Japanese director shows ‘objective, fun China’ with Yangtze River documentary
Published: May 20, 2024 10:05 PM
Photo: Courtesy of Huaxia Film Distribution

Photo: Courtesy of Huaxia Film Distribution

In 2011, a documentary about China, A Journey to the Yangtze River, aired in Japan and turned into a hit, making Japanese director Ryo Takeuchi known to both Chinese and Japanese audiences. But that film left Takeuchi with one regret: He failed to shoot the "first drop of water" at the headwaters of the Yangtze River.

Ten years later, Takeuchi, who had already moved to Nanjing, East China's Province, decided to make up for this regret by embarking on a 6,300-kilometer journey along the Yangtze River. He completed the documentary series The Yangtze River, which aired on Chinese streaming platforms and received a score of 9.3/10 on Chinese rating platform Douban. The documentary film based on the series, which was re-edited by Takeuchi, is set to be released across China on May 24.

Takeuchi told the Global Times that he hopes to show Chinese and Japanese audiences as well as the world "an ordinary, objective and fun China" while sharing the story of the Yangtze River, his feelings about the river and the changes that have taken place in the past decade through the eyes of a Japanese director.

The director recalled that due to a tight schedule, he didn't get the chance to shoot the headwaters of the Yangtze River in 2011. Additionally, "I could not speak Chinese back then," he told the Global Times on Thursday. 

"Exchanges mainly relied on interpreters so there was no way to communicate in-depth with locals."

When he once again set out along the river and returned to the places where he had shot the first film, he found that lots of things had changed. 

"I want to show the Chinese dream of ordinary people, which is to show global audiences an ordinary, objective and fun China."

A Tibetan girl who appeared in the 2011 documentary had left a deep impression on many audience members. At that time, she was still a little girl who dreamed of starting a hostel business. Ten years later, she finally realized her dream.

"I never thought she would have such a big change, and her story can reflect the changes in Chinese youth, the power of dreams," Takeuchi told the Global Times. 

Although he always had her contact information, he was reluctant to contact her over the years.

 "I have always wanted to film her story, so I maintained a state of non-contact," he explained.

For Takeuchi, shooting such a documentary film is not only for Chinese and Japanese audiences, but also for audiences in other countries around the world. 

"This is a record of communication between a Japanese director and the Chinese people," so Takeuchi wants to share it with Chinese audiences to "reflect the charm of international exchanges."

When in Japan, he often told people that China has experienced great changes in recent years, while Japan has changed little. So it is "difficult for them to have an intuitive experience of the rapidity of these changes," and documentary films can "make ordinary Japanese audiences have direct feeling about such changes."

When the film was released in Japan in April, many audiences were amused by the film's new perspective on China's development and changes in the new era. The tremendous changes along the Yangtze River over the past decade touched audiences from both countries and sparked numerous discussions.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lin Jian also helped promote the documentary. 

"We hope that more Japanese media and people from the art community will present stories of China in a vivid and truthful way from an objective perspective to enhance the mutual understanding and friendly sentiments between the peoples of China and Japan. We also hope that friends from various countries will get to know more about China through this documentary and come to China to feel the robust progress of Chinese modernization for themselves," Lin said during a regular press conference on April 29.

Takeuchi still remembers talking with ordinary Japanese audiences after the screening. 

"They could clearly feel the resonance and share the joys and sorrows with the people in the movie. It turns out that Chinese people love life as much as they do and we are all the same," he noted.