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“What is the connection between Hiroshima and us, here, today?”

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Aya Domenig • Director


- LOCARNO 2015: Cineuropa met up with Swiss-Japanese director Aya Domenig to talk about her first feature, The Day the Sun Fell, presented in the Locarno Film Festival’s Critics’ Week

Aya Domenig  • Director

The Day the Sun Fell [+see also:
film review
interview: Aya Domenig
film profile
investigates the life of the director’s grandfather, who was working as a young doctor in Hiroshima when it was bombed. A silent witness of a terrible, inhuman situation, he passed away without being able to speak about the atrocity he experienced. With her first feature film, Aya Domenig attempts to dig deeper into the life of her grandfather, through the words of a nurse and a doctor who also worked at the Hiroshima hospital. This intense movie examines universal feelings, the connection between the catastrophe and today, and how the survivors have dealt with the tragedy.

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Domenig studied Social Anthropology, Film and Japanology at the University of Zurich and the Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo before attending the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, in the Film and Video Department. Haru Hichiban, her short movie that she made as part of her diploma, was presented at important festivals such as Locarno, Winterthur, Solothurn and Clermont-Ferrand.

Cineuropa: How did you find the right moment to make the film? Why did you decide to shoot it now?
Aya Domenig:
I had been interested in the story of my family for a long time before shooting the movie. Since I was a teenager, I always wanted to know more about the background of my grandfather. When I was at film school, I thought about making a graduation film on this topic, but we had a limited period of time to make the film, and we only made short movies. It was a big challenge to make a short out of it, so I didn’t do that at the time. Time plodded on; I had a child and a lot of work. Then I visited my grandmother, who was getting older, and I realised that if I wanted to make the movie, I had to do it quickly. And actually, she died one month after we finished the film.

How long did the shoot take? Was editing it difficult?
I started in 2010. I spent one month in Japan with my family. We combined holidays and shooting, and were looking for nurses who would have known my grandparents. We met some very interesting people. Then we came back to Switzerland, and I stopped working on the movie because I had other projects and I was not sure whether I could find the funding for it. And then Fukushima happened one year later. After that catastrophe with the reactor, I really felt as if I had to delve further into the movie’s topic, so I immediately wrote dossiers for producers. It took four years to complete the film, and then we edited for a year and a half. It was very difficult, as we had a lot of material.

Is the topic of memory something that interests you in a general way, or is it specifically related to The Day the Sun Fell?
Actually, I studied Social Anthropology before my film studies. Memory is something that fascinates me anyway, but in this case, it was more about how people deal with catastrophe and what comes after the disaster. So it is not so much about what happened in Hiroshima 70 years ago; it’s more about what the connection is to us, here, today. What did we learn? How did the people who really experienced it get on with their lives? How did the catastrophe change their lives?

Was it difficult to find people interested in speaking about what happened in Hiroshima?
Most of the survivors preferred not to talk about it when they were younger. They had children back then who wanted to marry. They were afraid that if they talked too much, they would put their children in a difficult situation. Boyfriends or the girlfriends’ families could have found out and stigmatised them. The condition of being a victim, or a child of a victim, is not good if you want to find a partner or a job. In Japan, there are a lot of people who started talking at a ripe old age. As they started to talk, they talked a lot. Some of them realised that it’s important for the world; it’s a kind of mission. Of course, they are a minority – most people didn’t talk at all.

Did your movie intend to break a taboo?
I don’t know if we can talk of a taboo; maybe I wanted to break the silence, but of course I couldn’t break the silence of my grandfather, as he had passed away. But through the perspectives of the protagonists of my film, who talk very honestly, I can also shine a light on my family. It’s a bit of a critique of my family that also represents Japanese society at the same time. Around 90% of Japanese people believe in government, they adapt to circumstances, and they don’t put up so much resistance against the social order.

What are your cinematographic influences?
It’s difficult to say. Actually, I realised that I have always liked to make slow movies with long shoots. Of course, I watched a lot of Ozu’s films, but I didn’t do that consciously. I need a certain length of time – maybe this stems from my background, I don’t know.

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