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In conversation with

Daisuke Beppu

Greetings from Tokyo!

We talk to Daisuke Beppu about topics including his passion for physical media, the connection between art and commerce, David Lynch and the philosophy of the donut.

Written by


Oct 15, 2022

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. It is also only a small excerpt of the entire conversation. Listen to the entire talk on Spotify.

We had the pleasure of talking to Daisuke Beppu. Especially for collectors of the Criterion Collection he’s a well known name in the film community and has a wonderful YouTube Channel where he’s talking about Criterion releases, but also about cinema in general. It has influenced us a lot in the way he represents so profoundly the passion for the art of cinema. So with great honour, a warm welcome to Tokyo Japan, Daisuke!

Oh, what a very generous introduction. I’m totally undeserving of such praised wordy comments, but I’m very honoured indeed to be invited here. Thank you very much and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Can you name your three favorite Japanese directors?

It’s very difficult. Okay. Very difficult. I don’t know if there would be my favourite, but if I had to choose now, maybe it would be … okay, so for the first filmmaker it would be Takahata Isao, who is one of the filmmakers from Studio Ghibli. You know … Grave of the Fireflies …

… and one of my personal favourites—My Neighbors the Yamadas!

Very good! That is such a clever work. That kind of wonderful sketch comedy dynamic. That’s also very, very, very heartwarming. The Ghibli films are very powerful, but there’s something about his works, that I think speak to a type of experience of being Japanese. You know, My Neighbors The Yamadas is a good example, because it has this kind of depiction of family life. And it’s done in a kind of comic way. And sometimes the reality is a bit stretched out for purposes of the comedy, right? But there's also a kind of authenticity, about the scenarios and scenes.

You know, like looking at the cherry blossoms and wondering how much time we will have on this world. Or, you know, the playing with certain … like New Year’s traditions and the amount of postcards. There’s little things like that, that I think it’s part of everyday Japanese experience, but it’s maybe details that might not necessarily be so familiar outside of Japan.

There’s a phrase that’s used for filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, which is called the most Japanese of filmmakers, I don’t know if I go that far with him. But if I—and I don’t really like that phrase, for a number of reasons, but if I had to adopt such a phrase—I think I would use that phrase in the most positive light I can. I would use it in application of my description of Takahata Isao, because his works, I think, speaking to a type of Japan experience. There’re so many cultural and historical references in his works that are so a part of the experience of being a Japanese person living in Japan.

So that’s the first. The second I mentioned already is Yasujiro Ozu. I think his works have a personal scope and the breadth of his works is mind-boggling. All the way from his silent films to his comedy works to his family dramas, and even tests like gangster films as well. There’s this playing with genre aspect. He’s known I think, primarily for his later body of work that compose maybe … what might be called the final chapter of his his long and illustrious career.

And indeed, those masterpieces that he’s known for, are like miracles of cinema. They make me enjoy the anticipation of sadness that I know I will experience in my life. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Like … I know that I will experience the sadness one day that my daughter growing up and leaving my house, maybe living on her own. And I know that day will come. You know, she’s not yet. She’s still young, she’s still going to school.

So, there’s still a ways yet, but I know that day will come. And when that day comes, I will be very, very sad. Indeed, that sadness is part of the experience of a lot of Ozu works as a type of example of character arc and some from his famous works like Late Spring, or even Tokyo Story to a certain extent

Yeah, there was the scene on the hill with the mother … that was very heartbreaking.

Exactly! I think in a type of literary tradition, there’s a type of a way in which there is a nobility in enduring sad situations. And this type of nobility is in a lot of ways praised.

It’s the type of beauty, grace and nobility of sadness and tragedy. And it’s this concept that I think is perfectly captured the best in Ozu films. So if you want the essence of that, if you want to have the enjoyment of the anticipation of sadness, then Ozu films are—they are indeed for me—like a like a truly special thing. It’s like the closest thing I know to a type of distillation of emotion captured by cinema, that I know. So in my crude way of explaining it, that’s number two.

I really like his comedic side, too. With … what’s the name of the film … Ohayo. I don’t know if it’s typical for his films, but what I found notable was the use of humour together with the naivety of childishness to criticise social conventions in a light but sharp way.

Total agreement, yes.

Now I am curious about your third choice.

Oh, so and the third one I would mention now is probably … Kitano Takeshi. There’s something so wonderful about how he deconstructs certain cultural images in his films.

He’s using his comic routine, to essentially destroy these images and norms. You know, he turns the concept of say, the police officer upside down in a work like Hana-bi. He turns the idea of like the serene nature, the peaceful nature of the creation of art in that film, and he turns it on his head because of the way that violence is splashed across the screen. He uses violence in a comic manner, to sort of tear through these types of … what’s the phrase … to care through a type of norm of polite Japanese society, let’s put it that way. And by tearing through it in the way is very vicious and entertaining, and funny, and bloody and violent. He’s actually saying at the same time, you know, there's something of a core of humanity.

I love Kitano’s work so much, because he speaks about the—again—experience of the Japanese and the symbols of Japan. Tears them down, breaks them apart, and destroys them, but always respects them, he always loves them. And he is showing us the humorous side while entertaining us with these flashes of violence and destruction all at once. That’s why I love his work!

I had read that Kitano is regarded more as a comedian than a serious artist in Japan. Is that still the case?

Well, I think he has a bigger TV presence, although maybe his TV appearances have has maybe gone down a little bit over the years, but just generally speaking, he’s known more as a TV personality than he is as a film director. So people know him I think more from his his appearances on TV. But his appearances on TV are very, very wide ranging from comic shows to news, broadcasts and the like.

Everyone in my generation grew up with Takeshi’s Castle. I love it.

Yes, me too!

Yeah, great selection. I was surprised with Kitano in particular. Japan has really brought out a lot of choices of masterful directors.

“Ozu’s masterpieces are like miracles of cinema. They make me enjoy the anticipation of sadness that I know I will experience in my life”

Daisuke Beppu

What are your three favourite films of all time?

That’s very difficult, but what I can say is the following three films are films that might be my number one favourite film of all time, depending on the day that I’m asked. Which is to say that I’m not sure which one is my number one favourite film of all time at the moment, but the contenders that always come up for me, are these three.

The first one is an Ozu film, which is called Late Spring. I think it’s the perfect Ozu film. Which is to say it's, I think, the perfect film from—in many ways—an artist who is like the perfect artist. So you’re talking about perfection of perfection, when you're talking about the film Late Spring, at least my viewpoint of it.

The second film is a work which is called A Brighter Summer Day. This is Director Edward Yang.

I find this film to be the one of the greatest examples of the combination of the macro and the micro. The micro being the intimate level experience of the characters firsthand, and their character arcs and journeys. And there are many characters, it’s a network of characters, combined with the macro, which is the sweep of history, which is the element of time, which is the notion of repetition, and repeating history, even bad history and cycles, which is also has a type of almost religious connotation.

Also the very serious and intense and quite consequential social and political history and dynamics of the connect relations between China and Taiwan. While being this perfect combination of the the inward and the exterior. That’s A Brighter Summer Day, my second choice.

The third choice is a film which we’ve mentioned earlier. The Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo. I think I watch Vertigo, at least once a month. It is almost indescribable just how much I fall in love with that film. The way that it is confusing and the way that actually the plot points don’t make a lot of sense as a mystery, or film noir film is also one of the things that makes it perfect for me. Because what it means is that the film transcends those points of imperfection, to create something that’s completely on a different playing field altogether, I find it absolutely fascinating. And the way that the mystery is built, and the way that it is laid out in terms of clues, and the way that it’s revealed, is playing with my mind. And it’s like a puzzle in my mind that doesn’t have a resolution. It’s like getting lost in a hedge maze, which I love. And so you combine that confusion with the beauty of the image, with the music, you know, by Bernard Herrmann …and then you have these epic set pieces of flair, dynamism as only Alfred Hitchcock to deliver it. You have the perfect cocktail. So that’s my third choice. Vertigo.

Discover Daisuke’s YouTube channel

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