words and pictures by charles rangeley-wilson

A Japanese Obsession


In 2008 I travelled to Japan with Gavin Searle to make a film about the country, the people and their collective fascination for all things fishy. The 90-minute production was broadcast on BBC4 in Feb 2009, and Nov 2011 and on overseas channels as far afield as Australia and Israel. Gavin and myself shared the idea that we wanted this to be a pretty immersive filming experience – we were there for a long time, travelled light and filmed as we found the place. We wanted the film to be more about the place and its people than the presenter or any pre-conceived idea of what Japan was like: as I wrote in the script, we wanted to get beyond the bullet train and Mount Fuji. A shared passion for fish seemed like a neat way in: certainly it took us to parts of Japan we might never have seen in a more conventional, choreographed travel documentary. Moments that stand out in my recollection: the island of Sado – part Skegness, part Mousehole – fishing for sea-shells out of a floating barrel; a fish pond in a Tokyo subway station; the tragedy of Minamata; eating rotten carp; paragliding in a panda suit; a Japanese Elvis singing Only Fools Rush In on the tropical island of Okinawa – part Skegness, part Hawaii; the tuna obsessed rock band Gyoko (above).

Once in a while someone drops me a line asking after Aki (pictured below phoning home from Sado) the travelling companion, guide and translator who we recruited via a classified advert in Tokyo freebie paper, and who in fact became the star of the show: he’s doing well I hear, he passed his English exam some time after we left, and still believes that in matters of ethics and eating I should ‘forget about the complicated thing’.


4 Responses to “A Japanese Obsession”

  1. DAvid Buhagiar

    I loved your documentary on Japan. I have traveled to Japan twice now and found your story both confronting and beautiful.

  2. rangeley

    Thanks David. It was quite an experience making that film. One I will never forget.

  3. Alex

    It’s great to have a little followup on ‘Fish!’. What a wonderful and memorable piece of work that is, Charles. I hope can you make it to some other countries and explore peoples’ cultural relationship with fish and the waters that hold them. Looking forward to more films 🙂

  4. rangeley

    Thanks Alex. Fish! was an amazing film to make. There’s a few other places on Planet Earth the idea would work, not least the British Isles. But chasing TV commissions? It’s like nailing fog! Cheers. Charlie.

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