A Grasscutter’s Tale | 草とり草紙
Japan, 1985, 88 min, 8 mm in 16 mm, colour, Japanese
Grandmother Someya was born in Meiji 32 . She was one of the people who farmed the land set aside for the construction of Narita Airport, as shown in Ogawa Shinsuke's Sanrizuka series (1968-1978). She opposed the planned second phase of the airport and separated from her family and lived alone. The film consists of nineteen stories told in Grandma Someya's own words: the story of her sons who died; of her husband who was a barber; of a strange dream; of the time she first came to Sanrizuka to plant new fields; of how she once ate only matches as a child, and so on. As the camera follows Granny Someya as she goes about her farm work, these personal memories, dreams and realities take the form of a series of laments or exemplary stories. In contrast to the violent Sanrizuka series, this is a modest and beautiful film: an extension of Ogawa's style in The Story of Magino Village. Raising Silkworms (1977), and a fascinating illustration of the beginning of a shift in the subject matter of Japanese documentary away from society and community and towards the personal. The film was shot on 8 mm and blown up to 16 mm.
Yasui Yoshio, adapted from the 1997 catalogue of the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
This letter has been expressly written for our catalogue by Hatano Yukie, collaborator and partner of the filmmaker.
The Grasscutter’s Tale, the journey of discovery of a “story”
28 January 2023
Forty years ago, one day in November 1982 Katsuhiko visited Mrs Katsu Someya to ask her if he could film her. It was a long-standing idea, and he needed to pluck up courage to ask her. Mrs Katsu, however, agreed with a simple “Ah, OK”.
Katsuhiko visited Mrs Katsu’s home and vegetable garden near Toho, in the municipality of Narita, and he also visited the factory in Rakkyo where she worked.
Mrs Katsu rambles on about her life, her surroundings and even the animals in the area. One day Katsuhiko, who was listening to her stories attentively, realised something: that her story repeated itself, and did so with an almost musical cadence.
Katsuhiko thought that the repetition was the key to the “Story of Mrs Katsu”.
One day he told himself: “I’ll keep the old lady’s stories, and I’ll somehow make my own”.
At the time I had another job, so I accompanied Katsuhiko during the weekends, with a camera on my shoulder. I also participated in the editing, and we decided on almost the whole structure together. One weekend, however, on returning home he said: “Look at this”. I found a fragment that was repeated three times, a scene in which Mrs Katsu spoke about the same thing.
The production of The Grasscutter’s Tale was completed in 8 mm. We only had one negative, and once it was cut there were marks, no matter how much we tried to repair it, so the editing had to be done with great care. The audio took a long time too, in comparison with the 16 mm version, and the splices also caused added noise.
When the 8 mm version was first screened Katsuhiko projected it as he walked, with the projector on his shoulder. It was then enlarged to 16 mm to keep it in better condition. We obtained the positive of this first enlargement, but on screening it for the first time we were told that the people of Kansai did not understand Mrs Katsu due to the heavy accent of the region of Chiba and the speed at which she spoke.
The alternative was another development, this time of the negative, and subtitling Mrs. Katsu’s first sentences at the start of the film:
Is there a strong rustling sound? I love that. When the roots are cut.
When I listen to the rustling I feel that I am eliminating the parasites from the roots. It is such a nice feeling that they give me…
The trick lies in that the subtitles disappear as the spectators get used to watching the film.