A long conversation between film composer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto, and scholar and film critic Shigehiko Hasumi on The Last Emperor.
Read Sakamoto’s previous interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci: https://lysisme.art.blog/2021/03/14/translation-ryuichi-sakamoto-interviews-bernardo-bertolucci/
Originally published in A Picture Book of The Last Emperor
December 10, 1987.
Photographer: Takahisa Ide
English translation by Stella Hsieh
01. The Transformation of Bertolucci
Sakamoto: I claim to be a fan of Bertolucci, but I haven’t seen all of his films. So I’d like to ask you, Mr. Hasumi, what you found different about The Last Emperor in particular from his previous works?
Hasumi: It’s not that much about whether it’s different or not, it’s just that I was surprised. I was pleasantly surprised to see how different Bertolucci was from what I had imagined him to be, and yet how smoothly he transformed himself without stepping out of line. What’s different is that, for example, the great film 1900 is about the history of his own country, and The Last Emperor is the history of someone else’s, but the distinction between 1900 and The Last Emperor is the way they’re told.
1900 is, in the first place, a story about how a person born in 1900 lived until 1970s. In other words, it is a story with epic time flow and is essentially a long story. The Last Emperor is in the form of a reminiscence, however. And while it is about a man with 2000 years of history on his shoulders, the time is refracted more inwardly, and in a certain way, the subject matter could have been depicted in 2 hours or even an hour and 40 minutes. We definitely need more time for 1900, but The Last Emperor is a story about a man who is left behind from such time, and time is stagnant inside him, or rather, he has a timeless inner world. Although it has a turbulent background, the history is filtered through the walls and does not reach the emperor. It’s not that I was forcing myself to stretch out such timelessness, but I feel that the work grew naturally itself. If you shot that wall, you have to shot this wall, too. If you shot that face, you also have to take a picture of this face, and so on, in a self-propagating manner.
Of course, Bertolucci probably intended to make a big film, but I think he could have put it together in an hour and 40 minutes with the material. This is not a film about the subject, however. It is thoroughly a film for the subject. I think it was his love for the subject that made the film grow through such a timeless experience. This self-propagating growth is sensual. He often refers to the position of the camera as a camera-sutra, comparing it to the position of love-making, and I think The Last Emperor is the most magnificent result of this.
Sakamoto: One thing his works have in common is that they are always about individuals who are at the mercy of forces beyond their control, such as politics and the times. This emperor, too, is a man with no power of his own although he is given a huge role, and then he undergoes a certain transformation and is swept away toward the so-called “liberation.” I felt that Bertolucci had a certain tender point of view of this. Do you think it’s common for all of his works?
Hasumi: As for “tenderness”, in his early films, the screen is bouncing from shot to shot with the joy of having conquered cinema. As in both Before the Revolution and the preceding La Commare Secca, Bertolucci behind the camera seems to be excited by a sense of pleasure other than this kind of gentleness. As he himself has said in many places, I think this feeling of bouncing around is one of his attitudes toward the elders.
The original script of La Commare Secca was by [Pier Paolo] Pasolini. So I think there was a lot of tension for Bertolucci about how to turn a script written by Pasolini into his own film. Also, he was eying the Italian films of the late 50s and early 60s with the intention of making them “backward”. So it’s not so much the “gentleness” of the film, but rather the high spirits, the assertiveness, and the assertiveness of the way he throws his chest out. I remember watching Bertolucci in his early days with this in mind.
Sakamoto: Do you think this high spirits is a common sense of the Beat Generation influenced by Jazz?
Hasumi: I’m not sure. I really don’t know. I mean, didn’t Bertolucci started with writing poetry? So it could be literary. But if he were a poet, he would have followed his father’s footsteps. His father also wrote film critique at the same time, so I think his energy and assertiveness came from the films he watched, through which he grasped the sense of what a film really is. “I, as an Italian, can take on the French New Wave…” With this kind of thoughts, he made a bold attempt to transplant France to Italy, the mutation that no one has ever done before.
That’s why he was famous for only speaking French after making his first film. (laughs) I think that’s it. Of course, the New Wave was baptized in jazz, but Italian cinema at that time was really rubbish and only [Roberto] Rossellini liked it. And since Rossellini didn’t make films anymore, the sense of pride and responsibility he had for Italian cinema was stronger than the jazz atmosphere.
Sakamoto: That’s what I mentioned when I talked to him. When I asked him what he thought about Godard, he said, “He was much elder than me but we share the same consciousness, and yet there is still a gap remaining because of the backwardness of my nation.” He said it clearly, so I think he had the consciousness that they were the same generation rather than the awareness of taking over the elder generation.
Hasumi: It’s the vigor and youthfulness of the films made by the readers of Cahiers du Cinéma, which Godard and his colleagues were working for.
Sakamoto: Meanwhile he said, “I, who has been doing avant-garde for 25 years, also become the old generation now.” I think the vigor he had in his early days of his career has become thinner or more rounded, especially in the way he portrayed the emperor around the ending, and his loving attitude towards the child actors.
02. The Sheer “Puerility” of John Lone
Hasumi: In that respect, I can say that The Last Emperor is clearly different from what we have seen in the past. I don’t think it’s just a matter of maturing with age and becoming naturally different, it’s a kind of experiment. This time, the subject matter itself is obviously fatherless, and the mother is not shown, either. Instead, I think it was an experiment where Bertolucci wanted to show his own paternal role to the cast and crew. I get the impression watching the film that Bertolucci himself is the mother figure. There is a feeling of acceptance, not exclusive affection, in the air.
I was most impressed by the fact that John Lone is supposed to be carrying the history of China on his back, but his neck is strangely skimpy and vulnerable. If any other actor had done this, I think he would have stretched his back at some point, even if it was to say that he was a puppet emperor. But John Lone’s vulnerability from his neck to his back is something else. This may have something to do with the director’s instructions for the role, but I sensed a maternal tinge of acceptance rather than paternalistic cruelty in it. In Bertolucci’s previous works, such people would have stretched their stance somewhere. Even the fascist in The Conformist who killed the father figure had a good posture. In The Last Emperor, however, Bertolucci acts like a mother who cares for her son who is a failure. I wondered if the concept of “China” is feminine.
Sakamoto: John Lone once said, “I grew up in the dressing room of the Peking Opera house in Hong Kong as far as I can remember. I’m an orphan.” That could be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s probably half true. In that sense, it’s definitely a fatherless film. He himself grew up without a father, and now he has returned to the Motherland as an emperor. When I met him in July last year, he told me that he was still in a kind of excitement.
Hasumi: [Julia] Kristeva has a book called About Chinese Women, and I had the feeling that China is female. But I don’t want to touch upon that too much, because it would immediately turn into a psychoanalytical thing about the mother and womb if I do that. There is no one who can win himself over by shooting down someone and stretching out his back, but there is Empress Dowager, although this is already a historical fact. The authority is Empress Dowager, isn’t it?
In this way, Bertolucci has to show his paternal authority, but he is not an absolute divine father, because he also plays the role of a surrogate mother, and this gentle world is clearly different from the past. For The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man, it was a story about the son told from the father’s perspective, but this time there are no relations between the two, so I’m impressed that they were able to call it “emperor.” It’s not like there’s something gaudy and shiny in the background, but even though John Lone appears in the middle of a splendid set, there’s something faintly cold behind him. The setting does not contribute to the manifestation of patriarchy. I felt that this was quite a thing.
Sakamoto: When I got to know John Lone personally and talked to him about various things, I found that he didn’t have the common upbringing that most people have. (laughs) He is the same age as me, but he doesn’t know anything about the last twenty years of the history of rock music. Actors going to long shootings usually bring a Walkman or cassettes with themselves, but he didn’t bring anything. The Italian staff was surprised and said, “That guy doesn’t listen to music, I don’t trust him.” (laughs) My generation was always exposed to the hippie movement and rock culture, so I tend to judge John Lone based on these things, but he is free from that. So, even though he lives in the United States, I think he’s kind of cut off from the United States as well.
Hasumi: It seems that there is no swing nor beat-he is just walking.
Sakamoto: Therefore, I think that the feeling of not carrying anything can be said about his personal history. If he were not an actor, he would be a very poor man.
Hasumi: He is. He got the classic star quality that his face is his only property.
Sakamoto: In the role of the emperor, the only thing he has is his pride, and that feeling was shown very well in his acting, for example, in his sense of competitiveness against Amakasu. In this respect, the relationship between Bertolucci and John Lone was kind of cruel. John Lone is a kind of starting from nothing and I thought Bernardo made good use of that kind of “puerility.”
Hasumi: It’s not a lack of content, however, or poorness without substance, it’s a very dense puerility. (laughs) For example, I think Robert De Niro is similar in the sense of “nothingness,” that he only dresses up and stands up straight to act out nothing. On the contrary, the commonplace actors would naturally react to the word “emperor” and start acting like an emperor at some point… (laughs)
I feel that Bertolucci has tamed it very cleverly, not through paternalistic commands, but through a kind of masochistic persuasion. I think it was a great experimental film in that respect. It’s curiously distorted, homosexual and incestuous, and there are dynamics floating around that could never constitute a normal family line.
03. Anti-Operatic Restraint
Sakamoto: Bertolucci is clever and straightforward in the dynamics of human relationships. There is a scene where Amakasu gives a speech in the dinning room of the palace in Manchuria, and about a week before shooting that scene, he says, “Don’t laugh because you are Amakasu, and I won’t have dinner with you for a week. Don’t smile for a week.” And, “You are a Shinto Man, so think of Amaterasu.” (laughs) I thought it was funny how straightforward he was. So, in a way, John Lone’s “puerile” side was also induced and developed by Bertolucci. (laughs)
Hasumi: I think so. So, well, I groaned when I heard that Bertolucci was going to use John Lone. I had seen Year of the Dragon, the film that brought him fame, and thought he was a great actor, but I thought he was more of a Robert De Niro type of actor. In other words, if you think that he was the kind of actor who could show thousands of years of Chinese history down to the wrinkles on his face, that’s not the case. It was not decadence in the sense that what had been prosperous was collapsing, but beyond the amusement of Bertolucci’s accurate capture of an individual in constant contraction and decline, I also felt a slight shiver of chill sensing the human relationship between the director and the actor. That is to say, I didn’t see anything in John Lone the actor that would satisfy himself as an actor. I was amazed at Bertolucci’s ability to make him do this kind of thing, and I thought, “I see, he’s an auteur.”
For example, John Lone isn’t that tall, but Bertolucci neither shoot him in a way that would make him look big. I’m sure Bertolucci could have done it, and a mediocre director would have done it from the beginning, but he never did it.
Hasumi: When first train enters the Fushun Station, P’u-I, who is the same height and color as the others, comes down and is almost lost in the grayish clothes people are wearing. Bertolucci didn’t use even a single close-up. I thought he would make him look bigger later, but he didn’t do it until the end.
Sakamoto: That’s right. It’s like you don’t know who he is at first.
Hasumi: Bertolucci never shot him in a way that made him look bigger whether during the coronation or in a formal suit. John Lone’s gait and back view consistently give a faint impression. I’m usually the kind of person who ignores what’s going on inside, but this makes the subject of internal transformation come to life. If someone says that’s still not enough, I’m ready to disown them. (laughs) So I was impressed with Bertolucci as well as with John Lone. But how did Bertolucci concern about the aspect of “the Last”, while he wanted to make a film that was supposed to be four hours long focusing on a central character with such a voidness inside himself?
He’s made two movies with the word “last” in the titles, right? Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor. But all of his other films are like the last one somehow. I have a feeling that 1900 should have been called The Last Century. But this time, Bertolucci, who must personally like opera very much, shot it in such a way that he suppressed all the aesthetics of the aria-like melodies in opera. I found it interesting that he suppressed the melody, and especially that he didn’t bring anyone to the front of the stage and make them sing loudly. Or, rather than finding the anti-operatic thing interesting, I was wondering whether this was really going to be the end of the piece, or if he was going to shoot for another big melodic boost somewhere along the line, but then I was reminded of how commonplace those expectations were. (laughs)
04. Is “The Last” the End of Cinema Altogether?
Sakamoto: You just mentioned the word “Last.” In this high-tech age- although Europe is probably not that high-tech, there have been many questions recently regarding the meaning of “The Last.” So I’ve been thinking about it again and have come to realize that perhaps Bertolucci is the one who continues to film the theme of “the End of Cinema.”
After all, same as in architecture, if there were no more palace carpenters, then the style would no longer exist. And since the 20th century is coming to an end, I wonder if cinema, a very 20th century civilization and technology, is also coming to an end… Film is rather the epitome of the analog, isn’t it?
Hasumi: That’s exactly the case. Such a reactionary thing to say but there is no reactionary things in this respect. (laughs)
Sakamoto: And because the number of filmmakers is gradually dwindling, I don’t have a glamorous feeling but the end of the century as a turning point, a film about the end of the 20th century, in other words, the end of cinema.
Hasumi: Hisaki Matsuura published a very interesting article about The Last Emperor on the 10th issue of Lumière. It’s about the same topic we are discussing now, but the theme is “Thinness of the Blood.” The film is set in an impotent time, like a sexual intercourse but the semen does not result in conception. The emperor in the film is unable to reproduce, neither, and the color of the blood flowing from his veins is pale. That discussion about the thinness of blood is quite interesting.
According to the message you got from Bertolucci, there is a kind of tradition in film, and of course he made The Last Emperor based on that tradition. He mentioned [D.W.] Griffith’s name, but not the names of Italian historical playwrights of the 1910s. I think he said “that sort of things,” however, and it is clear that he had [Giovanni] Pastrone and other great Italian historical playwrights in mind saying that.
Following the tradition of Italian historical drama, an open set of the Forbidden City is to be built in Italy. It is no longer possible for Italian cinema to build such a large open set at Cinecittà there, however. In Good Morning, Babylon, they recreated the Hollywood of the Griffith era in Italy, but it was so poor that it made me sad. As you said, there are no craftsmen who can do that anymore, and there is no capital. So filming on location in China is already a “loss” for the film. Bertolucci’s first step was to accept that defeat. And as Matsuura said, he accepted the loss while being conscious of the fact that the blood of film is becoming thinner, and the film itself had lost its original spirit of the brazen activists, which was to make it look big even if it was made a little small, and to make it seem like a great set. These practices have disappeared from cinema. So, in a sense, he was trying to win the game by first accepting the failure of cinema itself.
Sakamoto: I think Bertolucci’s “cinema” is the opposite of the kind of cinema represented by Spielberg and others. Perhaps everyone feels the same way, but I say this on the basis of his own words, that there seems to be one film as the sum total of all the films made in the 20th century. So, this film is in the category of “The End”, and I felt that he was working on concluding it the right way. I was very impressed by his statement that it’s as if the whole history of cinema is one film. So I feel that the memory or the nostalgia of the 20th century cinema is folded into this film.
05. A Film Made With a Piece of Curtain
Hasumi: Have you seen Good Morning, Babylon by the Taviani Brothers?
Sakamoto: I haven’t seen it.
Hasumi: Regardless of this, (laughs) it’s about an Italian who went to Hollywood, so of course there was filming in the U.S., but it was mainly filmed in Italy. They were going to build a Hollywood in Cinecittà, and run the tram from L.A. to Hollywood. It was made by Griffith’s studio and no longer used nowadays, running but with no one around- there is a tram running through the city, and Hollywood is on the other side, but it doesn’t feel like the heart of film industry at all. (laughs) That “Hollywood” seems to be a very cold place. I’m sure there were some directorial errors, but I really felt that they couldn’t mobilize the masses even back in Italy.
Sakamoto: Can’t people do it in Japan?
Hasumi: I don’t think they can mobilize that many people in Japan either.
Sakamoto: It’s unbelievable that they still make it anyway.
Hasumi: There are many ways to spend money, but if people spend money on something, it will be the high-tech product and makes the money spent become visible. In films, however, all attempts to make the money appear visible failed.
Godard, for example, spends money on editing, on the invisible, and the lighting. It’s a myth hailed 30 years ago that the scene would become beautiful as long as you spend money on it. I feel that Godard was truly one step ahead of the people who still insist on that.
In the case of The Last Emperor, at the coronation of the three-year-old P’u-I at the beginning, he goes out through a big hanging curtain. I don’t actually know what kind of curtain it was, but from watching the film, I can see that everyone put a lot of effort into the curtain itself instead of the splendour of the building. So you can see that this film is about the curtains. In fact, there is no need to have a bird’s eye view of the magnificent architecture or the huge crowds. Moreover, in that case, there is a cinematic impression that you are moved instantly and can understand the fact that, “Ah, the life of P’u-I begins by going through the hanging curtains.”
Sakamoto: There is a consistent theme of the curtains. I think it comes all the way down to the big red flags at the end of the Cultural Revolution scene, which is very moving. There is also the curtain of the coronation ceremony when he was three years old, and then the game with eunuchs in the palace, where they put up a big drape and play with it to guess who is the person behind by touching it. Then there is the sheet in the bed scene with the two empresses.
Hasumi: In that case, the sheet is a curtain, too.
Sakamoto: Yes. And then John Lone comes out with a sheet wrapped around him when the fire breaks out.
Hasumi: So, just as Godard believes that a film can be made with editing and lighting, Bertolucci’s idea is that a film can be made with a piece of curtain. In 1900, there is a tremendously huge red flag waving in the air, and when I saw the drape at the coronation, I thought, “Oh, that red flag is also a curtain.”
Sakamoto: As a side note, I really liked Bertolucci’s use of that curtain so I asked him if I could use it for my own concert when I was on the NEO GEO Tour last July. And he said, “Use it, use it.” I pulled a piece of curtain from the background horizontal and covered the whole stage. He was very happy when I told him that I had done something like this the other day. He asked me if I played the eunuch game, and I told him I didn’t do that. (laughs)
There is always an erotic excitement in the scene where the curtain comes out, isn’t it?
Hasumi: Yes, there is. Not only does it bring us to the eroticism of the curtain in general, which we think of as erotic, but it also reminds us that the curtain is a thoroughly forbidden erotic object in film. The curtain is both a screen and a reflection, and we are not allowed to touch it, otherwise the film will be destroyed. There were many scenes where the eroticism of the film itself was the theme, where the desire to touch it was forbidden and we had to watch it through a distance.
Sakamoto: That curtain is the media. As a screen, it is a connection between the film and the audience’s gaze, but at the same time, it is also a ban. It’s a barrier, and there’s nothing on the other side except a mere picture. Bertolucci also said that the screen is the media.
Hasumi: It is both a prohibition and a temptation, something that only an unconscious child can slip through…
06. It’s Normal for Films to Contradict Reality
Hasumi: Then, when a three-year-old P’u-I slips behind the curtain and looks back at us, that bird’s eye shot is actually very short.
Sakamoto: That’s right.
Hasumi: It’s a very brief bird’s eye view. When it is shown as a still, however, everyone remembers it. So it seems to go on forever, but it is really short. And I thought, “I see. That’s it.”
Sakamoto: After the yellow curtain rises, we see the children leaving and walking slowly, one after the other, and when the emperor stands at the top of the stairs, the camera moves up just a little bit, and then the crowd of eunuchs spreads out below him.
Hasumi: And how about the way the curtain swells? If you are not moved by such things, what else is there to be moved by in a film?
Sakamoto: But they don’t show it. After spending millions of dollars, making all those costumes, and gathering all those people… (laughs)
Hasumi: Yes, that Bertolucci’s brilliance- he didn’t want to make a film with only a crowd. I think he would probably make a film using only those kinds of things, such as the book Tonko [Tun Huang] written by Yasushi Inoue, which is now being shot on location in China. Bertolucci is really extravagant. He didn’t go to China to shoot only a single mountain or desert.
Sakamoto: That difference in perspectives is something I’ve been feeling keenly lately. There are people who say things that are not true when I talk to them. Even in the case of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, there were people who said that there were no men like Captain Yonoi in the actual Japanese army, but of course that was not the case. There are a many historical figures who are still alive, especially people related to this film, so there may be a lot of discussions like that. There are also a bunch of young people who think that this is a misunderstanding that Westerners always have when they make films with Eastern themes. I am very troubled by that.
Hasumi: I feel like I’ve been fighting for this for 20 years. (laughs) I wonder if they still don’t understand that it’s a film. It’s Bertolucci’s film. I’d like to say that Bertolucci’s films are much more interesting than the subject of mutual understanding between the East and the West.
Sakamoto: It doesn’t matter what the real Amakasu was like, it’s Bertolucci’s film. Even P’u-I is not speaking in Chinese but English, so it is natural that he is different.
Hasumi: Even Gone with the Wind is different from the real thing.
Sakamoto: The Last Emperor is not a Chinese film, nor is it a Japanese film.
Hasumi: It’s like asking the question, “Why are you moved by Casablanca?” In Casablanca, there is a man who escaped from Eastern Europe speaking English. It’s the same as why people who are moved to tears by the piano music don’t approve of this one. Even Hitler, there are probably twenty or so different Hitlers in films, so why can’t there be a second or third Amakasu?
Sakamoto: I’m sure it’s not just the Japanese, but I thought it would be interesting to expose that kind of reaction, the reverse difference from films.
Hasumi: Bertolucci said that the only mistake he made with 1900 was that he didn’t put a caption at the beginning saying it wasn’t a historical film, and the same can be said for The Last Emperor. The sensibility of the audience has not improved in ten years. But we can’t do that now, can we? I often think about when my role in the world will end, but even though I talk a lot about film as fiction, my role will never end.
For example, Akira Asada would perhaps never talk about avant-garde now. But you can’t defend the avant-garde forever. Luigi Nono once gave a lecture, and a woman who asked him a question afterwards said, “Avant-garde music is difficult to understand. It’s philosophical, and hard to get used to. What do you think that people will stop listening to avant-garde music?” Even in 1987, there is no shortage of such people. He was completely surprised, but managed to get away by this answer, “I’m not trying to make you understand, and it’s okay if people listen to it or not.”
The story that the avant-garde is esoteric is somewhat similar to the response that the film is not the historical fact. Speaking of it, I even feel that the battle is still an everlasting revolution. (laughs) So, even if I keep saying, “It’s just a film,” my role is not over yet. I don’t mean to say that the avant-garde is over, but rather, “what you think of as avant-garde is not difficult, but just something different from what you are used to,” and we need to keep saying this forever. Only that I don’t want to say it because I’m tired of it. (laughs)
Sakamoto: I’m really surprised at how many people have that kind of misunderstanding. I can’t imagine how on earth such people enjoy films.
Hasumi: Would they be satisfied with the explanation that this is a films and a fiction?
Sakamoto: For example, “This happens to be a story of P’u-I, and it could have been about some tribe in Africa. Would you feel comfortable watching a film about an African tribe?” If you say it forcibly, they would look at you with a convinced expression. Moreover, people in Italy, France, and other western countries do not know this kind of history, and few people even know where Manchuria was.
Hasumi: I don’t think there are many people in Europe who know that Manchukuo was a Japanese colony.
Sakamoto: Young Japanese people don’t know about this history, and it is difficult for them to understand.
Hasumi: So they are speaking for the people. (laughs)
Hasumi: If there are people who don’t understand, they can come to you and ask you… (laughs)
Sakamoto: “But all the Italians and French who don’t know anything about history enjoy this film.” Say this and they will finally understand.
Hasumi: I wonder if they will only be convinced by saying it.
Sakamoto: I don’t know if they really be convinced by such a rejoinder.
Hasumi: If that’s the case, they would make a face just like P’u-I’s. Why do they have John Lone as the emperor?
Sakamoto: I was also annoyed at first when told that Amakasu in the film would be one-handed, but when Bertolucci told me that the villain must be deficient, I thought, “Exactly!” and was instantly convinced.
Hasumi: I think that’s what films are all about. It means that Amakasu might as well have been wearing an eye patch.
Sakamoto: The same kind of mistake, for example, the reaction that it’s not the China you know, that it doesn’t portray the real China or the Chinese landscape.
Hasumi: Because he didn’t shoot the scenery. (laughs)
Sakamoto: There are a lot of young people who have NHK scenes in their minds all the time.
Hasumi: The Great Yellow River or something like that.
Sakamoto: But the only outside, vast location scene in film was the Second Coronation.
Hasumi: Even that was shot in such a way as to avoid showing the horizon.
Sakamoto: It looks like a rather poor set, because it symbolizes the end of Manchukuo for P’u-I.
07. Confusion Between Reality and Authenticity
Hasumi: Around the time Bertolucci made his first film, Godard made a film called The Carabineers, that two young men who are mobilized for war come back after being taunted a lot. There are airplanes coming out and machine guns going off in the meantime. But the critics say there is no such sloppy war. In fact, it’s just an edited version of an old newsreel that doesn’t look real at all. In response, Godard defends himself by saying, “There’s a Messerschmitt in the picture with the sound of a real Messerschmitt. In the film, most of the machine guns have fake sound effects, but I put the real sound there.” (laughs)
Similarly, many people confuse the difference between reality and authenticity. I think Bertolucci knows this confusion, so he gives up on it, but at the same time he plays with it.
Have you seen another “Last Emperor”, The Last Emperor: P’u-I’s Later Life? [The original Chinese title Huo Lung means “fire dragon,” as P’u-I was said to be the only Chinese emperor who was cremated. P’u-I in this film was played by the Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Ka-fai. ]
Sakamoto: I haven’t seen it.
Hasumi: I heard that P’u-I in that film looks more like the real one.
Sakamoto: Is that so?
Hasumi: But then it would be a war film with all the look-alikes from the Mosfilm in the 60s, where everyone gets to meet someone who looks exactly like Stalin. I don’t think people will see it as a real film.
Sakamoto: I first learned about this mechanism in YMO. I remember that you wrote On the Eerie Diligence of the Pre-AI and Post-AI Phenomena on the April Issue of Contemporary Poetry Notebook [Gendaishi Techo] in 1985.
Hasumi: Yes, I did.
Sakamoto: I experienced that through the accident of being in YMO. That’s why I’ve been saying how unnatural today’s music is. When techno becomes popular, acoustic sound becomes trendy later, and then natural sound takes the place. So that big cycle is always repeating itself. In the end, whether it’s a natural sound or a hard techno sound, it’s all made with the same technology and in the same studio. So I think I’ve been saying for a long time that both techno and natural are just human ideologies. It’s exactly the same thing with film.
Hasumi: It’s the same thing.
Sakamoto: That’s why I used to call it “Music Monetary Theory” as an amateur. (laughs) I used to say that the natural value of music is the same as the value of money. (laughs) I don’t think that has changed.
Hasumi: It is essentially a matter of whether or not you fit into the tolerance level established within a certain community…
Sakamoto: So it’s possible to deviate from the norm and be radically natural at the same time. (laughs)
08. The Tale of the Bicycle
Sakamoto: This is a little off topic, but you wrote something like “It’s a brilliant story of the bicycle.” What does that mean? In the play with the eunuch, the young P’u-I is at the peak of ecstasy in front of the curtain, while the bicycle ridden by Peter O’Toole comes crashing in like a foreign object. The drama of light and shadow of the drapes is cut off at that moment…
Hasumi: Of course, when the bicycle appeared there, I felt a heavy excitement. But more than the image of the bicycle as an artifact of the western civilization, Bertolucci is essentially a man of the bicycle. He’s been depicting bicycles since his early works. And his bicycles are not bicycles that go across wide fields, but bicycles that fall down clumsily or go through tunnels. It’s a somewhat inconvenient bicycle. This time, too, the place where the boy P’u-I first rides the bicycle is on a very narrow pathway with high vermilion walls on both sides, and I was impressed that it was almost the same as The Conformist. I thought, “ah, here Bertolucci is doing the Bertolucci thing.” But in this film, the bicycle is finally used as a vehicle in modern China to let P’u-I enjoy a sense of freedom.
To begin with, a bicycle is a solitary vehicle and it’s hard to keep the balance on it, but I feel that Bertolucci went through a long tunnel and unexpectedly jumped out of it while riding a bicycle in modern China after the Cultural Revolution. I thought it was interesting as a kind of transversal “transportation,” that is, to go through the narrow alleys like tunnels in Parma on a bicycle, which sometimes led us to a psychoanalytical theme like a return to the womb. But this time, it is the bicycle that P’u-I, who is now free and working in the botanical garden, is riding. I mean, Bertolucci could have made P’u-I visually heroic with his impressive camerawork, but he didn’t do that, and put him on the bicycle dressed exactly like the crowd.
Sakamoto: For a moment, the emperor was lost in the crowd and I couldn’t see him. Until the camera comes back down quite a bit.
Hasumi: I wondered which one was him…. Of course, it was difficult to see him even in the detention facility, but when he went outside, I thought we would get a larger shot of him running alone in the open air, or a moving shot of him, or a bird’s eye view, but we didn’t. Bertolucci made him join the others.
However, when I realized that the bicycle in The Spider’s Stratagem was not gliding on the ground to reach the large mansion of Alida Valli, the father’s former mistress, but was going through that tunnel to make an unexpected appearance in the post-Cultural Revolution China. I was very impressed because I am an idiot. I thought, “Wow, we’ve come this far!” (laughs)
Sakamoto: The bicycle that the boy P’u-I received from Peter O’Toole may have been the first bicycle in China.
Hasumi: Yes, it was. It’s said that bicycles started to be sold commercially in Europe around 1860.
Sakamoto: I see.
Hasumi: It didn’t become an industry until almost the end of the century to 1900, however, so it’s pretty much correct to have that bicycle.
Sakamoto: So bicycle is a 20th century thing.
Hasumi: In Proust’s novels, at the end of the century, when girls first started playing tennis, there was a scene where all the women in long skirts were pushing bicycles. In my image, bicycles were associated with the end of the century and the beginning of the 20th century, but now they have successfully crossed over to China.
Sakamoto: It was perhaps during the 60s.
Hasumi: Bicycles made a breakthrough, didn’t they? What’s more, it’s amazing that this prominence was not turned into a melodrama. It makes me want to do a scene of P’u-I riding his bicycle all by himself in a big place.
Sakamoto: I’ll do it. (laughs)
Hasumi: I think anyone else would have done it, except Bertolucci. (laughs) It’s a picture-perfect openness…
Sakamoto: P’u-I was riding the bicycle in the Forbidden City, though.
Hasumi: Yes, he did. That’s why he rides alone, surrounded by walls.
Sakamoto: In a cul-de-sac like that…
Hasumi: It’s a cul-de-sac, a place where you don’t know where the other side is going to lead you, and it’s probably the place where the 8-year-old P’u-I suddenly said he is going to walk.
Sakamoto: That’s right. It’s a good scene.
Hasumi: I cried when he said that. But I can’t believe that the color of the wall was shot on location in China. Those are the colors of places like Parma and Bergamo. I had the feeling that they painted the walls in that color on purpose.
Sakamoto: Speaking of openness, the light in the last scene in the botanical garden gave me a sense of openness that I have never felt before. It was completely and only the natural light. Of course they used a reflector or something, but there was no lighting.
Hasumi: That’s a pity for the actors. (laughs)
Sakamoto: Why is that?
Hasumi: The actors were shot in such a way that they didn’t stand out.
Sakamoto: It’s the light that becomes the star of the show. After that, we visited the office of the garden and returned the bicycle. I was told that the bicycle belongs to a real employee of the botanical garden.
09. A Farewell to Godard
Sakamoto: P’u-I has been in a confined environment since childhood holding a puppet regime, and then he is confined in a prison again, and then transformed and freed as a citizen for the first time. It is also connected to the liberation of the light in the botanical garden, of course, the so-called “liberation.” But I think this is the first time Bertolucci has used this theme. This may be related to the issue of “gentleness” that I mentioned earlier. Did you feel surprised by that?
Hasumi: It’s not that I was surprised, but there always had been an alter ego in Bertolucci’s films before, so there will be a time when all relationships with the alter ego would have been settled. This time the protagonist has a younger brother as an alter ego, but I think this is Bertolucci’s first time to present a solitary hero. There is a sense of loneliness, as if even the mirror doesn’t reflect him. As I said before, he is a timeless being who grew up separated from the historical time, so he has to transform himself, and he is all alone even he is liberated, so there is little dramatic effect. I think it’s very different and interesting in this respect.
He didn’t even hope that he would suddenly meet a father-like alter ego on the way down to hell. In other words, he doesn’t have an unconscious expectation that something will be saved from the beginning. There is no such unconsciousness for him. In the sense that he may be a person who has been deprived of even the unconsciousness that creates drama by splitting up, he is not the Bertolucci of the past, that is, he does not kill something or overcome something to establish himself, but is easily released when he is no longer in his own role, and even the drama of his alter ego is taken away. I was impressed by that fact and was amazed that Bertolucci was able to capture a character without unconsciousness or memory. The story is told in a reminiscent style, and when the past comes back to life accompanied by Open the Door, P’u-I has already finished his role as emperor.
When I first heard that you was going to be in the film, I thought that Bertolucci was going to do a drama with John Lone and you as his alter ego. And when I heard that Mr. [Nagisa] Oshima was going to be in it, I thought that he would play the role of a father, but there was nothing like that at all.
Sakamoto: The prison warden is a bit of a father figure.
Hasumi: Yes, he was a bit like a father. But he would be a surrogate father, just like the nanny is a surrogate mother. He was a wonderful actor, and I was happy just to see his face.
Sakamoto: He is like both a father and a midwife. But he is cruelly betrayed during the Cultural Revolution. The real father is not a strong figure either, kneeling down pathetically. The boy emperor set off to the Forbidden City after this sad meeting. Some people say that the ending scene makes them feel relieved, but it’s not like that at all, it’s more like giving up, or a deep sense of resignation that there is nothing left for him. The inner puerility of John Lone fit in beautifully.
Hasumi: Bertolucci was once excommunicated by Godard. The father-like professor who was killed in The Conformist, his address and phone number during the exile in Paris was actually Godard’s. Godard was enraged seeing this, so Bertolucci was summoned to Paris in the middle of the night, waiting for him at a drugstore or some place like that. And he had a very interesting depiction of this event. He said, “Godard appears suddenly among the strollers in the darkness of Paris at night, as if he were a phantom.”
Then Godard handed a letter and left without saying a word. When Bertolucci opened the letter, he found a photo of Mao Tse-tung and on the back wrote, “Support Maoism!” That’s the letter of excommunication from Godard. When I watch The Last Emperor, it reminds me of this anecdote.
So there are people who are like fathers, and in Bertolucci’s case, Godard his elder brother. He was cut off from his brother as well. There was no father of cinema in Italy after that. So how could he make 1900? It was also a film about his alter ego and his father.
Sakamoto: When was the time Pasolini died?
Hasumi: Was it in 1975? Yes, that means Pasolini is already gone at that time. And Italy was still poor. There were many famous directors, but in France, Godard and [François] Truffaut played the role of two mutual enemies very well. Bertolucci could have played the role of the mutual enemies with Marco Bellocchio, but he was too poor to do so in Italy. In that sense, he may have already thought of himself as the “Last Emperor” then.
Sakamoto: He was a terrorist and the last emperor without a father.
10. Red Flag the Double-Edged Sword
Sakamoto: The red flag scene with the Red Guards made me think of Godard too. That’s why the criticism of the Cultural Revolution in that scene meant a complete break with Godard. But the scene of the Cultural Revolution is still very good.
Hasumi: It is. The dance scene in The Conformist showed some of Bertolucci’s musical talent, but in the scene with the Red Guards, he made it a musical in the open air.
Sakamoto: That was indeed a musical.
Hasumi: I wonder if there was a choreographer.
Sakamoto: I don’t know. What is clear is that the Red Guards on the screen are about 20 years old….
Hasumi: So the actors don’t know what it was like back then.
Sakamoto: They hadn’t been born yet, so there must have been choreographers who were Red Guards at that time, who were a little older than me. (laughs) I think it was well shot. There was also a small detail: the traffic lights in the close-up…
Hasumi: Yes, it’s in the foreground, and he shot it from a little above.
Sakamoto: There’s a big building behind the traffic lights, and there are red flags blowing in a line. That was not Bertolucci’s demand, but a service from the Chinese side to put up the red flags on that building.
Hasumi: Huh, I see.
Sakamoto: After all, this film is for China, too. They put a lot of thought into it. It’s ironic that it’s a scene of the Cultural Revolution.
Hasumi: Bertolucci must have felt that this was a definite break with a certain type of people.
Sakamoto: Also, I think that scene helped to bring China into the picture. At the same time, the leftists in Italy were the biggest target of criticism. It was Bertolucci’s way of showing the double-edged sword. It is also a sword pointing against the present.
Hasumi: So there is a scene in 1900 where the red flag is waving. Immediately after the liberation of Italy, there was a lot of criticism that this was not the case, however. But regardless of this, Bertolucci had the extra farmers wave the red flag at the end of the 11 months of filming to depict a sense of collective liberation. Certainly there might be the nuance of a farewell, but the sky is so blue outdoors that there is nothing else but the color red. There have been many films in which the red flag has been waved, but I think the one in which it is most beautifully done is 1900. I mean, I can’t imagine any other color waving there. I don’t think the Japanese flag would work. (laughs)
Sakamoto: The detachment of female Red Guards is also beautiful. In fact, when I met Bertolucci and went to China, my remaining fantasies about the Cultural Revolution were swept away. I guess it’s just an illusion of Maoism.
11. Tokyo is an Ominous Place for Films
Sakamoto: It was interesting to read the reviews in Italy. All the Italian left-wing film critics were disapproving of it.
Hasumi: Are they leftists of the Communist Party?
Sakamoto: I don’t know the details, but the criticism in Italy is not so different from that in Japan, and almost all the newspapers featured a big review. First of all, two thirds of the reviews that appeared on the first day were historical explanations. There was no mention of the film anywhere. The other third of the reviews were negative and said it was a propaganda film for the modern Chinese government.
Hasumi: I wonder if they are more like the anger from the New Left.
Sakamoto: I guess so. Bertolucci was half angry and half laughing, and he said, “It says, ‘I made a propaganda film!'” and blew it out.
Hasumi: It is still a good thing, however, if the film receives that much criticism immediately after screening. The Last Emperor had its world premiere in Japan at the Tokyo International Film Festival, right? But there was nothing in the Japanese newspapers the next day. (laughs)
Sakamoto: That was a surprise to me.
Hasumi: It was the biggest cultural event originated in Japan. As expected, Le Monde had a very major article on the cultural page from the Tokyo correspondent explaining the historical facts about five days after the screening.
Sakamoto: Then there is a lot of love for it in Italy.
Hasumi: I think there is more to it.
Sakamoto: The reviews for the premiere came out immediately the next day, which was the first day of general release. On the second day, the critics were already talking about John Lone and the music, so I think they had a lot of love for The Last Emperor there.
Hasumi: In Italy, film journalism is in the form of daily newspapers, and there are not many decent magazines such as Bianco e Nero, but there are many academic journals. Most of the film critics in Italy are film journalists, and some of my friends write for newspapers. It’s quite different from France in that respect. In France, whether it’s the Cahiers du Cinéma or anything else, the final evaluation is established by the reviews published in magazines. Of course, there are also newspaper articles, but in Japan, there are no such thing, so we are still a backward country. (laughs)
Sakamoto: It’s unbelievable that were no newspaper articles covering this film in Japan.
Hasumi: I think that the desire to see the films before anyone else has been suppressed by the Tokyo International Film Festival. There was an atmosphere at TIFF that we were not going to see Bertolucci at the NHK hall, and we would do it later anyway.
Sakamoto: I was also terribly disappointed with the color of Ran at the first TIFF. I later saw it on TV and was surprised to find that it was well-made. (laughs) This kind of thing really happens.
Hasumi: For that matter, Tokyo is the stage for a major global event. There were at least two major world premieres at the TIFF, Keep Your Right Up by Godard and The Last Emperor, but journalism stayed silent. There are no cultural symbols that Japan can be the origin of.
Sakamoto: At the time of the TIFF, I was expecting Fellini, Godard, Bertolucci or someone else to come, but no one came. I had been saying to Bertolucci for a long time that he should be there. He was also concerned about it. We all gathered in Jeremy [Thomas]’s room at the hotel that night, and when I called Bertolucci’s house in London, he was very anxious about the color, the reaction of the guests, and at what plot they laughed. He’s a very smart guy, so he knows how he has to behave when he comes to TIFF.
Hasumi: He was the jury then.
Sakamoto: He was talking about films in a passionate way, so of course he knew about it. I think that’s why he didn’t come.
Hasumi: There were about thirty names listed in information magazines like Pia saying who was coming and who was not, but almost all of them did not appear. They already know about the status of film in Tokyo. But Bertolucci, Godard, and Fellini, whose films were on revival, really should come. If we had tried hard to persuade them, we would have had them, but they ran away too quick. Tokyo is really ominous for films.
12. The Poverty of the Italian Film Industry
Sakamoto: I went to the premiere in Rome in October and realized the astonishing poverty of the Italian film industry. There are only two theatres in Rome playing this many films. Milan also has two, I think, and the whole of Italy…
Hasumi: I think there are about ten theatres.
Sakamoto: There are perhaps 20 in all. On such a scale, I thought it was strange that they had the budget to make a film. So, in terms of Italian cinema, The Last Emperor is really one of the great films of the decade.
Hasumi: It’s a huge, huge one. In fact, it took four years to make.
Sakamoto: It was a house record in the major theaters in Rome since La Dolce Vita. It’s almost like that all over Italy. So, in an amateur’s eyes like mine, Italian cinema seems to have come of age, but in reality, it’s incredibly poor. At that point, I really understood the feeling you mentioned earlier that, “Such a backward country!” I don’t think they even wanted to deal with it. I heard that Bertolucci’s family is Irish. So that may be a part of it. His father is a poet, and he is very famous in Italy for writing poems in English.
Hasumi: I heard that Bertolucci’s father always called the bedroom in English at home. He told me that during an old bedroom when he came to understand English afterwards. Now I see, he used English because he is of Irish descent. So you can trace his lineage back to John Ford and Raoul Walsh.
Sakamoto: He was said to be a great bard of English poetry. I remember Bertolucci saying that his father was always away from home. He said, “I don’t need a father.”
Hasumi: He’s the one who really needs to stand in the background.
Sakamoto: The father was immediately no longer needed after he took the three-year-old P’u-I to the front of Empress Dowager, and the next time he took the mother and younger brother to the palace, he left again by himself. In this film, the father is treated very coldly.
Hasumi: He has a film about shadows and alter egos called Partner, and The Spider’s Stratagem is also about alter egos, so I guess it’s the same story as 1900. This time it’s not about fathers and alter egos anymore.
Sakamoto: It’s not about fathers nor about Italy anymore. He has brought a house in London and moved there.
Hasumi: There is a woman always with him, or is she his wife? Is she British?
Sakamoto: She lives with him in both Rome and London, but I don’t think she was there when we were filming in China. She was also making a film at the same time.
Hasumi: I see.
Sakamoto: Her brother Mark Peploe also grew up in Italy and went to college in England, and is completely bilingual. They are living in London now, and almost everyone has left Italy behind.
Hasumi: I think only Italian critics will stay in Italy and all Italian writers will go abroad.
Sakamoto: The art director Ferdinando [Scarfiotti] has gone to LA, too.
Hasumi: And the Ship Sails On by Fellini was a big failure in terms of the merkmal, and for a while people said that Italian cinema was finished.
Hasumi: It is at an industrial standstill in a way that it is very difficult to recoup the money spent on it. After that, there were no good Italian filmmakers.
Sakamoto: Perhaps it was because of the poor state of the Italian film industry that they used the Beijing Film Studio to shoot even indoor sets. Most of the treasures that originally belonged to the Ch’ing Dynasty have gone to Taiwan. The former President Chiang Kai-shek’s army took them, and the Forbidden City was not very rich in content. That’s why it was necessary to use Chinese knowledge and techniques to recreate them, but…
Hasumi: Maybe the blood is thin there too. (laughs)
Sakamoto: That’s right.
Hasumi: The great Italian filmmakers can’t make films with only Italian capital these days.
Sakamoto: I guess so. But of course, they don’t like Hollywood, so Jeremy Thomas really played a big role in this. I think Bertolucci trusts him very much.
Hasumi: Films are not made by directors, but by producers nowadays.
13. The Rebellion Against Italian Cinema
Hasumi: The interesting thing about Bertolucci making The Last Emperor is that he almost knew that it would not be accepted in Italy anymore. Of course, it’s a big production, so there will still be audiences, and he wants them to come.
Hasumi: But he knows that people, especially the critics, will say harsh things.
I think there are two meanings to that. One is that there are very few decent Italian directors who have been able to live their whole lives in Italy. Rossellini, Bertolucci’s only father before Pasolini, was almost eliminated in Italy. Even Pasolini was killed by Italy. Bertolucci has a fear that if he is not killed, he might be a worse director than his fathers, so he is a person who always thinks he deserves to be killed.
There is another kind of international blockbuster that Italian directors are actively involved in, but are ultimately ashamed of. The Italian international blockbusters were made in the 1950’s when Hollywood was just beginning to break down. There is a bad memory in the minds of Italian artisan filmmakers. Sergio Leone, for example, did this with impunity, but it was unforgivable to the Neo-Realist generation.
Bertolucci is not the anti-Hollywood nationalist of Italy. And he’s clearly fighting against the Italian auteurs who want to make a community of Italian cinema. I think there is a part of The Last Emperor that is shot as if Hollywood people had gone into Cinecittà in the 50s. Of course, the fact that the dialogue is in English is also a factor.
By the way, I really like the fact that the whole film was shot in English, and I can’t answer the question why characters from the 8-year-old P’u-I to the officials during the Cultural Revolution are all speaking English with absolute calmness. In the blockbuster films made in Italy by Hollywood directors in the 1950s, whether it was a mythical Greek hero, a Roman emperor, or a Chinese empress, they all spoke English. So The Last Emperor is also a film that must be in English for Bertolucci, not because the producer Jeremy Thomas is British, of course. So the Italian version is still dubbed in Italian language?
Sakamoto: It’s a voice-over.
Hasumi: Voice-over, this is the way it has to be in Italy, but for Bertolucci, it is clearly a dubbed version, and the English version is the original one.
Hasumi: This is another point that should not be overlooked, although saying this me feel embarrassed, like a teacher telling you to look carefully. (laughs) First, the dying Empress Dowager speaks English. If anyone is looking for authenticity, they need to either stand up or laugh out loud.
Hasumi: If we accept that, let’s at least be consistent in our attitude.
Sakamoto: I thought exactly the same thing. (laughs) I as Amakasu saying “Hakko-ichiu” [Unify the Eight Corners of the World] in English is not that strange.
Hasumi: If people can’t accept that the Empress Dowager speaks English, they don’t need to see it. That’s the tradition of film.
Hasumi: What I wanted to say is that Bertolucci is definitely making a film where everyone speaks English, not as a compromise because it’s an international blockbuster.
Sakamoto: I think that’s very self-aware.
Hasumi: I like Italian films and Italian language, so I’m terribly upset when a film shot in proper Italian is being shown dubbed in English, but that’s a different matter. Is The Last Emperor a synchronized sound recording?
Sakamoto: Yes, it is.
Hasumi: So it was recorded synchronously in English. Is it also recorded synchronously at Cinecittà in Italy?
Hasumi: Is that so? So this is not an Italian style shooting at all. They rarely do synchronized sound recording in Italy. There are many theories regarding it, but according to Truffaut, no matter how many times the director shouts, “Silencio!” the Italians would never quiet down. So Bertolucci went against that tradition as well.
Sakamoto: Bertolucci indeed went against it. I wonder which practice is more common in Japan.
Hasumi: Now it seems that they are doing synchronous recording. How about Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence?
Sakamoto: It was synchronous recording, too.
Hasumi: I guess Italy and Taiwan are the countries where most of the films are made with dubbing. In the case of Taiwan, it’s clear from the beginning that the film will be converted into Mandarin, and there are many actors who speak Cantonese other than Mandarin, so they follow the request and do the voice-over.
Sakamoto: In some films, the actors are speaking in different languages. But in Last Tango in Paris, the French and English lines are well calculated.
Sakamoto: It’s also a rebellion in that sense.
14. The Moment That Can Only Be Called A Film
Hasumi: I would like to ask you about the music, since you also composed the film scores. I heard that you were able to create all the music for each of the themes right from the beginning, but what themes were omitted in the editing process?
Sakamoto: In terms of the themes I composed, they are the themes of the gate and the theme of farewell, which is almost a perspective one.
Hasumi: If you mean to be able to see beyond…
Sakamoto: It’s more like the perspective through a narrow alley between the walls. P’u-I always runs at the time of a farewell. At the time of parting with his nanny, he runs by himself, but he rides on the bicycle when he is parted from his mother. He always goes through that kind of perspective. Also, there was a “theme of the warden” that has been deleted. (laughs)
Hasumi: I see.
Sakamoto: This was completely rejected. It was the most difficult theme to create. It’s a complete fusion of Chinese and minimalist elements, but when you put it into the picture, the scene becomes unrealistic. It turned out to be a story, and the face of the warden would have been too much for me, so after discussing it with Bertolucci, I decided not to do it. There is also the “theme of the curtain.” Of course, it was the main theme at the coronation when he was three years old, and there are the drape game with the eunuchs and the bed scene. Actually, these two were similar, but they are different in the current version.
Then there are scenes of crowds and street protests, and I used the same material for the crowds. At first, when Peter O’Toole appeared, there was a student protest, and there is a scene where the Nationalist army comes in and all the students are gathered after that. I used the same theme for it.
But the theme was not as consistent as that of a music drama. For example, there are two main themes, a very minor one and a lyrical theme of the farewell, and they can both be used. I tried to apply one at the scene where John Lone is kicked out of the Forbidden City by the Nationalist Army, but both themes can fit in and I was having a hard time deciding it. Bertolucci told me to make a new one, and he said, “Use the main theme at the beginning, and make it a farewell theme in the middle.”
Hasumi: I wonder what he meant by that. I don’t really want to use that term, but this film is perhaps also a minimalist expression.
Sakamoto: I think so. It’s not that coherent. The film doesn’t really work like an opera in less than three hours. I thought that was the complexity of the film, and I was very impressed with it. (laughs)
Hasumi: So there is no flow.
Sakamoto: There is no flow.
Hasumi: The only sequence that I thought as flowing is when they go to the imperial villa and the nanny exposes her breasts and the eight-year-old P’u-I touches them.
Sakamoto: He’s facing the nanny…
Hasumi: It’s a wonderful scene. It was shot from inside the room, and then outside, and then from above the water. There is no dialogue in that scene.
Sakamoto: Just the playing of the court musicians there.
Hasumi: There is no dialogue, just the shots. No one is doing anything but following the young emperor with their eyes. The only thing that happens is that he touches the breast that was taken away from him. Just when I thought that the music and performance would be flowing on, it is cut it off.
Sakamoto: I was there during the editing, and Bertolucci was really strict. Naturally, there is a back and forth as to where to start and where to cut. It was not only a battle against time, but he was also very serious about how to cut the film.
Hasumi: You’ve seen La Luna, right?
Sakamoto: Yes, I saw it.
Hasumi: There are a lot of scenes that I like in it, but I feel that the film as a whole is a bit of a failure.
Sakamoto: It is.
Hasumi: Bertolucci completely made up for that mistake in The Last Emperor, even doing more than just a make-up. In La Luna, there were various conditions, such as the night and the moon rising, but here it is only daytime, and suddenly a nanny comes out and the boy touches her breast. Anyone who is not convinced by this scene would be considered as an idiot by me. (laughs) That is what I thought the film was about.
Sakamoto: The music in this scene is by the Chinese composer Ts’ung Su, and it is wonderful. There is a female court musician singing on the other side of the pond. She is a real singer and it was recorded right at the place.
Hasumi: Everything on the other side is well acted. I also like the boat.
Sakamoto: That boat is nice.
Hasumi: There is a mirror standing on it.
Sakamoto: It’s surprising to see.
Hasumi: I wonder where did they get that idea. For example, if you think about the storyline, since the mother has been taken away from the boy, it is quite natural to think that he really wants to touch her breast. However, the camera’s gaze is not focused on the boy. It is dispersed to show the corridor over there instead, or a boat coming out.
If it were a Japanese film, no, not only in Japan, I think it is the same with American and French films as well, the scene would end with just a big shot of the breast or a close-up of the boy’s face. They can’t put the camera in so many different directions and edit the shots precisely. This is what film is all about.
You can’t talk about it as it’s just P’u-I, who has become an emperor, is touching her boobs. (laughs) It doesn’t hook into the subject matter, or what people believe to be the story… That’s why it’s the most difficult part, but I was deeply moved by it.
Sakamoto: That’s cinematic.
Hasumi: I think that’s the moment that can only be called a film.
Sakamoto: In the previous scene, when P’u-I was a baby, the same nanny was feeding him, so it would have been fine to sneak into her small room and do it in a closed setting, but it is done by the pond.
Hasumi: By the pound in the broad daylight, and the buildings on the other side are blurry… It is breathtaking.
Sakamoto: Every musician there is watching. Isn’t it a bit too much?
Hasumi: The time and space are made within that moment.
Sakamoto: It’s hard to put into words, but Bertolucci has some kind of cinematic logic.
Hasumi: That’s true.
Sakamoto: There was a woman called Gabriella Cristiani editing the film with Bertolucci, and they seemed to have a logic. I didn’t really understand it because they spoke in Italian. But there’s also a logic to the music. It’s in timbre, in how many times a certain phrase is repeated and how many times it changes even in minimalist compositions. Only that this is not a language.
Hasumi: It’s not. I would like to know how it was written in the script. I think Godard is the only person in the world nowadays who can shoot a sequence which says, “This is a film.”
I think it’s an issue of how many of those moments of “Ah, the film is revealed through it.” Bertolucci is able to create those moments with both sharpness and subtlety. In other words, he is a man blessed with tremendous cinematic sensitivity. People without cinematic sensibility end up making films that don’t include a single sequence of revealing moments. We must seize film back from those insensitive ones.
An eight-year-old boy sucks the breast by a pond. And they’re facing each other.
Hasumi: Normally one of them would be asleep, the woman or the boy leaning on her breast. But both of them are standing there without a backrest. I wondered what it felt like. No one can do that.
Sakamoto: You could say it’s poetry. It probably has something to do with the fact that Bertolucci was once a poet.
Hasumi: I think so. The image carries the film along with it, and it’s not that he’s shooting an image that is faithful to the film. It is clear that the image precedes the film.
Sakamoto: I think that filmmakers who can’t create this moment are in the wrong medium. I think they should just write. (laughs) There is no need to spend a lot of money to let them make films.
Hasumi: When I see the cinematic moments, I feel like living in luxury and can forgive anything that happens. But for a film that doesn’t have such moments, for example, Good Morning, Babylon, which was relatively well-received and may become one of the best films of 1987, is unforgivable from its beginning to the end. (laughs)
Sakamoto: Impressive. (laughs)
15. The Bizarre Movement of the Camera
Sakamoto: As for the cinematic sensibility, we call that excess, or what spills over from the narrative structure, “rocking”. I think Bertolucci is unmistakably a “rock and roll” director.
When Amakasu dies, the camera pans the wall, and then it goes to Yoshiko Kawashima, the Eastern Jewel. The next time the gunshot rings out, it catches Amakasu again, but there is a lot of wasted camerawork. In the palace of Manchukuo, P’u-I is driving back in triumph after meeting the Japanese Emperor. There is a scene where he is surprised that his guards don’t have guns, but the movement of the camera as it follows the car from the gate to the porch is also bizarre.
Hasumi: There is the scene where the fallen leaves are dancing around at first.
Sakamoto: The flow of the camera moving up and down, left and right, is incredibly odd.
Hasumi: The ground there is wide with little of the sky shown in the frame. And since there is a porch, I thought the car should go straight, but it went around in a strange way. (laughs) There are many scenes of leaves blowing in the wind at the beginning of The Conformist which is also very memorable, but it’s just the beginning. It’s an introduction, so it describes the atmosphere and an indication of the winter season. But in The Last Emperor, a car suddenly appears and goes around in a peculiar way, on the wide ground with dead leaves flying around. It doesn’t go on before or after that at all. I knew he had a scene that had to be shot.
Sakamoto: Bertolucci only gave rather simple instructions supervising the film crew. Say “go like this,” and they would understand and do it immediately. If they don’t get it, [Vittorio] Storaro would jump in and say, “the car will move like this and go like this.” He would measure the distance and tell the crew, “move here.” Whether they understood it or not, the Italian crew was quick to respond.
Hasumi: I think Bertolucci’s films are divided into Pre-Storaro and Post-Storaro. The crews are all the same during the Post-Storaro era.
Sakamoto: I think so.
Hasumi: Otherwise, no matter how much he wanted to create such an effect, it wouldn’t come out so easily. And yet, the scenes where you can gaze far into the distance are all done shielded by the walls, so everyone understands the intention of this project.
Sakamoto: That’s right. I was really hoping to get a copy of the script with Storaro’s writing on it.
Hasumi: You should steal it… (laughs) Storaro the man, according to what Bertolucci said, came from a very poor family, like every Italian cameraman. His father was a projectionist in a theatre. He said that’s how he started watching movies. And when you look at him, you would notice that he has a nice face.
Sakamoto: A nice face.
Hasumi: It’s all about the face in life, after all. (laughs) It’s not about the surface, but a face that says that he will take care of everything.
Sakamoto: Did you feel that there was anything different about Storaro?
Hasumi: I felt that there would be a lot more moving shots and panning than in the past. All the stations in the introduction part are pans, so I wonder if there was some moving shots as well. Obviously, the camerawork was done in accordance with the director’s intention. I felt that he must have had a “Kenji Mizoguchi” mindset.
Sakamoto: Bertolucci shouted “Mizoguchi!” loudly at the beginning of the film, when the three-year-old P’u-I was summoned back to the palace, and the messenger came in through the gate with a bang. The nanny and the mother hurriedly prepared themselves, then the mother carried P’u-I and moved swiftly across the corridor. “This is Mizoguchi!” Bertolucci shouted to himself, “Put Mizoguchi’s music here!” (laughs)
Hasumi: It’s a bit like the farewell in Sansho the Bailiff.
Sakamoto: The girls come across the corridor, then to the front. The soldiers suddenly kneel down, and the mother and child look like a statue of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ, so to speak. That’s when the music starts to play loudly. (laughs)
Hasumi: I think it’s the most Mizoguchi thing he has ever done. The camera moves a lot in Last Tango in Paris and also used crane shots. But this time, the movement is more noticeable, especially when they are coming out of the room, which I thought was very Mizoguchi-like.
Sakamoto: The photographer Kazumi Kurigami said that there were many surprises in the camera’s movements, but what surprised me the most this time was that they were not allowed to do this normally. There is a scene where the royal consort leaves the palace and Eastern Jewel comes to take her place. In the scene where she leaves, she runs from the inside of the house while the camera captures her behind the railing. Because the railing is in the form of a grid, as the camera gradually speeds up, the picture that has been cut off emerges like a revolving lantern. Then the camera goes down and again shots over the railing as it follows Eastern Jewel’s car. The railing has a grid pattern, so as the cameraman speeds up, the picture that had been cut off like a running horse comes up. It’s unusual for him to be so persistent, to capture the subject behind over and over again.
Hasumi: That’s the point.
16. Time for Music and Time for Images
Sakamoto: That’s my favorite part, both in terms of composition and personal feelings. I carried the tape from Tokyo to London and played it to Bertolucci and his crew while watching the video, and they all stood up and shouted, “Perfetto! Perfetto!” It was the easiest to make, and the only score that comes out that way. The royal consort inserts the letter in and runs down the stairs. The maid chases after her, but she goes outside anyway. There was a key change, and I used a computer to calculate the number of beats when put on the music, so that the time of the music and the time of the frames of the film were close to one thousandth of a second. It’s a perfect match there.
The duration of the music and the time between cuts of the film worked really well together. Normally, the music has a certain tempo, but since there are so many frames, I had to slow down the tempo a little bit, which I did in many places. In musical terms, I want this duration, but since the film is like this, I’ll slow it down. That would make it longer. That’s why I was really happy when I got the perfect match for that scene.
But after that, she said, “I don’t need an umbrella,” and runs into the rain. Just as she is about to disappear, the car of Eastern Jewel comes in. The suddenness of that scene is unbelievable. The car didn’t come in from the porch, but from the lawn. So, of course, the car was waiting.
Hasumi: That feeling is a bit like film noir. When something is over, it comes to you like you’ve been waiting for it, and I feel like it’s a scene I’ve been preparing for.
Sakamoto: It’s the style.
Hasumi: The style. You can’t do something like that all of a sudden, it’s strange.
Sakamoto: Obviously. It’s completely unnatural.
Hasumi: They do that kind of thing without hesitation.
When you add music to a film like that, there are many things you can do, like the sound of a door or a curtain flapping in the wind. Did you specify such things from the beginning? I mean, I think even the sound of the wind is artificially exaggerated, but I wonder if Bertolucci was aware of the relationship between sound effects and music from the beginning.
Sakamoto: I had to specify all the parts that were related to the story, such as the sound of the protest from outside, but other than that, there was almost nothing. The video that was given to me for the music had sound effects and dialogue, however, therefore, I had to tell him that I didn’t want those parts. For example, in the first scene at the station, the sound of the steam, and of course the sound of the locomotive, is already very full of music.
Hasumi: Yes. And then there is the sound of footsteps.
Sakamoto: That’s why the music is on there, but it’s also a little bit of fun for me to put sounds in the music that respond to the sound of steam. The sound of steam in the sound effect and the sound of steam in the music create a melody and rhythm. I was very pleased with this.
Also, in the coronation ceremony of the three-year-old P’u-I, the music was still playing until P’u-I turned the curtain. As soon as he turns the curtain and looks outside, the music disappears. There was actually a grand main theme, but it was taken away in a spectacular way. “Your music kills the image.” I was told so and was completely suppressed by Bertolucci.
Hasumi: So there is an Oedipal relationship.
Sakamoto: There is.
The third actor who played the boy P’u-I is dining in the courtyard when he hears the sound of a protest outside the wall. The camera slides behind him as he presses his ear against the ground, and turns to the left to capture the building right before he climbs over the wall. Of course, he never climbs over it. The camera is moving in a very musical way. The music should start when the emperor bends down and the camera goes over him. Actually, the score was made that way, but it was never used. In other words, the movement of the camera works well enough with the music, so the music is not necessary.
17. Child Actors and Joan Chen
Hasumi: Also, I’d like to rewatching it again-there are three child actors, I wonder if it’s possible to tell which scene is the end of each child.
Sakamoto: I can’t remember.
Hasumi: They overlap when I try to recall.
Sakamoto: My impression is that all the actors have changed, but John Lone is the only one who appeared unnaturally.
Hasumi: What I find interesting is that there is no moment for us the audiences to say goodbye to each of the children. The kids leave without the kind of excitement that you’d expect from a film that ends at this point, so I felt a painful reluctance like my hair pulled from behind, and had to watch it once again and again. But strangely enough, there are people who claim that they are film enthusiasts but then say child actors are not interesting. I think all the three child actors are superb. They will never be able to do that again. Their faces will be completely different, their voices also…
Sakamoto: I especially like the second one.
Hasumi: Me, too.
Sakamoto: “The Emperor Will Walk.” (laughs) I love that part to death. And there are eunuchs standing slumped against the wall in the background of his close-up.
Hasumi: But when I tell people that the second one is good, they are not that impressed and just say, “Well it’s good.”
Sakamoto: The breast scene, I knew it had to be the second child…
Hasumi: That’s right. He’s excellent. It’s not just the child that’s wonderful, it’s the whole image that’s constructed.
Sakamoto: I certainly can’t say good-bye to him.
Hasumi: We can’t.
Sakamoto: The scene of the prison is usually inserted at the end of the film.
Hasumi: Right, that’s how it works. And because I didn’t do a lot of going back to the past, I can’t remember the overlap.
Also, I want to talk about the actress Joan Chen. The scene where her character is gradually weakened by drugs is really good. When I say something is good, there are not many people who would agree with me. (laughs) But I understand Bertolucci’s intention to show that part. It’s “withering away” and “degeneration of the existence.” She seems to be contracting, and her facial expression becomes more and more unusual.
Sakamoto: I wonder where she gets the idea of eating the flowers.
Hasumi: I’m curious.
Sakamoto: She was really eating them. Actually, David Bowie eats a flower in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Surely it’s not from there! (laughs)
Hasumi: I was thinking of the same thing, but when she eats it, all I feel is that I want to be the flower. (laughs) Also, it’s a little bit far away from the camera, like a past shot. I don’t think it would be good if it was done in a close-up.
Sakamoto: It was a close-up in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.
Hasumi: The distance between the camera and Joan Chen is exquisite. That’s why the semantic effect is weakened to a certain extent, that it’s not just a woman eating a flower. It’s good to filter the semantic effects according to the distance to the subject in that way.
Sakamoto: It would be literary if it was a close-up.
Hasumi: Yes. When it’s close-up, it becomes avant-garde in the style of contemporary British cinema.
Sakamoto: I see.
Hasumi: That’s what was avoided in The Last Emperor. So the beauty of that film is not only what it captures, but also what it avoids capturing. If you don’t understand that, it’s hard to enjoy the film. So this film is a bit difficult for people who are frustrated by the lack of Chinese scenery. It’s no good because it has nothing to do with NHK.
18. The Heaven-Sent Child of Italian Cinema
Hasumi: Bertolucci was born in 1941, right? The year 1941 or 42 is one of the best years in the history of Italian cinema.
Hasumi: Instead of saying it’s a good time, it’s rather when Italian cinema started to change. If you watch Italian films for a long time, you’ll see that they suddenly changed in 1942. De Sica made The Children Are Watching Us, and then Alessandro Blasetti made Four Steps in the Clouds. Then there was the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who came out and started to make films during World War II which were different from the historical dramas and comedies that had been made up to that point, and in line with the Neo-Realism. One year before that, in 1941, Rossellini made his debut. Then there was The Postman Always Rings Twice by Visconti.
I think it’s a great gift to be born in such time, and I think that the year 41 or 42 is a year that no one should ever forget in the history of Italian cinema.
Sakamoto: I see.
Hasumi: I think it was in 1940 that Visconti published his famous essay Corpses. It’s a very short piece that says, “Nowadays, when you go to a film company, most of the people in the company speak a language we don’t understand, they’re all corpses.”
Sakamoto: That’s amazing.
Hasumi: They started to make completely different films after that, such as The Postman Always Rings Twice. Anyway, in my opinion, Visconti’s film was the first time in the history of world cinema that a sleeveless undershirt appeared in a film. Everyone was dressed up, but then this really sweaty, strange guy came out, and that was in ’41. It was almost impossible to show this film because of censorship, but the next one, made by De Sica and then Alessandro Blasetti, will last until the end of time. What’s interesting is that Corpses written by Visconti was published in a film magazine whose owner was Mussolini’s son.
Hasumi: Mussolini’s son Vittorio played an important role in Italian cinema in the 40s. Rossellini said, “Children cannot choose their father, he was a good guy.” He was originally put into the film industry as a producer for fascist propaganda by his father, but the various fascist mechanisms drove leftist intellectuals there.
This Mussolini, who was probably a good guy, became one of them. (laughs) So he published Visconti in a magazine called Cinéma, and produced Rossellini. The U.S. started to attack Italy in ‘43, and ’43 and ’44 were not good years. ’41 was the best year, and Bertolucci was conceived then, so to speak. This was a great talent. (laughs) I think he was aware and proud of the fact that he was born in that period of Italian cinema.
It was a time of change, a time of great potential, and it was already the year of the post-war revolution even still during the World War II. There are no good writers who were born around the same time as Bertolucci. Bertolucci and Bellocchio were born around the same time, and other children born out of sexual intercourses during the messy period of World War II were excluded from films. (laughs) He is the only one who was gifted with the excellent time of ’41, and his fascist period was not foolproof.
19. Shooting Manchuria in Mussolini’s Building
Sakamoto: I asked Bertolucci, “Why are your films full of fascism, for example, in automobiles, architecture, and crowds?” He didn’t give a direct answer but said, “When I was a child, my father used to take me to see Mussolini’s fascist buildings. I used to think it was ugly when I was small, but now that I see it again, I think it’s really post-modern and find it’s amusing.”
Hasumi: That’s why I’m sure it was Bertolucci who made the set in Amakasu’s office look like this.
Sakamoto: There is no doubt of it. And he knows I made a futurist record. (laughs) I asked Scarfiotti about the wall and he said that he liked it so much that he took part of the wall back to his house.
After P’u-I goes to Japan to meet the emperor and returns, he gives a speech at the Imperial Conference. He says that Manchukuo is an independent country, not a colony, so Amakasu gets angry and leaves his seat. The general staff of the Kanto Army and the ministers of Manchukuo also have left, and the building where he is sadly giving his speech alone was also built by Mussolini in Rome.
Hasumi: Ah, I didn’t know that.
Sakamoto: It is a wonderful building.
Hasumi: Mussolini is still in that film.
Sakamoto: Yes. The orange stained glass in the background is an odd lighting color, but the design is from the original building. There is a mural on the ceiling that doesn’t appear on the screen, it’s all about Italian fascism.
Hasumi: I see, I see. So they shot Manchukuo in Mussolini’s building.
Sakamoto: The reality is discarded.
Hasumi: It’s unnatural. (laughs)
Sakamoto: It’s certainly unnatural even in an environment like Rome, but it’s a very nice building itself. The dance scene in T’ienchin is in a city hall in the northern Italian countryside near Milan, in a summer resort like Karuizawa.
Hasumi: So he had a good chance to shoot Manchuria in Italy.
Sakamoto: He certainly had. (laughs)
Hasumi: And he thought he could depict the Japanese colonies through the fascism of Italy…
Sakamoto: He had already made up his mind.
Hasumi: I guess so. After all, Mussolini was the creator of Italian cinema. (laughs)
Sakamoto: There is a town called Salsomaggiore.
Hasumi: Where is it?
Sakamoto: It’s near the south of Milan, I think. I was taken to Parma by Bertolucci, where his birthplace is located. It’s in the countryside, a bit like Ome in Tokyo. There was a single restaurant where Bertolucci used to go since he was a child, and there were commemorative photos of him all over the walls of that restaurant. All the aunties there seemed to have known him since he was a boy. There was also a house nearby where Verdi used to live, and when we all stopped the car to go in, Bertolucci told me, “Verdi doesn’t like Japanese composers, so you can’t go in there.” (laughs)
Hasumi: Was the ball scene where he is inaugurated as the emperor of Manchukuo shot on location in Italy?
Sakamoto: That’s a real palace of Manchukuo.
Hasumi: The second floor is an atrium.
Sakamoto: There’s a balcony from which you see P’u-I running after his wife who was being forced to leave him by Amakasu in a snow day. This palace is now a museum. Of course, it must have been built in a prime location in Manchukuo then, but now the area around the palace has become a slum. The Chinese turned it into a slum in order to discredit Manchukuo after the war. It was a terrible place to live, a bit like that downtown area in Blade Runner. It’s really just a place where carriages and carts come and go.
When we were shooting the scene on the balcony of the palace, we could hear the chimes ringing from the nearby school in the evening, the signal of class dismissed just like those in Japan. Bertolucci was delighted and said, “Record this!” I don’t think we used that sound, but at the end of the film, while P’u-I is buying a ticket to the Palace Museum after the Cultural Revolution, there is a scene of a big square where the music of zither comes out of nowhere. It was recorded accidentally. The Forbidden City is now a museum, so the music is played at regular intervals. That’s the sound you hear in the film. It is really good.
The film ends with a scene that foreign tourists are coming in after that. I thought this way of ending is as violent as amazing. China had not yet opened up in 1967, so when the guard boy turns around, he sees that P’u-I is gone. The flow of time completely disappeared.
Hasumi: So you can also think of it as modern times.
20. Bertolucci, the Last Emperor
Sakamoto: I don’t mean to conclude, but this film is rather “the last” for Bertolucci, still, is it conceived with some other new innovation at the meantime?
Hasumi: I don’t know if he himself intends to innovate or not, but it’s clearly different from his previous films, so I can’t say for sure that it’s a ritual for the final touch. I mean, I have no idea what kind of film he will make next, perhaps something set in Italy, or something borderless.
The other thing is that this is a film about a metamorphosis. In other words, it’s unwise to make something like The Conformist again. Now the year 1990 is approaching, and that film was made in the 1960s when Bertolucci was young with swelling confidence, so it’s naive of the audience to expect the same thing from him now. The reason why The Conformist is so popular now is because the retro boom came to Japan somewhat late, and I think the joy with it is actually reactionary. The Last Emperor, however, is a film that the post-modernists of today should have jumped on, although surprisingly they didn’t. Minimalist artists also could have done that, but they didn’t take on. This means that film cannot be post-modern, nor can it be minimalist art.
Sakamoto: Contemporary music died with minimalism in the same way. I feel that this is the borderline.
Hasumi: In The Last Emperor, Bertolucci is just saying the obvious, “I’m a filmmaker.” He doesn’t call himself a historian by any means. I think that being a filmmaker means two things. First, as you said earlier, a film is a film, so it can’t be different from reality. And he can organize the space and time that are supposed to become a film.
If people who can’t organize these things make films, then whether he wins or not, he will always be able to reign in the film as the undisputed Last Emperor. It’s a statement of attitude to others that what they are making is not film at all.
I think that’s one of them. And the other one might be a little darker. But I think he has a premonition that there will be fewer and fewer subjects and opportunities for him to say that he is a filmmaker. Unlike the writers of previous eras who thought they could make films forever, if he is blessed with the opportunity to make a film, each time must be a kind of adventure. In this case, it’s the adventure in China, and I don’t think he’s convinced that he’ll be able to do it for the next ten years. And by “the next ten years”, I mean the 21st century…
So, while he was aware of the 21st century, he wondered if he could make it to the 21st century as a filmmaker. It’s not only about how many years he can actually live, but also whether the films can live up to the 21st century. I’m not sure about that now. There is a dark side to this.
Sakamoto: I strongly feel the last point in particular. I don’t know anything about cinema as a whole, but as long as I’ve known Bertolucci, I can’t help but think that he is very conscious of the fact that there are really no filmmakers left, that he is the last one, the last generation.
Hasumi: So when young filmmakers make a little hit, I don’t think he feels any jealousy or ostracized at all. It must be lonely for a creator to not feel like being pushed up from below by others.
For example, if Mr.Takemitsu [Toru] were here and a certain Sakamoto says something like, “Kill Takemitsu!” He would be happy to hear that. (laughs)
Sakamoto: Well, no kidding.
Hasumi: But there is no one who could give him such joy. There still isn’t. He is really “The Last Emperor.”
Sakamoto: That’s what’s folded into the wall of Amakasu’s office. When Bertolucci said that the 20th century cinema in whole is one film, I think he meant to say that the entirety of 20th century cinema is contained in The Last Emperor. There are very few people who can do that anymore.
That’s why I have a strong passion for cinema, and it may not be cool to say “I am cinema,” but I can see it by looking at that mural. I can see that the entire 20th century is folded in. The 20th century is all folded up, and when I think that it was made in the late 80s, I deeply feel that it is really the last.
To put it very crudely, if Bertolucci’s thoughts are entrusted in both “The Last” and “The Emperor”, then the 20th century will be the century of fascism. Cinema is fascism, after all. I feel that the two meanings of this film are parallel to the awareness of the last.
Hasumi: What is most lacking in the history of cinema today is that Italian cinema during the period of fascism is hardly registered in it. As many people have said, Italian films from the 1910s and from 1945 onwards could make history on their own right.
It is also interesting to look at the fascist period, however. There was not necessarily a series of propaganda films, but with some exceptions of melodrama, adventure films, historical costume plays, etc. There were some very aesthetic films. Visconti’s first film, although aesthetic as well, is rather far from such ideals. It is interesting to know that such a strange disorder existed during the period of fascism in Italy, and although it is said that Japanese cinema was at its peak in the 1950s, it may actually have been at its peak in the 1940s. Hollywood films were definitely at their peak in 1930. That’s because they were made by people who had all fled Germany.
In that way, as you said, the period of fascism was the peak of cinema, and only through fascism did people discover the true pleasure of cinema. So if we want to rebuild cinema now, there is no choice but for some part of it to become fascist again. (laughs)
Sakamoto: We need to accumulate wealth and value.
Hasumi: Fascist and the 20s in Italy were totally useless for films. In fact, the real futurist era was a disaster, but it became rather very interesting in the 30s.
Sakamoto: It was after the Futurists surrendered to Fascism.
Hasumi: That’s right. And that was when Bertolucci’s father and mother were making love, using English or something. (laughs)