No story about love and loss stirs the soul the way that of Yasuo Takamatsu does. After losing his wife to the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the 58-year-old has been on an endless search for her body in the waters of Onagawa, hoping to bring her back home.

Yasuo Takamatsu at 77 Bank Memorial Shrine (Photo by Jon Chan)

Moved by his story, Wesley Leon Aroozoo – a filmmaker with 13 Little Pictures and lecturer at LASELLE  penned a novel and even directed a documentary titled I Want to Go Home that premiered at the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). He tells us more in this interview.

How did you get started in filmmaking?

I started dabbling with stop motion animations and making amateur short videos when I was in primary five. It happened by luck as my sister and I won a Sony HI-8 Handycam videocorder through a Chocolate Wrapper lucky draw.

Jon Chan filming Yasuo Takamatsu (Photo by Wesley Leon Aroozoo)

We used to make these embarrassing videos as kids (you can check one of them out here). Later on, I studied filmmaking at Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Technological University, and eventually pursued my Master of Fine Arts degree at NYU Tisch Asia.

What inspired you to write a book and make a documentary about the life of Yasuo Takamatsu?

I first read about Mr Takamatsu on the Daily Telegraph in 2013, and his story touched me greatly. After tracking down the journalist who wrote the article, she connected me with Mr Takamatsu. He and I then communicated via emails for a year with the help of our translator Miki Hawkinson.

Left to right: Miki Hawkinson, Yasuo Takamatsu, Wesley Leon Aroozoo, Jon Chan

My intention was just to speak to him at first, but later on, the idea for a documentary and book surfaced. He was a big inspiration to me, and I hope that I could inspire others as well through my film and novel. l also hope to raise awareness for better safety evacuation methods during natural disasters.

You and your film crew went to Onagawa in Japan to shoot this documentary. How did you acquire the funding for this endeavour?

It was very difficult to get funding and I was turned down numerous times by funding organisations locally and abroad. Thankfully, the Next Masters Support Program by TOKYO FILMex provided the initial funding to kick start the project. IMDA also came through for development assistance.

Yasuo Takamatsu leaves diving suit out to dry (Photo by Jon Chan)

Other organisations chipped in as well. Panasonic and GoPro assisted with equipment, and Hilton and Mercure sorted our accommodations while we were in Japan. There was also help from Parrot Drones, Quatra Rad and Samsonite. I’m very thankful they believed in this project.

What were some of the challenges you faced during your week of filming in Onagawa?

It was raining very heavily and consistently even though it was the summer season. I brought my summer clothes but found myself drenched and feeling cold all the time.

Jon Chan and Wesley Leon Aroozoo filming in the rain

On a brighter note, Mr Takamatsu was a very kind and hospitable man. During my stay in Onagawa, he drove my crew and I everywhere. He was very cooperative and wasn’t hesitant about any aspect of the filmmaking process.

His search for his late wife required you to shoot underwater. What was your artistic vision for the documentary?

I wanted a flexible organic approach to its development. I also wanted to be experimental, which is something I feel strongly about whenever I create something new.

Yasuo Takamatsu in search of his wife (Photo by Jon Chan)

The documentary includes children’s paintings, animation from (local filmmakers) the Zhuang Brothers, and stock footages of the aftermath of the disaster by contributors in Japan.

How does it feel to have your film be an official selection at BIFF?

It’s a fantastic feeling and I am so happy for the small team behind the film. BIFF is such a huge festival and a great platform to share Mr Takamatsu’s story. The Korean audience were really nice and I am happy that they enjoyed the film. It was well received, I think.

Yasuo Takamatsu returns from diving (Photo by Jon Chan)

Why did you decide to write an accompanying novel?

Actually, it’s a novel with an accompanying documentary. The novel was always the primary project and in my opinion the more in-depth and better project of the two. I felt that sharing his story as such was the best way to get his message across.

The documentary came about as a companion piece for readers, but it unexpectedly took a life of its own and did much more than I could have expected or ever hoped for. I never thought it would be in a festival, least of all a big festival like BIFF.

What prompted your decision to make it a dual-language novel?

With it written in English and Japanese, I hope to share the novel with Singaporeans and the people of Japan, especially Mr Takamatsu who only understands Japanese. The book is not available in Japan yet, but Math Paper Press which published the book is finding a way to making that happen.

Yasuo Takamatsu’s wedding picture (Photo by Jon Chan)

What would you like people to take away from your documentary and novel?

I hope that people will be able to take comfort and inspiration from Mr Takamatsu. Sometimes in life, things turn upside down and no one believes in you, so I hope that the book and film will give people assurance to do what they believe in.

 

  • Order the book here
  • Check out the next screening of I Want to Go Home at the Singapore International Film Festival


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Arman Shah

A former travel writer with fond memories of solo adventures in Southeast Asia, Arman is now Founder of The Everyday People. He's also the co-host of Channel Empathy, a podcast about the marginalised in Singapore.