"Zero is a wonderful documentary. I cried in the end.
It evoked feelings of tenderness and kindness in me."
— Tatsuya Nakadai, Actor
(Ran, Harakiri, The Human Condition, Kagemusha)
"A profoundly compassionate portrait of a doctor facing his own mortality."
— Josh Siegel, Curator, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Observational Film #9
2020, 128 minutes, Documentary
Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
MoMA Doc Fortnight 2020 "Centerpiece"
"Zero is an extraordinary documentary that captures human frailty and transience with rarely witnessed tenderness and grace."
– Cristina Nord
Head of Forum, Berlin International Film Festival
Synopsis - An Ultimate Love Story
Dr. Masatomo Yamamoto, a psychiatrist and the protagonist of the award-winning film “Mental” (Berlinale 2009, Kazuhiro Soda), is a pioneer in the movement to unlock the doors of mental hospitals in Japan in the 1960s. His long career spanning over five decades has been devoted to community-based mental healthcare, which puts the needs of the patients above everything else.
At the age of 82, Dr. Yamamoto is suddenly retiring from the clinical field, causing a lot of anxiety for many of his patients who have been relying on him as their lifeline for many years. He tries to spend his time to care for his wife Yoshiko, who has been the biggest supporter of his work and career. In early spring, Dr. Yamamoto and Yoshiko embark on a new life, facing challenges they never faced before.
"Long after it ended, Soda's latest film Zero stayed with me and wouldn't let go. Soda is a brilliant and patient filmmaker who moves the film deftly from a portrait of a venerated doctor on the occasion of his retirement, to a portrait of the doctor's wife: the "great woman" behind the "great man," and then, ultimately to a portrait of the love between a couple. The final scene in which the elderly couple carefully navigates a literal and figurative landscape, brought me to tears. Rich in poetic visual metaphor and full of wisdom, Zero is a stunning film."
– Terri Sarris
Filmmaker and educator
University of Michigan, Department of Film, TV, and Media
When I started shooting Mental (Observational Film #2, 2008) at Chorale Okayama, a small out-patient mental clinic, I was mostly interested in the lives of the patients there. I didn’t really pay too much attention to the old doctor who always looked sleepy listening to his patients in his consultation room. However I soon realized that the doctor received enormous trust and love from his patients, as if he were a god or Buddha. I started wondering who this veteran psychiatrist, Dr. Masatomo Yamamoto, really was.
I didn’t discover his hidden greatness until I started editing Mental. Observing how he counsels his patients, I realized that every word and action he makes is a manifestation of his therapeutic strategy. I also noticed that everything he does is rooted in his quiet compassion towards his patients. I thought that perhaps one day I should make a documentary on this extraordinary doctor. Ten years have passed since then.
In February 2018, I learned that Dr. Yamamoto, who was turning 82, was finally retiring from the clinical practice at the end of March. That meant that I needed to start rolling the camera immediately if I wanted to make a film about him. I was in the middle of promoting my new film Inland Sea in Tokyo, but I decided to commute to Okayama by bullet train whenever I had time to shoot. As is always the case, I had no idea what kind film I was making. So the process of making this film was inevitably based on my “10 Commandments,” a set of rules I impose on myself.
Shooting Dr. Yamamoto, a self-described workaholic, I immediately felt that for him, mental healthcare was his life. His work defined who Masatomo Yamamoto was. It gave him a reason to live. And he was about to let that go.
When Yamamoto becomes just a human being without a title or role as a doctor, how will he live? Being a workaholic myself, I was really curious. The path he is about to take is the one I will need to take one day. It is actually a universal path that many people must experience some day.
While I was shooting Yamamoto with such a point of view, another protagonist emerged: Yoshiko Yamamoto, his wife. The film turned out to be about the couple rather than the doctor. As a result, I unexpectedly made a film about “pure love.”
1 No research.
2 No meetings with subjects.
3 No scripts.
4 Roll the camera yourself.
5 Shoot for as long as possible.
6 Cover small areas deeply.
7 Do not set up a theme or goal before editing.
8 No narration, super-imposed titles, or music.
9 Use long takes.
10 Pay for the production yourself.