Director Yoshinori Sato was born in 1975 and worked at the University of Southern California on many projects, for example, various productions for television. After his first film “Bad Child” (2013), Sato received much attention for his work and attention on many international festivals. “Shinjuku Tiger” is his first documentary and has been screened on many festivals, such as Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and Nippon Connection 2019.

We sat down with the director to talk about the experience working with the Shinjuku Tiger, how he approached his subject and about his views on Japanese society.

Shinjuku Tiger” screened at Nippon Connection

At first, can you tell us something about your first encounter with Shinjuku Tiger? How did you react when you saw him?

Actually, I didn’t know about Shinjuku Tiger before I shot this documentary. One day, my producer talked to me about him and then I saw his picture on the web. Then I wanted to know about him. I was so curious about him.

How did audiences react to Shinjuku Tiger?

They liked him very much. When the film was playing in Shinjuku, I often went the theater with Tiger for Q&A session. After the Q&A, there was always a long line of people to take a picture with Tiger.

Has your view on Shinjuku Tiger changed during the making of your documentary?

Yes. At first, I thought he became Shinjuku Tiger because of an ideology from the 1960s. But, as I started filming him, I realized his way of thinking was beyond ideology. He has a wider perspective.

A documentary should, at least traditionally, come very close to the subject it deals with. How close do you feel your film comes to the man behind the tiger mask?

I described everything I know about him, but I avoided to define who the man behind the mask is, because I didn’t want to spoil his magic. Instead, I showed his daily conversations that included hints about him. In this way, audiences can enjoy guessing who he is.

Can you explain your preparation for “Shinjuku Tiger”?

I researched the history of Shinjuku in the 1960s and 70s. I wanted to know why Shinjuku became the center place of the student protest movement. Also, I went to Golden Gai many times to talk to people who know Shinjuku Tiger.

In what way would you say Shinjuku Tiger is a symbol for Shinjuku?

He is a free spirit.

What makes Shinjuku significant as an area?

I think Shinjuku is a place where anyone is welcome. Shinjuku has a gay village, a red light district and an expat community.

In many ways, your film seems to make a statement about the rise of conformism in today’s Japan. What is your opinion on this topic?

I think Japanese individualism is still immature. We need more media literacy education.

You mentioned you shot around 200 hours of material for the film. What was you approach in structuring and editing the film?

When editing, I created four main topics, such as “Tiger’s daily life” or “Why did he become Shinjuku Tiger?” etc. for structure. Then I chose the material for each topic.

What do you think is the most admirable character trait or quality of Shinjuku Tiger and why?

I really admire that Shinjuku Tiger has been doing his artistic activity for more than 45 years not for money, status or glory but just for himself.

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Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.