Nobuyuki Sakuma on 4 Films We Can Learn From. Part 1.

With the rise of video streaming services, searching for recommendations and talking about new movies has become easier than ever. But as a result of this convenience, watching TV shows and movies no longer feels like a special occasion. Rather, it can feel like we’re mindlessly consuming film. In this series, influential figures with a love for film recommend movies that personally resonate with them. These films aren’t meant to be consumed mindlessly, but rather, mindfully absorbed in a way that is nourishing for the soul.

This time, we feature Nobuyuki Sakuma, a producer from TV TOKYO Corporation’s production division who has had a deep interest in movies and theater from a young age. Despite his demanding schedule, Sakuma makes sure to set time aside to watch new movies nearly every day. We asked Sakuma to select four movies that would have changed his perspective had he seen them as a teenager. In part one of this series, Sakuma introduces the first two of these films, which would have made him feel less alone, or perhaps even led him down a different path if he’d seen them in those emotional and impressionable teen years.

“And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool” is based on a true story about a group of junior high girls in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture in the early 2010s. I chose this one because I think that feeling of hopelessness that exists in small towns can be found in any time and place. When I was a teen, I didn’t recognize that I had that feeling, too. But looking back now as an adult, there were many parts of this film that I found relatable, so it really stuck with me.

I was a teenager in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was no internet at the time, and it was a place that was really behind when it came to culture. In the seaside area where I lived, we were able to listen to Nippon Broadcasting System and other key stations. Thanks to that, I was able to get a taste of Tokyo, or I guess, the latest culture. For example, I heard that a guy named Masamune Shirow was creating incredible mangas like “Ghost in the Shell” and “Appleseed.” Or in the theater world, theater groups like “Daisan Butai (Thirdstage)” or incredible people like Koki Mitani were coming up in the scene. I heard about these things through late-night radio, but only 20 or 30 percent of my class knew about that kind of stuff. Even if you tried to tell people that Denki Groove was releasing an instrumental album, most people would be like, “What? Denki Groove who? What does that mean?” (laughs)

I spent my teenage years in that kind of environment, searching for ways to watch the latest anime and theater.

And back then, Iwaki had a strong Yankii culture [a subculture of delinquent students], so if anything you did was even a little different, you’d stand out. Especially for someone like me, who was 180 cm tall, and got along fairly well with Yankiis. If I pulled “Animage” [anime magazine] out of my bag, they would definitely make fun of me for it, like, “Sakuma, I didn’t know you were otaku!” Of course, I had friends whose interests crossed over in certain areas, but I didn’t have any friends who shared my interest in culture as a whole. I carried around “Animage” like it was a dirty magazine, praying that I wouldn’t be found out, while pretending that I really loved mainstream culture. (laughs)

At the time, I didn’t feel lonely or trapped living like that, because I didn’t know any better. But when I moved to Tokyo for university, I realized for the first time that it had been really isolating. The first person I became friends with in Tokyo, who’s still my friend today, was a pretty big otaku. His room, which was on the second floor of his family’s hardware store, was so full of books about science fiction and theater that the floor was about to collapse. When I met this guy, someone who for the first time ever, had all the same interests as me, I realized that I’d actually been a lonely teenager.

But now, I’d want to tell my teenage self, “Never give up on your interests.” We all have times when we try to tell someone about our interests or true feelings, and whoever is listening just doesn’t care– it’s like that for the girls in “And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool,” too. Or maybe we fear being made fun of if we try to talk about our interests. I even stopped pursuing my hobbies for a while, because I thought that no one else was watching the same stuff or even thought it was interesting. But I never gave up my love for it all, and the perspective I gained from the culture I was exposed to are invaluable to me today. I’d want my teenage self to know that.

While “And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool” is a film I could’ve related to as a teenager, “The Half of It” is so progressive that I’m not even sure if I would’ve fully understood it at the time. But the way the film starts with that hopeless feeling of being misunderstood by the world is something I could relate to. I chose this film because I think if I had seen it as a teenager, it would’ve really changed my perspective.

“The Half of It” was an impressive film that showed me how far love stories and coming-of-age films have come. The film is based on “Cyrano de Bergerac” and the director’s own experiences, but the story is really youthful, subtle, and complex. Every line of dialogue is so beautiful, and I was really moved by the fact that a coming-of-age story could depict such a range of perspectives.

This film’s message is that there’s no one out there who will understand you 100%, and if there is, that’s a miracle. I think it’s basically saying that this world is a cruel place. But it’d be a lie if a film told you that everyone is kind and waiting to accept you with open arms. That’s just not true in this world. This film shows that while the world is cruel, that’s what can make some experiences feel so special. Unexpected friendships can show you light in the darkness, precisely because this world is normally so cruel. I think that’s why I was so moved by this film. Out of the four films I chose this time, “The Half of It” is my favorite.

Incidentally, both of these films have female protagonists, but that wasn’t a conscious decision. I just think that women are quicker to realize that life is a struggle and ponder life’s questions. They struggle with self-consciousness from early on in their teenage years. Maybe that’s why inspiring coming-of-age films often have female protagonists. I think men aren’t thinking about too much at this point in their lives. (laughs)

Edit Kei Watabe
Translation Aya Apton


Nobuyuki Sakuma

Born in 1975 in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, Sakuma began working at TV TOKYO Corporation after graduating from Waseda University’s School of Commerce in 1999. While gaining experience as chief assistant director and location director on shows like “TV Champion,” he became a producer for the first time in his third year at TV TOKYO Corporation with “Namidame.” Currently, he is the producer of various variety shows such as “The God Tongue,” “Achikochi Oodori Kasuga no Mise Aitemasuyo,” and “Seishun Koko 3-nen C-gumi.” In addition, he hosts Nippon Broadcasting System’s “All Night Nippon 0 (Zero)” on Wednesdays.