When Life in a Day became a worldwide phenomenon, made by thousands and viewed by millions, a new form of filmmaking was born. It brought a mix of documentary, storytelling, drama and most of all, a new window through which the audience could look intimately into peoplefs lives without the intrusion of a professional camera crew. By filming themselves, the contributors to this new format of film production were able to choose their subject matter and relax into expressing inner most emotions and personal thoughts in a way that had rarely been captured in previous approaches to documentary.
Scott Free, the company of Ridley and Tony Scott, went on to produce Britain in a Day with the BBC, which was broadcast in July, and celebrated Britain in 2012 as it prepared for the Olympics. The conceit was pared down to looking at modern day British culture and lives of ordinary people across the United Kingdom.
Fuji Television wanted to take the format further however by aiming to connect with people on the first anniversary of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. For Fuji, this was an opportunity for people to document their own existence | a chance to show they were alive and most importantly, living.
The earthquake took thousands of innocent lives and left hundreds of thousands without homes, families or a means to escape the brutal wreckage the disaster left in its wake. One year on, Fuji believed that, in the spirit of rebuilding their lives and shaping their future, the Japanese people could use this collaborative project as a means to engage and offer their thoughts and feelings about where they found themselves one year on.
gThe Life in a Day format that we launched in 2010 was created to offer people around the world the opportunity to become part of a global experiment in filmmaking,h says executive producer Ridley Scott. gBy capturing their stories, secrets and wishes, we were able to build a movie-sized snapshot of what itfs like to live on Earth today. Japan in a Day is offering us that, but also a concentrated insight into the daily lives, hopes, fears and dreams of the Japanese people at a very specific moment.h
gWhen we launched Life in a Day, we had no idea what was going to come out,h says producer Liza Marshall. gIt was such a big success that Fuji wanting to make Japan in a Day a year after the Tsunami felt like a good way to move the format on to new ground.h
Directors Gaku Narita from Toyko, along with British director Philip Martin and British editor Kristina Hetherington were given the task of receiving more than 8,000 contributions from people either living in Japan or wanting to connect with the country.
Narita was the first to sign up to the challenge of creating Japan in a Day and recalls being reticent at the news of being called to the Fuji head office to talk to the companies executives. gThey said they had something they wanted to talk about but that usually means bad news,h he laughs. But rather than receiving his marching orders, Narita was invited to take on the job of directing Japan in a Day. gThey said they had a huge project and that I might be the man for the job.h Days later Narita was in London preparing the major task of receiving the flood of submissions that would begin streaming in from 12 March onwards.
Martin and Hetherington join soon after and the team began the painstaking task of ploughing through hours of footage.
gGaku had already been out to some of the affected areas before Ifd joined the project,h says director Philip Martin. gBut for me itfs always really attractive to take yourself into a subject you donft know much about and maroon yourself in a world where you have to try to find your way back home. I wanted to be involved instantly.
gI started in documentaries before I before I moved into drama, so this combination of shaping a story using real life accounts of peoplefs day that they themselves have shot, trying to find your way to the heart of a story from material that has been shot by other people, combining documentary practices and drama instincts | combining real life stories into the shape or journey of a great drama was an exciting prospect.h
Using their knowledge and having seen Life in a Day, the directors along with intrepid editor Kristina Hetherington were able to understand that the format of piecing together footage from external sources was both challenging and fulfilling. What Life in a Day had proven to the filmmakers was that no day is simply eordinaryf. But their task was almost the reverse. They were to begin with an extraordinary day | the first anniversary of the tragedy | and make it feel that it was more than just a commemorative film.
gLife in a Day had proved that that extraordinary things happen every day,h says Narita. gWith Japan in a Day, we had to take a special day and inject some ordinariness to it, only to then try to make it special in another way. It was our choice not to just make it into a commemorative film. It has the sense of the Tsunami being one of the underlying themes, but we wanted to avoid being pulled into saying Japan is currently all about sadness and overcoming tragedy.h
A grading system was adapted to aid in the building of the framework of the film. Made up of a number of small stories, the team began to see in skeletal form the film taking shape and started to add in the colour, tone and moments that would offered the audience a true beginning, middle and end rather than a stream of disparate moments in time.
gThe main difficulty was the sheer quantity of footage,h Hetherington explains. gI think that getting your head around all the different ways to could go with the film was the biggest battle. Once the framework is in place you also then have to be careful when placing shots into the film, because they will have a direct effect on further shots and so on. So itfs complex.h
Both pictures and sound were challenging as well as the added difficulty of it being in Japanese. The team required each clip be translated in order that they could follow conversations, comments that might suddenly make a clip relevant or more engaging.
Martin explains that the process of shaping the film began with the construction of a number of short films focussing on particular people or circumstances. These films were then joined together to form a patchwork of moments that the team saw connecting both visually and emotionally to offer a stronger sense of the filmfs shape and momentum.
Of the hundreds of hours of footage submitted, each was marked with a tagging system to indicate of what the film consisted, whether it was landscapes, families, animals, transport or the mountain of footage that was submitted featuring children. The number of clips focussing on babies and enfants amazed producer Liza Marshall. gI didnft expect to see that much footage of children,h she says. gWe even have a birth, which is extraordinary.h She was also impressed at the way in which the Japanese mother seemed to give birth with such poise | gThey seem to have a completely different approach to Western women who tend to do a lot of screaming and shouting!h
Being confined to using only the footage provided by the contributors, it was only natural that this influx of footage following the daily routines and play of sons and daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren would play a considerable role the final film. But the advantage for the team was the sheer energy these clips brought to the film.
For Narita there are numerous wonderful examples of children engaging with the world in a positive way. But in particular a familiar duo became a key thread in the film and also became a symbol of the hope and strength of those who contributed family-oriented footage.
Taiji Aikawa and his father Hiroaki Aikawa were favourites in Life in a Day. They had already melted hearts with Hiroakifs footage of the two of them at home on 24 July 2010 and their daily ritual of lighting incense for Taijifs mother who had passed away some time before. In Japan in a Day we now see a more mature Taiji and his father enjoying life outdoors, riding their bike and engaging in relaxed unpretentious conversation that the team knew would have simply not have been filmable by an outside crew intruding on their private world.
The team had footage of the pairfs entire day and was able to use this to punctuate the film with moments of lightness and relaxation, allowing the audience to follow their movements and conversation as they played together throughout. Naturally there were editorial reasons for returning to a familiar storyline, but the relationship between the two was a gift that added real poignancy to the project.
gWe have much more footage of them than you see in the finished film. We really wanted to weave a story from them,h says Narita. gI think that was one example where we could use them as a solid backbone to the editing process.h
The team were also rewarded from sifting through hours of mundane footage to find real moments of surprise and wonder. Not least the shocking footage of the family who are happily playing the back garden of the home only to realise that the radiation levels would have to force them to retreat indoors.
Martin explains how they stumbled upon a telling moment - gThe family actually shot the whole day. There was hours of footage of them having lunch, dinner. But it just grabbed you that this was a seemingly ordinary family who suddenly turned out to be highly symbolic. As you watch you realise that they are faced with the tremendous responsibility of living in the radiation zone and simply donft have the freedom to move anywhere without fear. They just have to deal with it.
gThe more we looked at this footage, the more the tell-tale signs appeared. The children are wearing crocs to protect their feet from the radiation and therefs no lawn, as it will have been removed because of contamination. These little clues are there. What appears to be a normal situation is really not. One would think, if youfre so afraid of the radiation then why donft you just move. But of course you canft. You just have to live with it.
gPeople were trying to behave as they would normally do but were prevented from doing that because of the circumstances forced upon them. We found that with many of the stories; people had to live a new kind of live.h
One of the happier accidents was discovered whilst viewing footage from a family who had been rehoused. The young daughter of the family was operating the camera and documenting what she saw around her. What fascinated the filmmakers was that she was dictating what was being shot and giving a unique insight into what fascinated her as a child at home in her own environment.
gBecause she has the camera, she takes you to what shefs interested in and whatfs going on in her head, which in this case is a flower thatfs growing in her garden,h says Martin. gI think itfs one of the great things about this form of filmmaking. Itfs the kind of footage you would never get in any other way. If you were to ask a child what they were interested in they wouldnft say that flower, they would think of something more obvious and immediate like their favourite toy. But somehow by giving her control of the camera and the authorship of her own story, shefs able to lead you somewhere new and somewhere interesting. Itfs a moment when the barrier between the film and filmmaker break down and somehow the people within the story are leading it.h
gIn some ways we reflect what the filmmakers are concerned with. But one of the interesting things to note is how much less affected the children are by the problems going on. The children act emotionally, instinctively and intuitively. They bring so much energy to the film and in some ways hope because effectively these are the people who will be dealing with their world in some years to come and in some ways solving the problems the film explores. Admittedly, we were a little conscious of having too many children, but we thought they offered real bursts of life in a film.h
Balance was key to the entire production, whether it was in terms of the mood of the piece as a whole or spanning the spectrum of subject matter to avoid an unrealistic depiction of Japan being simply a nation in mourning.
Itfs always a question of trying to weigh a journey into the past with trying to make a film that would look forward,h says Martin of the process. gWe know that many people would have had a very difficult time in the intervening year, so we didnft want to frighten people off. We wanted to be able to show that, despite this tragic event, people were continuing to live their lives. But at the same time, we wanted to be truthful and go and revisit some of these situations. We wanted to see that people do continue to live their lives | not to forget it, but at the same time, not to be dominated by it.h
Narita in particular was fascinated to observe the changing characteristic of Japanese contributors. He noticed a new openness that he believed was not inherently a Japanese character trait. Whether this was the result of the tragedy or a result of the ability for people to successfully and skilfully capture their own thoughts on camera in a way that was much less feasible ten or more years ago is arguable.
gI think itfs a Japanese characteristic not to be forthcoming with their emotions | it the other way around,h he explains. gJapanese people feel almost offended if you express your emotions too outwardly. Itfs usually a lot subtler. Itfs just now coming to a stage in our culture that wefre beginning to express our emotions and YouTube is capturing that for sure.h
One powerful example of this is the confession of a father on the evening of his daughterfs first birthday, exactly a year to the day of the earthquake and tsunami.
Her father spends the entire day just recording the birthday as a very straightforward, proud parent,h explains Martin. gItfs only at the end of the day when shefs gone to bed that he switches on the camera and makes this incredible confession describing the extraordinary circumstances of her birth where less than an hour after she was born the tsunami hit and he was faced with the grim choice of staying with her and the mother or going out to help people.
gWhen he went out, what he saw so traumatised him that he finds it difficult to balance the experience of becoming a father with the experience of witnessing such tragedy. He feels incredible guilt at not being able to do enough to save people and at the same time incredible joy for the birth of his daughter.h
For Marshall it must not be forgotten that there are also many moments that she believes will charm and surprise audiences both in Japan and internationally. gThere are certainly parts of the film that will give international audiences a real insight,h she says, indicating what she herself found fascinating to discover. gThere were some Japanese traditions that were filmed that Ifd had no idea about. What wefve found is that the format is very moreish. I think everyone is fascinated in other people and this filmmaking format allows us to peer openly into other peoplefs lives and compare theirs with our own. The intimacy this type of filmmaking allows means therefs not a big crew. Itfs just people filming themselves. You get a truth and an honesty that you donft get in most documentaries. Itfs a completely fresh and innovative way of making films. I think thatfs why itfs so compelling to watch.h