FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT: Hélène Robert and Jeremy Perrin, Directors of RISING FROM THE TSUNAMI

July 24, 2020

In March 2011, an unprecedented tsunami strikes Japan, leaving in its wake a devastated country and 20,000 dead. While gigantic breakwater walls are erected to counteract future great waves, reports of ghosts and spirits returning home spread all along the Japanese coast. A trip to Mount Osore—where in the Buddhist tradition the dead souls find sanctuary—reveals the lasting trauma of the disaster. The visible and the invisible conflate in this no-man’s land where reconstruction has begun taking place.

SFF Blog contributor Connor Ryan spoke with directors Hélène Robert and Jeremy Perrin ahead of the festival – RISING FROM THE TSUNAMI screens during Week 3 (Friday, July 24 – Thursday, July 30) of our virtual Salem Film Fest and tickets can be purchased here.

Connor Ryan: This is your second project together. How does this project differ from your 2014 film IN PRAGA, THE WOUND (A PRAGA, LA PLAIE)? Are there similarities? 

Both of them regard communities (inhabitants of the city of Porto and urban birds / Japanese tsunami victims and ghosts) and give importance to legends and contemporary mythologies.

CR: How do the two of you work together? Who has what responsibilities, and how would you describe your collaboration?

Jeremy Perrin: We talk a lot. From our first desires, intuitions, we discuss until the idea of a film can emerge or not. Each one bring his point of view, these cinematic feelings and we must convince the other, argue. This exercise allows our writing to move relatively quickly. It’s almost the same thing in editing except that the editor, Laurent Leveneur, on RISING FROM THE TSUNAMI, is an essential person to precisely give a third point of view on our images and our desires. It’s a very important outside look for us.

Hélène Robert: We make a perfect combo: I assume photography, Jeremy is focused on sound. We are ready to shoot at anytime. In the slow process of making and funding creative documentaries, this is a real opportunity, I believe, which allows us to always stay on the move and keep this concrete link to the cinema.

CR: How did you find this project? Did you have a vision for what it would be before you started interviewing your subjects? To what extent was that plan realized or changed while filming?

HR: I read a Richard LLoyd Parry’s creative nonfiction titled “Ghosts of the Tsunami”. A French digital editing society asked me to illustrate on photography this long format ; and we’ve been there  for the 5th anniversary years of the Tsunami. I wanted to meet the monk Kaneta, whom Richard mentions in his book and who had helped this young woman to expel the dead who owned her. Jeremy wanted to record these story. We traveled along the devastated coast and the spectacle was terrifying : The Great Wall of japan (a breakwater supposed to protect against a future Tsunami) and hundreds of miles of coast where we took on the scale of the disaster. The film emerge from this two reactions of the trauma – the built of the wall and the ghosts stories- and give a different perspective to it.

CR: How did you meet the people you follow? How long did you film? Was it over the course of multiple visits, or did you stay for a prolonged period of time?

We met people by various way, a great part of the survivors thanks to the monk Kaneta, but not also; we find some witnesses in France, very close to us, by hazard or chance, just promoting to anyone our quest. We’ve been three times in the damaged coast of north Japan.

CR: The scope of the scenery, especially along the coast, is so large and empty;  it’s in such contrast to the intimacy of the conversations your subjects have with one another. How did you plan to address the larger exterior scenes, eg the dykes?

For us this Great Wall is the third character of the film. It’s a colossal master piece which mark the landscape, a concrete and political response to the violence of the earthquake, but also a disproportionate work by Man, which becomes abstract. We assume the contrast with intimacy and hidden part of the victims stories that we wanted to treat in the daily life, in an ordary way in contrast with the extraordinary of the wall. We wanted to work in between the irrational and the rational, the hidden and the visible, the ground and the sea and to find a cinematographic space for them.

CR: Whose idea was it to superimpose the jellyfish into the forest, and what is the effect you hope the jellyfish sequences achieve?

Jellyfish are fascinating, they allowed us to translate this between two worlds and represented both darkness and light. The film is an ascension from the depth of the sea to the top of the montain. Symbolically in japan it is in the mountains and in the forest that souls go. Also the jellyfish are a reference to the greek mythologie figure of Medusa, a woman, a gorgona, in between the word of living and death people.

CR: What is the message of your film? What would you like your audience to most remember?

From these Japanese stories the film try to make us think on the relationships with our death, with our missings in our occidental life. The questions is how the dead people can be part of everyone’s life, and what place do they have. We have to assume the mystery and the hidden part of this link, and let us go to more poetry.

CR: In some ways, this film feels like a ghost story. Was this a deliberate framing on your parts? Do you believe the stories you heard?

We wrote the film thinking of a space where the dead and the living can live together, as in a ghost story. The film even has its ghost character who exists if you want to see it …

Regarding these Japanese stories of possessions, we believe in their beliefs, we believe in their stories. Realities are multiples and everyone is free to interpret signs as they want to, especially if they can help them.

RISING FROM THE TSUNAMI screens in Week 3 (Friday, July 24 – Thursday, July 30) of our virtual Salem Film Fest and tickets may be purchased here.

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