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INTERVIEW | Filmmaker Ryutaro Nakagawa’s ‘One Day, You Will Reach the Sea’ Gives New Hope

“Young Japanese today feel powerless…I wanted to create something which could fight back against this narrative” – Ryutaro Nakagawa

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How do you recover when your best friend in the world is gone? 

This is the poignant question addressed by young director Ryutaro Nakagawa in his latest film One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (original title: Yagate Umi he Todoku) (Toho, 2022).

The film portrays the tale of Sumire and Mana, two young women who first meet in their university tennis club. The film opens with Mana finding out that Sumire is missing after the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake. Diretor Nakagawa, just 32-years-old, draws from his own experience of the loss of his university friend who took his own life after graduating. 

At times reflective, at times piercing in gaze with its nostalgic photography, the film is based on the novel of the same title written by Mayu Ayase. 

On occasion of the Far East Film Festival in Udine, we sat down with director Nakagawa for a pool interview. 

Excerpts follow. 

One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (Ryutaro Nakagawa) – April 29, 2022

What inspired you to make this film? 

When I was at university a friend of mine taught me filming. After he graduated university, he took his own life. Just before my friend died, there was the Great East Japan Earthquake [in 2011]. 

So, there were these two big incidents, one which affected Japan as a country, and one which affected me in my personal life. 

About 10 years had passed since both events, I wanted an opportunity to think again about my feelings. So that is why I decided to make this film. 

What made you choose Yagate Umi he Todoku(Kodansha, 2019) as the basis of the film? 

I was thinking less about portraying the disaster, but instead about how young people become adults, how they experience their youth and take their next step. 

In that sense, this novel [‘Yagate Umi he Todoku’] talks about the disaster, but from one specific perspective. It isn’t a book interested in showing Fukushima, for example. 

Perhaps this is from a Japanese person’s perspective, but we often feel that when someone dies, their spirit becomes one with nature and they are born again. I think this book shows that really well, and I wanted it to convey that [in my film]. 

One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (Courtesy of Far East Film Festival, Udine)

There is a section at the beginning which has watercolor animation. Why did you decide to include this? 

From the moment I wrote the screenplay, I thought that I would use the animation for the beginning of the film. Because these sections portray a very vague idea, I thought that watercolor fit really well with that mood. The people of the animation studio undoubtedly gave a key contribution, as Kubo and Mayu are incredible animation directors. 

[For the process] I wrote a poem for them, and they wrote the scene on the basis of that. It was a pretty long process, because we started thinking of the idea a year before we started filming. 

In the second half of the film, there is a scene which features interviews with people who appear to have survived the tsunami. Could you tell us more about this? 

The people [interviewed] are almost all people who survived the disaster. The girl who sings the song at the end is an actress, but the other three are survivors who lost important people and important things in the tsunami. 

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We had the actress go to Tohoku [Northeast Japan] and interact directly with survivors from there. Something which was very important for the film was the [fine] line between truth and fiction, and I think that having survivors in the film really helped to blur that line. 

How did you decide what conversations to include? 

One key thing for me is that people and scenery are both living things. 

In the film, there is a scene where a very high wall appears, several tens of meters high, which has been built to protect people from the tsunami. 

This scenery is surreal, because for people who grew up close to the sea, not being able to see it anymore creates a sense of loss. For them, it’s important to see the sea, to smell the salt in the air. I am also unsure whether building a wall like that will protect people from tsunamis in the future. 

Among the people who appear in the interviews, one has lost her husband [in the tsunami] and one talks about the emotions of not hearing the sound of the sea anymore. I wanted to show different aspects of the experience, so that is why I chose them. 

I had various interviews with people, and these are individuals who left a stronger impression on me, and my reaction to what they had to say stayed the same until the end. 

One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (Courtesy of Far East Film Festival, Udine)

Could you tell us what role nature has in the film? 

Nature is really important in the film. I don’t know if this is related, but my father is a Christian, and my mother has this idea that nature is superior, and that the kami [divinity] lives inside nature. 

In this way, the sea is a source of life but can also be destructive. Humans are also like that. However, [the key point is that] I think that everything is connected. 

The dead and the living don’t have a separate existence. Among living people, there are also the dead, and that is an important element of my expression in the film. 

The camera has a very important role in the film, as it’s an object that belonged to Sumire, who is gone, but it also works as a filter in the story. Could you expand on that. 

Cameras are also a way of finding out something about yourself, I believe. 

Sumire for example is someone who is capable of seeing what is far away, but not as good at deciphering something which is right under her nose. That is why she drops her cat-shaped purse, for example. That is why she needs the camera, so that she can discover something about herself. 

Mane is the opposite. She doesn’t know what is far away, and can only see what is straight ahead of her. That’s why she still can’t find Sumire. 

The camera is therefore a metaphor, a symbol of this interaction. 

The question is a really good one, because the camera is also a barrier keeping them from becoming closer. The film itself is a metaphor, in a way. 

In this film, one really perceives that the loss of someone is loneliness. Do you think there is a connection with this period of COVID-19?  

I think loss means loneliness. I lost my friend in a time when there was no COVID, when there was no war or tsunami. I think that humans in some ways always feel unfulfilled, like they are searching for something. 

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Perhaps culture and films as a whole are a way of answering the question of how to deal with loneliness.
 

One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (Courtesy of Far East Film Festival, Udine)

It’s notable that young people are the main characters in this story. How significant is that? 

I think that recently the mood in Japan has been very dark. It’s not a world where young people have hope. I was born in 1990, and I am 32 years old. 

The number of suicides among young people is high. In a survey about being “hopeful about the future”, the number of people responding “yes” in Japan is the lowest figure among G7 countries. 

As someone of the same generation, I think that it is necessary to show the theme of how young people find ways of living in today’s world. I think the most prominent characteristic of young Japanese today is that they feel powerless. 

As someone who was raised and grew up in Japan, I wanted to create something which could fight back against this narrative, that could give young people a sense of hope, and I almost took this as a mission.
 

The film suggests that the relationship between Mane and Sumire is almost one of love. Could you tell us how the idea came about? 

The book didn’t include any mention of Mane and Sumire loving each other, they are just portrayed as being friends. The scene when Sumire seems about to kiss Mana represents the moment when Mana accepts the death of her friend. 

When someone dies, I think there is a moment in which you accept the fact that they are gone. And that is what I wanted to represent, because it is an essential moment. 

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