First of all, I’d like to thank conference organizers to give us this opportunity to show you a very interesting and moving documentary film on Levy Hideo. I firmly believe that Levy is one of the most interesting novelists writing in Japanese today, and that is already an understatement. Because what he has been attempting to do is something that no one else in history has even dreamt about. An American writer who grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong as a child, choosing Japanese as his language of expression and writing obsessively about China, about the US and Japan, about his own radically threatened sense of belonging that results in his self-fashioning through an almost compulsive self-exile.
Levy started his career as a scholar of Man’yo shu, Japan’s earliest imperial anthology of poetry, and his perspective on the historicity of this language is overwhelmingly broad. He made his debut as a Japanese-language novelist in 1987 with 『星条旗が聞こえない部屋』A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot be Heard, and with his subsequent novels, essays and travel writing established his singular place in the current configuration of Japanese-language literature. Not only transnational but also highly trans-lingual in nature, his works offer unprecedented moments where different dialects of Chinese and Japanese mutually provoke critical thinking. And this film, that you will be watching shortly, will shed a light on what was hidden beneath his intimidatingly keen linguistic sensibility. Now let me tell you how this film came about.
In the Spring of 2013, Sasanuma Toshiaki, who is the author of the first monograph written on Levy Hideo, organized a symposium called “East Asian Contemporary Literatures and Language of the Periphery” at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan. Levy Hideo was invited to this symposium as a keynote speaker and I as a discussant. Now, if you were a reader of Levy’s work, you would immediately know what the name of Taichung meant for him. It is the town that he grew up between the ages of 5 and 10 before relocating to Hong Kong with his mother. He left Taichung in 1960 and didn’t once return. In fact, in spite of his obsessively repeated trips to Mainland China (I think he’s been there more than a hundred times by now) he had avoided any return to Taiwan before this with one single brief exception in 2005 that took him to Taipei and Taitung as a Japanese writer. But even at that time he avoided going to Taichung. And of course there was a deep psychological reason for this avoidance of half a century.
So this trip to Taichung in March 2013 would be Levy’s first return to his childhood hometown in 52 years. As a child, he used to live in an area called “model village” (mofanxiang) in a house built by colonist Japan and was taken over by the Kuomingtan officers. So the place is rife with the traces of modern East Asian history, too. Sasanuma and his colleagues at Tonghuan University offered to help Levy find his old home. On hearing this, I immediately suggested that we should film and record the whole process. I asked my friend,filmmaker Okawa Keiko, to accompany us on the journey. She agreed on the spot and followed Levy around like a shadow or a woman ninja dressed in black. This documentary is essentially a work of Keiko alone; cinematography, recording, editing are all hers. And then there is Wen Yuju, a young woman novelist and a former graduate student of Levy’s, herself a Taiwanese raised in Tokyo and speaks and writes Japanese as a (quote-unquote) “native” speaker and writer of Japanese, joined us to witness everything that happens on the trip. The result is this film.
Here is a quote from my friend Doug Slaymaker of the University of Kentucky that concisely describe the nature of this documentary:
This documentary chronicles the author’s anxiety-filled return from the Tokyo where he now writes in Japanese to the childhood home of English and Chinese in Taiwan. This journey takes us across five decades to a “home” that has lived only in memory, a child’s unreliable memory at that, and has long enlivened Levy Hideo’s imaginative landscape. It is a space that he has written of, across various languages, but has avoided returning to.
Now is the time for you to witness what the video camera has witnessed and recorded. I, as the producer of this film, sincerely hope that you’ll like it. The film lasts 53 minutes. We’ll discuss about it after the projection. Thank you, and let’s begin.