Village Time – Shinsuke Ogawa Pro’s Sanrizuka: Heta Village

A scene in which a father mourns his son’s suicide takes place. The village farmers – or, what’s left of the “Parents Alliance” – gather for a meeting in the midst of Narita Airport’s imminent construction, one set to destroy Sanrizuka’s agricultural community in the process. Two of the villagers’ sons – named Haruo and Masahiko, who make up the part of the “Youth Action Brigade”– are being held prisoner and interrogated for 90 days by the police after a violent protest took place at the Toho Crossroads near Sanrizuka, involving 260 riot police. The “Parents Alliance” hold a meeting discussing ways to keep the community strong and maintain the crops as their sons’ resolves are beaten down. To fray the bonds between the farmers further, detectives go from house to house, spreading the lie that each neighbour has confessed to their son’s guilt and will bend to the demands of authorities, which will lead to the levelling of Sanrizuka. None of the families have bent, but the manufactured mistrust necessitates a strengthening of ties and re-assertion of ethics.

Before imprisonment, farmer Sannomiya Takeji’s son, Sannomiya Fumio, hanged himself from the tree of a nearby shrine. Takeji now holds court in the meeting and is greeted with a prolonged silence. After two title cards provide the context for his son’s death, Takeji explains the process by which a local detective scrutinised him and his wife in the weeks following their son’s suicide. Takeji summarises his final response to the detective’s scrutiny as follows:

“I don’t like talking to you about this, but I think my son was a great man. And I still think so, no matter what anyone says about him. I’ll never change my opinion. And from now on, I’ll never entertain the possibility that my son was a fool, so I’ve nothing to say about him to you.”

In order to capture this moment, the camera and sound have to be recalibrated to “village time”, a concept coined by the Pro to describe the farmers’ process of thought on film. The process begins with a farmer speaking during a meeting then promptly scanning the room, watching their words absorb among their neighbours. “Village time” is, contrary to its name, the designation of outsiders looking in – of a collective settling a relationship to their “taisho” (object). Every filmmaker could learn from “village time” as it’s shown in Heta Village, and would more accurately be called “Ogawa Pro time”, as it’s a process by which the filming apparatus tunes into a dialogue without traditional means of coverage and cross cutting. Instead, a single camera and its 400’ 16mm magazine pan the room for 11+ minute long takes. The film’s form is, by dint of technological and artistic advances, adjusting to a greater function. It was a clearing towards a greater solidarity, partially manifested by proxy of the extra minutes available on the extended magazines new to Ogawa Pro. Regardless of the rural connotations implicit to the designation of “village”, the “time” alluded to isn’t merely “time” that comes from Heta’s farmers, it’s an opening that – even for the professed allegiance of Ogawa Pro to Heta village’s cause – allows for the filmmakers’ eyes, ears, lens and microphone to synchronise and assume a life implicit to their subjects; a life beyond their craggy faces, dirty hands and simple, “village” antics. The strength in Ogawa Pro’s technique is that it assumes and doesn’t discover. The difference is inherently political, as Tokyo’s media outlets and their vested interest in the construction of Narita airport “discovers” only peasants not understanding the industrial drive towards progress, another word for destruction.

Implicit to the “village time”, also, is something beyond a dialectical form. There’s a silence after a suicide, then a revelation, if one is willing to wait long enough. This is where Ogawa Pro’s outsider status proves fruitful, as the film begins with an interview of a villager affectionately called Grandpa Tonojita, who speaks of the “mura hachibu” (village ostracisation) enacted upon the local Niya family. Their residence has been levelled and leaves an open field in its wake, one the village has to tend to keep from growing fallow. The Niya family bent under authoritative pressure and “sold out” their land to the developers of Narita Airport. The ostracisation isn’t elaborated upon by Tonojita, though he informs Ogawa of what drove them out of Heta. The other villagers, though it was a local custom, refused to assist in the burial of the Niya patriarch after his body had been returned home from the hospital. With no assistance and nowhere to bury the body, the Niya’s drove their patriarch to a crematorium and, in the process, heard the beating of an oil drum from their Heta neighbours, intended as a call to action as police forces encroached in on the village. The Niya’s, hearing the drum after this unspoken ostracisation and further neglect, thought the villagers were coming to kill them.

Former member of Ogawa Pro, Fukuda Katushiko, was shocked upon hearing the villagers’ further plans to ostracise another family who’d caved in, as he and the other Ogawa Pro members assumed the “mura hachibu” tradition was a rural myth that had long been apostatised. The “village time” is now bifurcated in its effect. Both heterogeneous and stereotypical assumptions of the villagers are now true, despite how antiquated the latter, “mura hachibu” appears, seemingly counteracting whatever radical dialogue took place in Sannomiya’s “Village Time”. Katushiko left Ogawa Pro after the completion of “Sanrizuka Village”, remaining there as the Pro left for Magino and he continued making films tertiarily related to the Sanrizuka struggle. One of his later films, Kusa tori soshi (A Grasscutter’s Tale, 1985), returns to the site of an ostracised woman with no mention of the Sanrizuka struggle. The woman, Someya Katsu, tends to what Abé Mark Nornes describes as “her shockingly green plants”. I haven’t seen the film, so I can only rely on Nornes’ description, one already distinct from the Sanrizuka series in what is described as colour footage, a film stock never previously used to document Sanrizuka’s farming communities (Ogawa Pro’s Sanrizuka – Gogatu no sora Sato no kayoijim (Sanrizuka – The Skies of May, The Road to the Village, 1977), the last film in the Sanrizuka series, was shot in colour but prioritised the waning Sanrizuka student-radical struggle). With 16mm colour stock being ubiquitous enough by the mid-80’s, “Village Time” has now been relayed from the villagers’ patience onto a former Ogawa-Pro’s filming apparatus, now evolved from the interceding years spent waiting. His lone status and ability to render the verdant gardens of Someya Katsu bring him closer to what the other members of Ogawa Pro had given up on. The green garden is now a by-product of something greater than “Village Time”; a time that goes by without a name (i.e. a more meaningful one), guided not by the Pro but by Katsu’s resistance. By remaining with her, Katsuhiko makes it a shared resistance unseen in the earlier films.

Katsu may have been the woman Heta’s farmers were about to ostracise, the discussion about which Katushiko was so shocked. But at the other end of village ostracisation yields a woman tending to her green plants and working at a pickle factory still obstructing Narita. Even beyond “village time”, form and function’s fusion evolves with this lone filmmaker who watches the lone farmer, each separate from their former communities and persisting on the other side.