The album “2+0+2+1+3+1+1= 10 years 10 songs” is RADWIMPS’ latest collection of songs that trace its origins to the charity project “Itoshiki,” founded by the band in the wake of Great East Japan Earthquake, ten years ago. Since then, almost every year, filmmaker Daisuke Shimada has created and released film works for their music to commemorate the event. In fact, he has always been the instrumental figure for RADWIMPS’ music videos even before their major label debut. In the decade of facing the aftermath of the unprecedented disaster, leaning in with people affected by the devastation, and engaging the music of RADWIMPS by creating film works for them, how was he bringing to life the message which Yojiro wanted his close ally and confidant to get across to a wider audience?
Here is the special interview with Daisuke Shimada.
— First of all, take us back to when and how you got involved in the “Itoshiki “Project, from which everything started
Shimada: I’ve been hanging around with RADWIMPS for sixteen years or so.
And when the earthquake happened on March 11th, 2011, I was working with the band for their “Zettai Enmei” tour. I still remember that I was in Osaka on business just two days after that day. It was a warm spring day and I saw kids running around in the park and people reading a book on a bench. It was so peaceful and serene that I found it almost surreal because in Fukushima there was a first hydrogen explosion at the nuclear power plant at that time. And that got me thinking if there was anything that I could convey to the public as a filmmaker. That was exactly when I got a call on a bullet train back home. It was from Yojiro and he wanted to get people’s messages to those who were affected by all these disaster. So, I offered to create a video asking people to send messages for the disaster victims.
And, after I arrived in Tokyo, I quickly called up my team and began to work on it. At that time we had to save electricity as much as possible because of the nuclear accident, so we kept the lights shut off and worked in the candlelight using the battery-powered digital camera to shoot frame by frame. The opening imagery of “Itoshiki” was a product of such creative process.
— Did the fact that you got involved in the participation of “Itoshiki” sort of automatically put you on the course of creating videos for their music year after year?
Shimada: Well, it did not. I think Yojiro was doing a lot of thinking what he and the band should do, because Yojiro contacted the band members on March 10th, 2012, just one day before March 11th, for the recording of the song “Hakujitsu.” It came completely out of the blue.
— And he also contacted you on the same day?
Shimada: That is correct. He said, “we are going to upload this on YouTube tomorrow.” So, the video became available online as soon as the shooting was finished. In fact, when I began shooting, the song was not finished yet, so I started shooting using the rough draft instead. And I even finished the shooting of the dawn on March 11th, and that was when I got my hands on the final version of the song. I’d been making a lot of music videos, but for this project, I wanted it to be more a documentary than a music video. I also wanted it to be as positive as it could possibly be. And for that I believe I was on the same page with Yojiro.
— Can you elaborate on why you wanted it to be as positive as it could possibly be?
Shimada: I myself experienced a terrible earthquake that hit the city of Kobe in 1995 when I was a college student. And I remember that the immediate need was of course for food and water, but over time we felt a strong need for entertainment as well.
— The heart will eventually wish to have music and film, you say?
Shimada: Yes. That is why I thought the objective of this project was to make our viewers positive rather than tell what was going on in the affected areas. Of course, there were some comments online like “now’s not the time for this,” but I firmly believed that music or film was exactly what people would definitely desire eventually.
— Getting drama out of a film must be a challenging feat.
Shimada: It certainly is and isn’t getting any better no matter how much I try. The topic itself is very sensitive, and it is just so easy to make it dramatic especially if we develop and put our ideas into it as we do for other music videos. Maybe that’s why I am kind of obsessive about shooting on March 11th and using those images in the video every time I create it. Of course, I had to do that for “Hakujitsu” because the song itself was written just the day before. But after that even when he gave me the song before March 11th, I just felt it wrong to not shoot on March 11th and somehow that turned out to be the way I do every time thereafter.
— It is in “Aitowa” (2015) that Yojiro made his first ever appearance in the film in a particularly poignant scene where he gently placed flowers onto the sea.
Shimada: There had been hardly any person cast in the previous films before that, but when I told Yojiro in 2015 that I had a plan to visit Rikuzentakata, a coastal town in Iwate ravaged by the massive tsunami at that time, he wanted to come with me. Before that, I had talked to him about my experience of being in one of the affected areas when I did the shooting for “Kaiko” the year before, so maybe that story gave him a nudge to come with me. For me, this whole project started with my strong urge to do something for the affected areas and that’s why I have avoided using direct and obvious expressions in the films. But at the same time, over the past few years, I have come to receive more feedback from the viewers who are not directly affected by the earthquake, honestly thanking me for rekindling the memories of the disaster every year. And that gradually makes me aware that recalling what happened on the same day it happened is equally important, and to do that, we need to let people know about this project in the first place. That is when I realized that the presence of Yojiro and RADWIMPS is so powerful.
— But after “Shuntou” in 2016, there was no release of a RADWIMPS song for the occasion in the next year, 2017.
Shimada: Even before “Shuntou” I was talking with Yojiro about till when we should keep on doing this. It was true that people in the affected areas were still recovering and rebuilding and the mere five years after the disaster did not and cannot put an end to anything that they had gone through. That sort of dilemma was clearly in my mind and his, and yet I worked on the film for “Shuntou” with some sense of closure, if you will. The film itself was an attempt to get many people to look back what happened that day, and some found five years to be long enough while others found it to be so short. I myself was struggling with what to make of it, but all those mixed emotions and dilemma should also be told as honestly as possible.
— But the project resumed in 2018.
Shimada: It came out of the blue in 2018. I was told by Yojiro that he might do it again. In fact, I did not get any formal offer from him before and even some days after March 11th of that year, but I shot the skies of that day just in case. And a few days later Yojiro told me that “the project is ‘on’ again.” That’s how “Soramado” came to see the light of day. We have been friends for such a long time, so nothing would stop me from putting everything I had into whatever he decided to do. Also, I’m extremely impressed with his desire to walk side by side with those who need help in whatever situation, not only from that earthquake.
— This year’s film that you made for “Aitai” captures the juxtaposition between how it is today and how it was ten years ago in the former disaster areas.
Shimada: The old pictures are those that I took for myself in the wake of the earthquake as well as after the “Zettai Enmei” tour in Sendai that took place in a few months after the quake. The new ones, I shot them when I visited there again recently for this “2+0+2+1+3+1+1= 10 years 10 songs” project and because I thought I must go there to see and feel the passage of time with my own eyes and my own heart. I set my foot again in the areas and I saw a reality of so-called “reconstruction” that is totally different from what I had imagined in the wake of the disaster. For example, in the city of Ishinomaki, there used to be coastal levees decorated with drawings by young children, but those levees have been replaced by the gigantic tide walls that completely block the view of the ocean. In Minami-Sanriku, too, I expected that the town that had been washed away by the tsunami would be reconstructed exactly the way it was before the quake, but all I could see was just a vast swath of land, cleared and vacant. What is reconstruction? It is such a difficult question. There are so many things in the middle between good and bad. And it is all the more important for everybody to see these pictures and feel for themselves.
— The film seems to lay bare your emotions in all of their unedited complexity.
Shimada: The ocean that I looked over from the top of the levee in Minami-Sōma was very calm, but where others may have found serenity or calmness, I felt nothingness, an unbearable sense of void. And the title of this year’s song “Aitai” had me wonder: “What do we miss about?” But when I put the music and the images of the ocean together, it suddenly dawned on me that the ocean is telling everything that there is to be told. It presents us with all its calmness and serenity while invoking in us the past normality that was lost forever.
— Finally, how does looking back all the films you’ve made over the past decade make you feel today?
Shimada: It’s a fresh reminder that carrying on is very important. That’s exactly what RADWIMPS has been doing almost every year since then, getting people to feel and remember many different memories. And I think the collective build-up of these feelings and emotions and memories must have acquired a lot of meanings over this decade. Today, we are easily carried away by this horrible pandemic, but it is all the more important for us to look back and send a new message to the affected areas, to Japan, and all over the world. This agonizing sense of discomfort that has haunted me since that day hasn’t faded away in the past decade, and I’m sure many more feel the same. So, if there is another sudden phone call from Yojiro, I will certainly say “Yes” again.