In Japanese rapids - Louis van Gasteren

Original Dutch film title:
90 minutes

Dutch engineers have an important role in Japanese history in regards to water management.

Dutch engineers introduced Western hydraulic techniques in Japan between 1872 and 1903. They experienced a cultural shock, caught between Eastern and Western values in a country which faced rapid modernization during the Meiji era. Their stay was shaped by technology and human drama.

In Holland, 3 Japanese musicians rehearse the song Fischerweise by Franz Schubert. In Japan, a calligrapher thinks about his drawing of the characters for Nature. A distinguished gentleman is filling a bottle with water from Lake Inawashiro. In Osaka, the Dutch Crown Prince makes his keynote speech to mark the opening of the De Rijke Symposium in 2000.
This is the introduction to a film about Dutch hydraulic engineers in Japan in the Meiji era, at the end of the 19th century.
The engineers arrived 4 years after the Meiji government decided to modernize the country. They assisted in making the harbours accessible for steamships and in facilitating river transport.
To help the viewer to identify with the engineers, two actors, in Japan for a feature film about the Dutch watermen, were followed by a documentary camera. Difficulties at work become visible, as well as the relationship between the two engineers, one of whom, Escher studied at university and the other, De Rijke, turns out to be a self-made man. Implications of class differences, a stay in a foreign country, a wife who died of cholera: it all comes to the surface in the dressing room or on the set of the film production, intercut with cherry blossom in Japan, then and now.
Proud local Japanese tell us about the remnants of the engineers’ works – a harbour, a canal – now a recreation area or playground for children. The praise is unanimous. Not surprisingly, because the watermen brought prosperity.
Dutch names are to be seen on commemorative stones, statues have been erected for Van Doorn and De Rijke. During the Second World War, the people did not hand over the bronze statue of Van Doorn to be melted down to make guns, but hid it in a forest.

All the praise and respect could give people the impression that working in Japan should have been very agreeable. But nothing is further from the truth. Letters to their families reveal a string of irritations, misunderstandings and hurt pride.
The documentary ends with a scene from the – imaginary – feature film, in which De Rijke meets Escher in Holland after his 30 year stay in Japan. Then we see a selection from the annual Japanese visits to the graves of the engineers in Holland, revealing the deep respect of the Japanese. The water from the bottle, filled at the start of the film, is poured out over the tombstone of Van Doorn in Amsterdam, a homage on behalf of 25,000 families, whose rice cultivation was assured after the construction of the Asaka Canal.

Ramón Gieling
Wilbert Gieske
Wiske Sterringa
Ulli Ullrich

script & direction: Louis van Gasteren, Joke Meerman
camera: Jos van Schoor, Mark Bakker, Junji Aoki, Thomas Kist, Gregor Meerman, Robin Probin, Jacqueline van Vugt, Eddy van der Enden nsc
sound: Mori Suemura, Otto Horsch, Shinichi Yamazaki
make-up: Ulli Ullrich, Chieko Matsumoto
costumes: Bernadette Corstens, Carolijn Feijen
art direction: Floris Vos
editing: Barry van der Sluis
re-recording mix: Danny van Spreuwel, Meta Sound Studio’s
laboratory: Cineco
image post-production: Ru van Meeteren
production: Joke Meerman
production Japan: Akio Saneyoshi
line producers: René Scholten, Digna Sinke

produced by Studio Nieuwe Gronden in co-production with Spectrum Film/Euro Television Productions (Louis van Gasteren) and NPS televisie

this film is financially supported by:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Japan
Nederlands Fonds voor de Film
Stimuleringsfonds Nederlandse Culturele Omroepproducties
Japan Foundation
Rotterdams Fonds voor de Film en audiovisuele media
Japan Airlines