After living in New York for ten years I returned to my home country of Japan and moved into the old downtown-Tokyo neighborhood called Yanaka. It is also known as "Temple Town" because it is filled with many Buddhist temples and graveyards. In the midst of the din and bustle of Tokyo I was fascinated by its quiet mood. It appeared to be a holy place filled with ghosts floating in the air. Originally the word yanaka meant "in the middle of the valley. "The area is located in a deep gorge between two high plateaux, and it seemed to me that the valley was the "in-between zone" of high and low societies, or the rich and the poor, or the living and the dead.
Settling into my new neighborhood, I learned that many traditional Edo craftsmen live in Yanaka. Their specialties include calligraphy for gravestones, matoi (emblem poles for Edo firemen brigades), and omen (Japanese masks). When I chatted with them, they all mentioned the same thing : Five-Story Pagoda, a Buddhist temple that used to stand in Yanaka Cemetery and gather public admiration, before it burned down in 1957. I also noticed that the craftsmen were afraid that what they called "the young generation" and "the elderly generation" are quite different now and that it is impossible to establish mutual understanding. They all complained to me, "I don't understand the young people nowadays."
Since I moved back to Japan, what has bewildered me most is that people in Japan care too much about their ages. They tend to classify humans by age and to set social codes according to age groups. In my discomfort with this way of thinking, I realized how much I’d gotten used to American culture, in which people don't usually ask one another their ages. I asked myself, "Are those two generations, 'the young' and 'the elderly,' really different?" And I felt the pagoda could be a clue to answering this question since it is what people miss most in this neighborhood.
When we think about the past, we not only feel melancholy about what has been lost, but we also appreciate what has been inherited and transformed into the modern world. It is an act of re-evaluating commonalities between different times.
In Deep in the Valley, I cite Five-Story Pagoda, a classic novel by Rohan Koda, first published in 1892. I felt that Jubei, the young carpenter who builds the pagoda against his boss’s will, was as passionate and reckless as young people now. But he actually belongs to a past generation much older than "the elderly generation" of today, and he might be buried in Yanaka Cemetery or floating in the air as a ghost. So it is quite interesting to me that we can relate Jubei to the elderly as well as to youth now.
When you look at a pagoda, you don’t look down at it. You always look up at it. You always admire it and become fascinated. The nature of this gaze is something we might have forgotten. I sought to explore it in this film.