HUMAN ODYSSEY —A Journey Through Creation

Seven Authentic Documentaries By Hermès And Hiroshi Okuyama

HUMAN ODYSSEY —A Journey Through Creation

Seven Authentic Documentaries By Hermès And Hiroshi Okuyama

When was the last time you genuinely traveled without any reservations or constraints? The original film series “Human Odyssey: A Journey Through Creation” to be released by Hermès this October will stir up your longing for such past journeys. As perhaps the last opportunity for Hermès to express their year-long theme ‘An Odyssey—long adventures, wandering journeys’, it was decided to produce the short film series in Japan. Indeed, it is the first time for Hermès Japon to produce footages of this kind. The young film director, Hiroshi Okuyama, 25 years old, was chosen for the project. Presently in the middle of production, we’ve asked him what authentic documentary based on travels he wishes to create, at this moment in time.


Meeting Travelers at Places Where They Want to Go

“In April this year, I received an email from Hermès stating that they wanted to make a film,” Okuyama recalls. “We immediately had a meeting to discuss it. Traveling was the underlying theme, so I proposed we make an ‘authentic documentary’ series; I felt that a pure documentary format, rather than a scripted reality show, would be more appropriate for this project. We worked out the plan, selected individuals who should be featured, chose the film locations from the list of where the selected people wanted to go, and finally decided on the Hermès items to be featured at the end of the video. It’s the complete opposite of the normal workflow of making a corporate film—it’s rare to be able to do this kind of production in this day and age. I think I was given a unique opportunity.”
The destinations were found all over Japan, from Hokkaido to Miyakojima. Tane visited Sankaku-ya, an organization that continues to produce Japanese architecture based on the “tentative assembly” method, in which buildings are built to near completion in their Kutsuki Factory, then disassembled and brought to the site for reassembly in Shiga Prefecture; Daichiro Shinjo visited Mieko Sunakawa, a weaver and dyer who continues to preserve the tradition and technique of Miyako jofu, a fabric—everything from threads to dyes—made exclusively from natural materials; and Sousuke Ikematsu visited Shobu Gakuen in Kagoshima, whose craftsmanship has touched many people beyond the framework of welfare.

Ikematsu visits the space of free expression. Within the school, there are workshops and music facilities.

In each case, craftsmanship is tied to the place where the traveler wishes to go, and the camera captures unscripted, chance stories that happen there. “Some had a clear destination, while others did not,” says Okuyama. “For example, Mr. Takahashi said, ‘I’m interested in things that ulitize new technology and innovation rather than the so-called traditional crafts,’ so we decided on a shipyard that takes an innovative approach to the traditional way of building Japanese ships. While there is a tradition of unobtrusively continuing and keeping what has been handed down, there is also a tradition of inheriting craftsmanship while incorporating innovation. To be honest, I was not sure how far the concept of craftsmanship should expand to, but I didn’t want to make videos introducing craftsmen with the travelers as guides; the travelers must be the main characters.That’s why we needed to go where the individuals chose to go. It was pertinent in creating a genuine and authentic documentary series where the travelers play the leading roles.”

Sankaku-ya, where Tane visited, handles everything from materials to design to construction.


Being an Authentic Documentary

Why did Okuyama insist on creating an authentic documentary in the first place? Okuyama says that his own personal experience was the starting point. “When I was planning the film, I suddenly wondered if I had ever traveled this way,” he explains. “A young traveler posing questions to his predecessors—is this something that really happens outside of TV shows? When I looked back, I remembered the time I went to the Stockholm International Film Festival. I like Roy Anderson’s films and advertisements; I admire the beauty of his compositions and the way he sticks to his guns. I’d heard that Roy Anderson’s studio was nearby and visited him three times; finally got to meet and talk to him on my third try—and I did ask him this question: What inspires you?”
Reflecting on his own experience, Okuyama was convinced. He absorbed the spirit of ‘observational cinema’ via directors Kazuhiro Soda and Frederick Wiseman. While for some it was a day trip, for others the journey lasted four to five days. In an effort to bring authentic documentaries to life, the ‘Ten Commandments of Human Odyssey’ was created for the production staff: Don’t get tied down by a schedule; don’t miss the traveler’s discovery; don’t force things into a story. These rules give us a glimpse of what we are aiming for. “I wanted to create a film series that followed philosophy and spirituality, rather than one that embodied my philosophy. While working on this film, I’ve been questioning what ‘authentic’ means. I haven’t reached an answer yet, but I knew that I didn’t want to use narrations. I’m working on the music with Shuta Hasunuma, which is still in the works, but I want to abstain from using emotional sounds. People tend to think that documentaries always reflect the truth, but when the camera is pointed at you, any person will start to act; and when the film is cut or edited, a third person’s point of view can come into play. We, the filmmakers, must be aware of this—and what we can do is to be as sincere as possible to the truth of what we captured,” explains Okuyama.

There are musical exchanges such as Ainu traditional dance and improvisation sessions in Nibutani.


Filmmaking is a Journey in Itself

Along with the travelers, the production team also traveled together. “When producing something, I feel more secure making it with my usual crew because I can imagine the results,” says Okuyama. “However, one of the themes of this project is encountering people through travel, so I approached talents I had never worked with before, hoping that this would be the case for myself and the staff too.” The names of the art directors are Yoshiaki Irobe and Naonori Yago, Masumi Ishida was chosen as the still photographer, and Nao as a collage artist.
“I felt it takes a lot of determination and will to shoot a film on the theme of travel in this day and age, “Okuyama continues. “The first person I met was Mr. Shinjo, a calligrapher. He told me that he used to love traveling abroad; but while returning to his home island of Miyakojima to continue his work during the pandemic, he ‘traveled within’. When I was in college, I majored in Greek mythology, the Iliad, and read the Odyssey stories. So when I heard those words, I felt that the story of the hero Odysseus returning to his home after a long journey overlapped with his words. Through his travels, he encounters various places and people, gains and absorbs something—upon returning home, that journey leads him back to his own creativity. True to his words, he started to write something in the middle of the night after the shoot, as if he was urged on by something. Even if not right away, architects, actors, artists, and us… I think that the experience of this trip will circulate within each of us and fuel our creativities. The number of nights you stay or the distance you travel is not the criterion for judging whether it is a trip or not, but I think that meeting someone or even creating something is a journey in itself. Perhaps it is not possible to express these journey cycles in their entirety in short films—but we are standing in the middle of that journey. And it made me realize once again that for me, making films is a journey.”

After yarn dyeing using tade-indigo, the indigo color stains Shinjo’s hands.

During the Great Plague in London during the 17th century, Newton discovered the ‘law of universal gravitation’ during his unexpected break. Allegedly, he later called this vacation a “creative vacation”. The stories spun by Hermès and Hiroshi Okuyama are fragments of such creative vacations, and they will surely awaken what lies dormant at the bottom of our hearts, the thirst for a new world and the power to take a step forward.

Hiroshi Okuyama
Born in Tokyo, 1996
Won the Best New Director Award at the 66th San Sebastian International Film Festival for his film “Jesus”. The film was released in theaters in Japan, France, Spain, Korea, and Hong Kong. In addition to directing music videos such as Nana Mori’s “Smile” and Nogizaka 46’s “Boku wa Boku wo Suki ni Nareru”, he also served as cinematographer for Kenshi Yonezu’s “Canary” (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda).
Human Odyssey: A Journey Through Creation series will be released weekly from 5th of October on the official Hermès website and YouTube.
HERMÈS Japon 03-3569-3300 / hermes.com

Photo Masumi Ishida Interview & Text Mio Koumura Translation Akiko Watanabe & Rei Matsuoka
This article is included in

Silver N°13 Autumn 2021

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