Unafraid of rightist rage

by Mark Schilling

Directors tend to be articulate types, especially when discussing (or rather spinning) their own films, but Kazuyuki Izutsu has few equals in the art of spoken communication, in or out of the director’s chair. From snappy one-liners about dull movies to verbal bombshells aimed at local rightists, Izutsu says exactly what’s on his active, unorthodox mind to everyone from television viewers of late-night talk shows to this reporter in a recent interview at the headquarters of Cine Quanon, which is distributing his new film “Pacchigi! Love & Peace.”

Now 56 years old, Izutsu has had a long, up-and-down career as a director, beginning with his apprenticeship in pink (“adult”) films in the 1970s. In the past decade he has become a familiar presence on TV, while making hit after acclaimed hit, including “Pacchigi!,” the Kyoto Romeo and Juliet drama that swept local awards in 2005.

In speaking with “The Japan Times,” Izutsu was more subdued and serious than in his TV appearances, but then the discussion revolved around war movies, social prejudice against Koreans in Japan and the rightist reaction to his latest film, “Pacchigi! Love & Peace.”

You seem to have a made “Pacchigi! Love & Peace” as a response to “Ore wa, Kimi no Tame ni Koso, Shi ni Iku,” the tokkotai (kamikaze) pilot film executive produced by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

There have been a lot of movies like that one. When major film companies in Japan are stuck for a film, they make one about the tokkotai (pilots). They have a pretty good idea that that sort of theme will draw audiences, so they make it.

But your kind of film is tougher to make.

I never could have made it with a major film company. I was only able to do it because Lee Bong-ou (president of Cine Quanon and an ethnic Korean living in Japan) was backing me. Cine Quanon is about the only company I can imagine doing it.

The film is set in 1974 when Japan’s ethnic Koreans in show business were afraid to reveal their true identities because of the prejudice against them inside and outside the industry. Is it different today?

Not really. Japanese society hasn’t changed that much, and that includes Japanese show business. Ethnic Koreans are still reluctant to say who they are; they worry that they might not get any more work. There’s still a lot of discrimination against them. In a lot of foreign countries, the entertainment business tends to be more progressive than the surrounding society — that’s only natural isn’t it? — but in Japan it’s still feudalistic and conservative.

In “Pacchigi! Love & Peace” you satirize not just Japanese show business, but rightist war movies and the ideology behind them. I can’t help comparing it to “Minbo no Onna (The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion)” (1992), which got director Juzo Itami nearly stabbed to death by yakuza who didn’t like the way he portrayed the gangs. Do you worry that that sort of thing might happen to you?

Actually, a lot of yakuza came to see “Pacchigi!” — they’re some of my biggest supporters. (laughs)

But there’s a difference between the yakuza and the rightists, isn’t there? Won’t the rightists be angry with you for disrespecting the tokkotai?

I don’t disrespect the tokkotai themselves. They had a certain mission to carry out, a mission that they didn’t choose. I don’t blame them for carrying out their mission — and the film doesn’t blame them. But I do have problems with films that distort the historical reality of what the tokkotai were. I think (audiences) will understand that, so I’m not worried about my personal safety.

See related story:
Shattering rosy views of the war