Shukichi Koizumi (1933 – 2014): Leading Japanese documentary filmmaker bids goodbye

Shukichi Koizumi speaks during Penang workshop in March 2014, flanked by his colleagues Juka Kawaai (to his right) and Kenichi Mizuno - Photo by Mariyam Niuma

Shukichi Koizumi speaks during Penang workshop in March 2014, flanked by his colleagues Juka Kawaai (to his right) and Kenichi Mizuno – Photo by Mariyam Niuma

Shukichi Koizumi, a leading Japanese documentary filmmaker and television professional, is no more. When he passed away in Nagano, Japan, on 12 November 2014, aged 81, he had been making films was more than half a century.

Koizumi was the founder and, until 2010, President and CEO of Group Gendai Films, a documentary and television programme production company in Tokyo. He also served as honorary chairman of the non-profit media organisation TVE Japan, and was a partner and ardent supporter of filmmakers, activists and educators across developing Asia.

Koizumi will be best remembered as a maker of long format documentaries on public interest scientific and environmental topics. He had a special interest in how synthetic chemicals – such as pesticides – and nuclear radiation affected both human health and nature. For years, he also visually chronicled Japan’s struggles to balance economic growth with caring for its public health and the environment.

I first met Koizumi-san in the early 1990s, when I served as a juror at EarthVision, the Tokyo Global Environmental Film Festival. In the two decades since, we collaborated on various Asian film productions and video skills training workshops.

Every time we met, I found him productive and creative – he seemed to have a never-ending supply of energy and enthusiasm. At any given time, he had several ideas for new films on nationally or globally important issues.

Our last meeting was in March 2014, when he joined us at an Asian regional workshop on communicating sustainable agriculture and agro-biodiversity, held in Penang, Malaysia. It brought together a dozen Asian partners who shared experiences of distributing TVE Japan’s latest film, Hopper Race (80 mins, 2013).

On his own or through Group Gendai Films, Koizumi produced a large number of broadcaster-commissioned and corporate promotional films. They kept the business going, but the ones that stand out are those he took up as personal projects. They reflected his intellectual curiosity and social concerns.

And unlike many filmmakers who prefer to move from one production to the next, Koizumi knew the significance of effective film distribution and outreach. With his friend (and TVE Japan’s Executive Director) Kenichi Mizuno, he kept on raising money from Japanese philanthropic and governmental sources to support these endeavours in Asia. He never gave up despite hard times caused by Japan’s lost decades and the global economic recession.

A longer tribute is to be published soon.

Nalaka Gunawardene (left) and Shukichi Koizumi in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2010

Nalaka Gunawardene (left) and Shukichi Koizumi in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2010

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