What is it?
Cat Heaven Island is a feature documentary about a unique, rural island in north-east Japan named Tashirojima. After four weeks of filming and a great deal of editing, we're nearing completion of this beautiful look into the lives of its people and its cats.
Besides the hundreds of cats that roam there, outnumbering the humans four to one, this film is also a glimpse into an old, fading culture on an island that may no longer be inhabited in the next decade. There are temples unique to the island, fisherman who show us their ways of life, and stories of how the people are attempting to recover from the giant earthquake/tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011. We met and filmed many interesting people. A vet from germany who visits every two months to take care of the cats. A photographer who knows all the cats on the island by name. Some of the oldest living people on the island, who told us of times past and showed us around the village at present. A traveling cat enthusiast who visits exotic places where cats wander, old fisherman, and the very few young people who have chosen to make their lives on the island. I can honestly say we developed a sense of closeness with many of the people (and cats) we met there, and my hope is that anyone watching the film will get to share in that. As a result, this project is series of very human vignettes with the island, the cats, and a deep sense of community holding it together at the heart.
My pitch for a documentary about Cat Island won a contest through Tongal, which that lead to heavy winter clothing, long plane rides, and a strange scramble of figuring out how to shoot this thing in japan with very little money. The island was so remote and out of the way that we weren't even sure how to ask about lodging short of having our japanese friend/translator, Allan Macintyre, visit for us in person. I flew out with my friend and co-shooter Derek Scearce with very little idea of what to actually expect. When we arrived, the island was covered in deep snow, and our sleeping plans were limited to the tents on our backs that we'd carried all the way from Tokyo. We were very lucky to have some of the islanders take us in and share their lives with us. We shared sake with the elders, ate raw octopus from a fisherman who let us sleep in his home, walked to the cat shrine, filmed in a storm, dealt with minor food poisoning, sailed in the boats, and overall had an incredible trip, leading to the completion of our ten minute short. Despite all the bumps in the road (my favorite was a shattered microphone that Rhode actually replaced with next day shipping from Australia to this tiny island on the edge of nowhere. I love you, Rhode), the short was received incredibly well, and Tongal/White Horse Pictures were awesome enough to stay with us to fund the filming of a feature length version, the first feature I've filmed. Now we're trying to get funding for post production. We returned a few months later to continue shooting, this time with photographer Christopher Wong and lead-subtitler Mia Shimokawa in tow, and completed our shooting for the feature in the much more accommodating spring weather. You can see our original mini-featurette below.
The Post Production
There are four main elements we need to work on in post production. The first is the editing. While the majority of the documentary has already taken shape, theres still fine tuning to be done. Because of the scale of the project and the fact that it's in Japanese, thats a good bit of work. It also includes cleaning up the subtitles, organizing it for color, and all the small things like titling and credits. Second is the sound design. Sound shapes our experience of the world in a vast way, even when we don't realize it, and makes films seamless. Color correction is a huge aspect of what you see in the final versions of any film, taking it from an in-camera flat image to something with contrast and deep color tones. Lastly, and perhaps most exciting, is the score. Music tells a story even by itself, and paired with film its one of my favorite aspects of the process.
How did we even hear about this place?
Over the past two years there have been small articles here and there that talk about Cat Island. All of them are full of awesome photos and small details that pique a lot of interest, but I realized no one had ever really shown the story of such a unique place. Going based on a few articles, some wiki pages, and half-english emails, I eventually pinned down where it was. Then it was just a matter of figuring out what the story was and how to tell it.
While in Japan, people we talked to or told what we were doing really seemed to connect with the story. On our first day there (actually, in the first ten minutes of being in the Tokyo Airport) I was interviewed by Tokyo TV. Apparently I stood out with my absurd amount of luggage and camera gear. When they heard about what we were doing, they got excited and actually wanted to have their own news team go with us. Sadly it didn't pan out, but while there we encountered yet another Japanese news crew doing some shooting on the island, and they ended up filming us too (it was very strange seeing ourselves on Japanese tv briefly a couple months later). Throughout the rest of the trip, be it tourists, our generous host family, or other japanese friends, many who saw pieces of the project felt a connection to it, especially when learning about the effects of the tsunami there. When we came back to the states and posted the featurette quietly on vimeo, it was eventually featured on some pretty big sites and was viewed tens of thousands of times. I received a few poignantly touching emails about it in which people wanted to offer some support for the film, something I hadn't expected. The next logical step was Kickstarter, so here we are!
$10 - A massive thank you for helping.
$25 - An HD viewing of the film.
$35 - Above + Postcard of one of our cat photos on the island from Christopher Wong. (https://www.facebook.com/chriswithcamera)
$45 - Above + Your name in the credits.
$65 - Above + Lots of cat postcards.
$180 - Above + I buy you sushi and we hang out!
$300 - Above + A unique souvenir from the island.
$2,500 - Above + Something Awesome
Risks and challenges
From the beginning, we've tried to do a massive amount with very little. Even with the generous funding from Tongal, filming overseas in a remote place in a language you don't understand for many weeks is very challenging. We've consistently received help from people who believe in the project and offered us their time for far less than it was worth. The same is true for post production, but to go forward we still need to get the funds to make it happen. Subtitles need cleaning up (hundreds of them!), the edit needs to move from rough to fine, and sound has a lot of ground to cover. As from the start, we're relying on people who are interested in the project to help push it through at a level of quality thats really difficult to obtain. Whether or not the project comes to fruition is now up to the Kickstarter community, and I'm hoping the story means something to others the same way it means something to us. Thanks very much for taking a look at our project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)