March 21, 2021

‘Kubota’s Kimonos: A History on Silk’: Interview with filmmaker Radik Kudoyarov

‘Kubota Kimonos: A History on Silk’ documentary has been shortlisted by the jury of this year’s international Master of Art Film Festival in Bulgaria. The documentary by Radik Kudoyarov tells the story of the great Japanese textile artist Itchiku Kubota, who devoted his life to rediscovering ‘tsujigahana’, an ancient and then-lost textile dying technique.

Radik Kudoyarov is a Russian filmmaker. In 2003 he founded an independent film production company, and has since created over 30 award-winning documentaries. In our today’s interview he shares how ‘Kubota Kimonos: A History on Silk’ film was created and what lessons can we learn from the master’s life story. Radik also talks his film career and current work and plans.

– Radik, how the idea of creating ‘Kubota Kimonos: A History on Silk’ was born? What is this documentary about?

– This documentary is about an artist, a person, art and kimono. My main goal was to create a film about someone who was able to create such tremendous masterpieces, and to understand how he achieved it, what was his journey.

Before starting this work, I knew nothing about Itchiku Kubota. He is not so widely known. People who are very familiar with him and his art are usually those who have relation to textile arts. I learnt about Kubota from Olga Monakhova, Head of the Representative Office of the International Chodiev Foundation in Russia. We met at an event at the Japanese Embassy, and she told me that ICF preserves the legacy of the master and supports his museum in Japan. I decided to look deeper into this subject and quickly realised that I wanted to work on Kubota’s story.

– You are a historian by education. Does it explain your interest in the documentary as a genre?

– Yes, I am a historian by my education, but my relation to history is not limited by this. I truly believe that we need to understand and respect our past to be able to analyse our present and try to predict the future. This is a huge subject on its own, and I find it important.

– In which ways did you prepare for filming? Was it interesting to delve into the history of textile arts?

– I did not have much material when I just started the work. It was not the case when you have so much material that you just sit down and write the screenplay. Perhaps this was the reason why I was attracted to this story. I started gathering the story piece by piece and I was trying to find answers to questions like ‘What were Kubota’s mission and motivation? What did he do it for?’.

Any author or creator, while expecting his audience to engage with his creation, should understand that he needs to create his own exciting reality about a piece of art, whether it is a sculpture, a painting or a film. He needs to tell a fascinating story, but with due respect to factual accuracy, especially in case of documentary films.

While working on the screenplay for this documentary, I aimed to reconstruct Kubota’s reality. Although Kubota has been long gone, I felt that I could be on the same wavelength with him.

– What does Kubota’s life story teach us? What is the key message you wanted to convey in the film? Why does the Russian title of the film has word ‘legacy’ in it?

I like this question. Kubota’s story teaches us that every person can be genuinely free. Someone who has internal freedom within him is capable of defining and achieving any goal he sets for himself, and no challenge will hinder this process.  To knowone’s true purpose is a huge advantage; this is something that led Kubota to creating such marvellous artworks. As for legacy, this is related to the fact that the master had several ambitious plans, but he did not manage to realise them before his death. We might think that we see entirely complete artworks in front of us, whilst Kubota’s journey was the journey of constant search, improvement and perfection.

Recently, while working on a new screenplay, I went to the Louvre again and suddenly realised that I was entirely absorbed by an object in one of the galleries. Such experience makes us feel  that apart from visual contact with an artwork, there is an incredible connection with its creator. It is the same when you interact with kimono created by Kubota – they hold and convey his personality and his view of the world. This is something truly unique.

– How did you gather a team for this project?

This project involved several people. For me, it crucial to involve experts who are directly related and possess deep knowledge about the subject I am exploring and showing in my work. This is the approach I implement in all my films. For instance, if this is a documentary about Charles de Gaulle, I invite people who knew him personally or worked with him closely, because then they have a right to tell us about him. If I create a film about the French ‘Normandy-Niemen’ squadron, then it would feature pilots who served there.

This way, if you are creating a film about someone like Itchiku Kubota, you ought to find those who knew him or at least can convey their experience of his art. We were very lucky to meet Kubota’s younger son and his apprentice who could speak about the master. Similarly, we were lucky to find former Japanese prisoners in Siberia, I looked for them throughout Japan. I believe that in our work we should always give voice to eyewitnesses.

The documentary features textile arts and kimono experts. How did they get involved?

The International Chodiev Foundation helped us significantly by gathering these experts at the Guimet Museum (Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet) in Paris. They shared their expertise and memories. We managed to conduct research in the museum’s storage facilities, which is a unique opportunity and should not be taken for granted. This helped me obtain knowledge not only about Itchiku Kubota but also about the world that surrounded him. I had to process it all, to live it through myself, figurately speaking. One is ought to love his main character, not only to be attracted by the character but to become his kindred soul, so to speak. Otherwise, how would you be able to share his story?

Could you please share your experience of filming in Japan? What is your impression of the Japanese culture?

Russian poet Vishnevskiy once said: ‘I loved judo before and after’. I relate to it because I became acquainted with the Japanese culture as a child through martial arts. At that time, I had some knowledge of Japan and was interested in this country. I then filmed ‘Genius of Russian judo’, a documentary about Vasily Oschepkov who introduced this sport to the Soviet Union. He was a truly outstanding person. Even then my understanding of the Japanese culture remained superficial, even though it extended beyond sport. To be able to apprehend the culture, one needs to immerse into it, to spend time with the Japanese, listen to them, eat their food. This is important. Many of us, living in Europe or in Asia, in fact any country that is far from Japan, have very distant understanding of this country and the Japanese lifestyle. I generally travel a lot for work, but I am convinced that Japan resembles an entire planet; Japanese mindset and culture are fascinating.

Also, throughout my career, I met and interviewed several successful people, people who govern entire countries, but meeting Yoshiro Mori, former Prime Minister of Japan, was a special occasion. As a friend of Patokh Chodiev, who saved the heritage of Itchiku Kubota, Yoshiro Mori opened up and shared his feeling of deep gratitude and tried to explain to me, a total stranger, the importance of these kimono to the Japanese people.

It was also fascinating to talk to Patokh Chodiev himself. He is an intellectual who speaks Japanese fluently and whose knowledge of the Japanese culture is admirable. Dr Chodiev has a genuine interest in the Kubota Collection, in the master and his legacy. This was a determining factor for me. I worked on Kubota documentary with great pleasure.

– Speaking about your film career in general,  what led you to creating documentaries and what are your plans?

On the one hand, my introduction to documentary filmmaking was accidental. On the other hand, I believe that coincidences are not accidental. However, at the moment, I am trying myself in live-action filmmaking. This is a different level of production. Traditionally, there are two approaches: the first one is when you have a budget, and then you create a film and report on it. The second approach is when you write a screenplay and, within it, introduce opportunities for ’embedded marketing’,- that will not only let you express your creativity but also appeal to viewers and sell more tickets. This is what I am trying to work on at the moment.

I usually do not disclose my creative plans; I can only say that we have just finished filming a new project and are starting editing. The plot of this new film evolves around beginning of the WWI and one of the European countries. This is all I can share at the moment.

– Thank you for the interview and good luck with all new beginnings!

– Thank you.

© Photographs: Radik Kudoyarov’s personal archive. Reproduction is not permitted.  

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