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DOK.FEST MUNICH 2024

Andreas Hartmann, Arata Mori • Directors of Johatsu – Into Thin Air

“For many of the protagonists, it was a chance for them to speak out for the first time, as they’d had no one to talk to beforehand”

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- The directorial duo explain where the inspiration for their work came from and delve into their production decisions

Andreas Hartmann, Arata Mori • Directors of Johatsu – Into Thin Air
Andreas Hartmann (left) and Arata Mori

The documentary Johatsu – Into Thin Air [+see also:
interview: Andreas Hartmann, Arata Mori
film profile
]
by Andreas Hartmann and Arata Mori was recently awarded the VIKTOR for Best Film in the main international competition of this year's DOK.fest Munich (see the news). We asked the filmmakers where the inspiration for their work came from and about their production decisions.

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Cineuropa: How did work on the film start? Were you inspired by any one story in particular?
Andreas Hartmann:
In 2014, I was living in Japan as an artist in residence. During that time, I was working on my previous documentary A Free Man [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, about a young Japanese man who decided to live as a homeless person by choice. He ran away from his family and opted to escape from the pressure of that achievement-orientated society. During that project, I encountered the day-labour neighbourhood of Nishinari in Osaka, where people can live anonymously. When I then also heard about the existence of the “night moving” companies that help people disappear, I decided to make a new film about it and teamed up with my directing partner Arata Mori.

How did you find your protagonists?
Arata Mori: We found them from different sources. One of the main ones was the night mover Ms Saita, one of our main protagonists. We asked her if she could introduce us to some of her clients. Those people cooperated with us, only because they trusted Ms Saita. So, without her, it would have been impossible to find them. On the other hand, we found protagonists in the Nishinari district of Osaka. It’s a slum area, where people can sleep in an extremely affordable hotel [for €3 a night] and do labour without having to show any ID. You can live there totally anonymously – it’s the best place to hide.

Did you know of Nishinari beforehand? Are there other places like it?
AH:
I have known of the Nishinari neighbourhood since 2014. It’s a unique place in Japan. There are only two similar places in the country: one is the Sanya neighbourhood in Tokyo, and the other one is Kotobukicho in Yokohama. However, Sanya and Kotobukicho have changed a lot in recent years.

Was it your intention from the start not to consult any authorities or police for the film?
AM:
From the beginning, the idea of consulting the authorities or the police never crossed our minds. We knew we were trying to dig into this underground world of Japan, so getting help from official institutions was a lost cause. Although the authorities know of the existence of society’s underbelly, they always pretend it does not exist or try not to bring it up.

Did you take any specific security measures to protect your protagonists?
AH:
We agreed with the protagonists that we would not officially release the film in Japan. So, it will not be available on Japanese television, in cinemas or on streaming services. Only under this condition did the protagonists agree to participate. Many told us that they only agreed to take part as we were an international film team, with me coming from Germany and Arata having left Japan 15 years ago. For many, it was also a chance for them to speak out for the first time, as they’d had no one to talk to beforehand.

Do you know if there are still many companies like that of Saita in existence?
AM:
Although Saita’s company, TSC, is the biggest of its kind, we learnt that there are many other companies like hers. We also actually filmed with two other night movers. One is Hatori, who was one of the first to start this business in the 1990s. While he did countless night movings at that time, he was exposed to the media and helped write the script for a famous TV series called Yonige-Ya Honpo. In each episode of this fictional TV drama, a night mover helps a client, who disappears for different reasons. Hatori, however, quit his night moving business after he himself got in debt as a guarantor for his friend and went into personal bankruptcy.

How long did you shoot for?
AH:
We shot over a period of four years. During COVID-19, we had a little break, as I was not able to enter Japan. However, in the end, this stretch of time was also helpful, as it extended the period during which we knew and were in touch with the protagonists, which strengthened their trust in us and the project.

Did you get any funding from Germany or Japan? Was it difficult?
AH:
The film is a German-Japanese co-production, but it is mostly funded by Germany. We secured support from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW as well as from broadcasters like Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE, SRF and yesDocu. From Japan, we got support from Tokyo Arts and Space.

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