Yakuza fashion is different from other people. They show they are Yakuza by fashion. I have never made a Yakuza movie because it is wrong to think Yakuza is cool.
— Are there any movies or genres you’ve influenced by? —
(Wakamatsu) I have never been influenced. This was not an influence, but Godard taught me that my movies do not need to be realistic. The movie can be a mess, but if the idea is strong, it will be a good movie. Godard’s movies are a mess, too. That’s why I shoot movies based on my own thoughts.
— Are you interested in painting? —
(Wakamatsu) No, not really. I just started to go to art museum, first to look at paintings when I visit foreign countries. I am not interested in scenery at all.
— Do you have any favorite painters? —
(Wakamatsu) I like the Goya paintings in the Prado museum. I especially like his painting “Saturn Devouring His Son”. I thought it was incredible. I have visited the town where Goya was born. It’s 2 hours from Madrid.
— You treasure the element of Eroticism. —
(Wakamatsu) Everybody has eroticism. Appetite, sleep, sexual desire… and violence. Therefore, eroticism is not shameful, and it is an important desire.