-1287 is the story of Kazuko’s death. Kazuko was an elderly friend of director Ian Thomas Ash who currently lives in Tokyo. They were in the habit of meeting every week, having coffee and chatting about life. But Kazuko’s calm world was turned upside down with some sad news, she was a cancer survivor and sadly her breast cancer was back and had spread. Ash noticed, after Kazuko got this piece of news that “the ways she talked about her husband and children and life, changed”. In a bid to follow this transformation, Ash picked up his camera and started recording their conversations and thus, a documentary was born. 1287 is the number of days Kazuko has left, starting with the first day of shooting.
One role this documentary definitely wants to take on is raising awareness of breast cancer. Director Ian Thomas Ash noted the coincidence that the world premiere of the film should fall on October the 1st, the start of breast cancer awareness month. But while he expresses his hopes that the tool could be used as a tool to raise awareness, it is also a story about life: “I hope it can be an opportunity for everyone who shares in Kazuko’s story to think about their own life, and their own parents, and their own family and their own situations.”
It’s actually the banality of the topic that ends up getting one – death. It will, after all, come to us all and we are watching the actual death of an old woman, who could, quite bluntly, be the future form of any of us. So when Kazuko says things like “I can’t make any long term plans now” or “I want to study English until I die”, I would defy any of you to not get goose bumps. Death, if it isn’t somehow made lyrical or cinematic, does remain a bit of a taboo. Ash himself notes that as a general rule we are “living our lives pretending like we’re not going to die”. – 1287 definitely counters this concept by throwing open all the doors and we watch with an unflinching yet tender gaze Kazuko’s transformation from a 66-year-old who has just received a diagnosis to a 70-year-old, in a hospital bed, who occasionally gets confused and thinks she’s still back in her own home. With this documentary, Thomas makes death approachable, something you can bare to stare in the face if only for a short while, and that is definitely an experience worth having.
One other question one may ask oneself is what of Kazuko’s family? What do they think of all of this? They are, of course, mentioned throughout the documentary though apart from Ash and Kazuko themselves the only other people who appear on the screen are the doctors and nurses in the hospital, towards the end of Kazuko’s life. Ash says that at first the family didn’t feel quite ready to watch the film, but agreed to see it after it was announced that -1287 was going to be in Raindance. “I was scared”, he says, “but they said yes, and I met them in a neutral place and we sat down and we watched the film together with her two sons. And they were crying the entire time. Just crying the entire time. And at the end, they looked at me and they said “This is our Mom’s story. And you have our blessing to tell this story.” And then we went out for a drink.”
In closing, a mention must be made of the style of -1287. Because if the subject matter makes the documentary hard to watch, the way it was filmed was definitely not designed to help. There is no real editing, no narration and no music, just one man, and his camera, having conversations with his elderly friend. But then again, Ash is quite open about not particularly wanting to make a “commercial” film in the first place. “I have to follow my heart”, says Ash, “If I were to think about what is it going to take to sell the product, then you wouldn’t do it this way. You just wouldn’t.” And while Ash expresses hopes of continuing to find the means of making film – “I don’t need a lot of money but I ned a little bit” – but he doesn’t seem to have any stylistic changes planned any time soon : “I don’t want to think about “how am I going to sell the film and get distribution? Should I do something that’s against my feeling? Should I make it more sensational? Should I add music? Should I add narration? Should I make it more palatable to the audience just so that I can sell my soul and get a little bit of money to make the next film?” I don’t want to do that.”
We wish him all the luck in the world.