The Passion of the Rice, or the Resolute Ideological Attack
Chow Sze Chung (Farmer of Sangwoodgoon, Part-time Teacher)
 

Anyone who has ever grown a plant would probably have the experience that, however much attention you have paid for its growth, you always miss the occasions: you can never witness the moment the seed breaks through the soil, when the flower blossoms, or, if you grow melons and beans, when they come out.  Concerning the above so-called critical moments, it turns out, if we take the seeds as an example, that either nothing can be seen at the surface of the soil at all, or that the cotyledons are already found at the top of the bud.  In other words, the time is always already missed.

When we turn to one set of scenes in Magino Village A Tale, we could then understand how Ogawa Shinsuke responded to this question:

The hand-held camera moved to the right and forward while capturing the rice field, until a young man entered the frame.  The man wore a pair of sunglasses.  Under the shining sun, he casually sat with his legs crossed under a big parasol, with a huge set of apparatuses nearby.  He said, “It now grows to touching the edge of the shooting-frame, but in these two hours it stops growing again.”  While he said that, the camera captured him holding a remote control, which was connected to another camera.  This camera seemed to focus on a string of rice.  He added, “This slow-motion camera has been already shooting for seven hours and forty minutes.  From seven in the morning till now, we have about forty seconds of video. I hope it does film it.”

The classic scene of forty seconds then follows (in fact it lasts as long as nearly fifty five seconds).  Leaves were in motion, while the sunlight was constantly changing.  The string of rice, originally at the middle of the screen, gradually grew upward, till it reaches the top of the frame.

Only with a scene taken for seven or eight hours can it enable the audience to witness the slight growth of the rice, not to mention that the growth has to be magnified to the size of the silver-screen and concentrated to tens of seconds in order to be shown clearly.  When someone asked why the instant of growth was always missed, Ogawa answered in his well-known article “Using a period of thirteen years to make a harvest of films” that this was because “land is governed by a time larger than the human time”.  Confusing our usual sense of time, taking fifty-something seconds to try to present the duration of seven or eight hours is surely not a scientific nor objective reflection of the growth rhythm of rice.  Nevertheless, it can be understood as a way for Ogawa to, with almost still and very basic images, demand the audience to confront their self-centeredness in their usual concept of time.

When one pays attention to crops only once in a while, even if that takes you “tremendous” several minutes—isn’t this mode of gazing, which expects the so-called critical moment, always doomed to failure?  In our daily life, a quick glance at the advertisement board in the MTR would be fairly enough for us to grasp its content. But the rhythm of land and plants is another thing.  Agriculture has lasted for at least a thousand years in the region in which Ogawa farmed.  Even stones that dated back to as far as twenty or thirty thousand years ago could be found all across the farmland…  Such discoveries indeed knocked us with the longevity of time and place.

This is what Ogawa and his team had experienced in Sanrizuka and Magino from their respective seven and thirteen years of stay.  Without such experience, we cannot get to know about agriculture at all, and neither can we imagine the specific film techniques employed in Ogawa’s films.

Regarding that particular scene in Magino Village – A Tale, I would even go so far as to presume that the idea of this scene stemmed from Ogawa and his team’s consideration that farmers were always unable to witness those critical moments. Ogawa was definitely not capturing such scenes at no cost nor merely out of curiosity.  On the contrary, it was precisely because the growing of the grains is not a process observable by naked eyes that Ogawa tried his best to capture it.  That is to say, it was this impossible visual experience that attracted Ogawa to shoot it into his film.

Then, can we not explain why Ogawa, in his journey of filming, always had to film social groups who might not be the minority in number but were surely the marginalized within the public discourse?  The working students (in Sea of Youth), the farmers in Sanrizuka, the cleaning workers (in Interview at Clean Center), and the poor from Kotobuki-cho in Yokohama (in A Song of the Bottom) were all essential to society and yet were being mercilessly exploited to the greatest degree by the mainstream discourse.  Society needed these farmers, working students, cleaning workers and those who got the least pay to do the most inferior works because, without them, society would lose the basis for reproducing itself and the labor force, and it could not function smoothly.  However, society needed to brutally oppress and exploit their dignity and culture from the side of public discourse as well. Not only was such discursive exploitation the other side of the mainstream values upholding the need to strive upward and develop our economy, but secretly they were also mutually constitutive of each other.  In a world in which blatant materialism becomes the common sense, would it be really possible to imagine that, while one side of the magazine tempts you to consume audio equipments with a sky-high price, its other side would praise the dignity of flex-time workers?

These people were treated as subjects-of-love in Ogawa’s films not at no cost nor out of curiosity (there was even a director killed when he shot a film in Kotobuki-cho, where gangsters abounded), but because they were the impossible discursive objects in society.  We cannot easily get to talk about them, not to mention present them positively and show their dignity.  This was perhaps what attracted Ogawa to shoot them into his films. Agriculture and natural ecology might seem microscopic, static, traditional, and peaceful.  However, in Ogawa’s gaze, which was in his own words “attracted by the sensual passion” of the rice, these became the most resolute ideological critique put into the context of society.  From this perspective, we could then appreciate the multi-layer interests of Ogawa, his practice and his work.