Japan’s documentary recounts Vietnam’s images of days past

Over the past two years, from Monday to Friday, Vietnam Television (VTV) viewers have had the opportunity to journey to the past, through the screening of a Japanese documentary series titled ‘Ky uc Viet Nam’ (Memoirs of Vietnam).

‘Memoirs of Vietnam’ depicts a range of topics from politics to culture and people’s daily lives (Photo: vtv.vn)
‘Memoirs of Vietnam’ depicts a range of topics from politics to culture and people’s daily lives (Photo: vtv.vn)

Filmed from 1964 to 1981, ‘Memoirs of Vietnam’ features the period when North Vietnam was under the destructive US air war, and its six years of reconstruction and healing the pains of war. The series is the only colour film recorded to vividly convey every detail of life in Hanoi and the entire northern region which dedicated all its efforts to the southern region.

Each image of the film is an echo of the past full of memories.

For the younger generations who were lucky to be born and raised in a time of peace, the film allows them watch with their own eyes the things that they have only read in books.

From raw materials

“Memoirs of Vietnam’ was produced by Japan’s Nihon Denpa News (NDN), the only foreign television station to have a representative office in Hanoi in 1961. With President Ho Chi Minh’s consent, it was created with the most favourable conditions to get access to press topics at that time. For 17 years, the Japanese filmmakers roamed Hanoi and other places with their 1,510 rolls of 16mm film at a total length of around 6,000 metres, recording numerous events, stories and people.

With narration in Japanese, the series not only archives valuable images of Vietnam at that time, but are also a useful channel of communication introducing Vietnam to international friends.

The documentary series was tracked down by VTV reporter Xuan Tung in his working visit to Japan in 2006. When he arrived at NDN's headquarters in Tokyo, he was surprised to see lots of images of Vietnam and its people hanging along the corridors. NDN also revealed that they had a video archive of Vietnam filmed over nearly two decades.

Two years ago, NDN contacted Xuan Tung to ask about transferring the film series to VTV. A list of the titles of each roll of film was attached without any information on the content in the episode.

Acknowledging that it is an invaluable treasure, VTV assigned the News Department to be in charge of the deal. It took the team three years to negotiate with the Japanese partner and another two years to transfer the huge amount of celluloid film into digital files, giving them an idea of the raw material to develop a format for each episode.

The VTV team edited the historic footage into episodes lasting 5 minutes each, focusing on separate topics ranging from politics to culture and people’s daily lives.

Xuan Tung shared that it was impossible to list all the difficulties and obstacles his team faced during those two years. It was a painstaking challenge for them to watch the film and point out what period of time was featured and its content. They also had to seek out historical witnesses appearing in the films and interview them so that they could retell their stories from.

To become a valuable treasure

Thanks to “Memoirs of Vietnam”, many viewers have come across relatives who were haphazardly captured in the film. People’s Artist and cameraman Nguyen Huu Tuan saw his sister-in-law, People’s Artist and actress Nhu Quynh, in a film section from reunification day.

Images of leaders in daily life are also in the film, bringing them closer to audiences. Cuban President Fidel Castro was greeted and embraced by Vietnamese children during his visit to the country. President Ho sat on the floor of Presidential Palace talking with a group of international friends. Party General Secretary Le Duan visited a Hanoi family ahead of the Tet (Lunar New Year) festival.

Also thanks to ‘Memoirs of Vietnam’, viewers can see the normal life of Hanoians in days past like a swimming competition at the August 10 swimming pool, the spectacular jump of a boy from The Huc bridge into Sword lake on an early summer evening, the bright smile of a flower vendor at Hang Luoc flower market, and the joy of students and teachers at an opening ceremony for a new academic year in the first days of peace in the country.

Farmers in the northern region irrigating in response to drought, the ravaged buildings of the Hai Phong Cement Factory and Bach Mai hospital after a US bombing, and the daily activities of US pilots imprisoned in Hoa Lo prison were also shot through the lenses of Japanese cameramen.

NDN President Misao Ishigaki, who once represented the NDN in Vietnam between 1972 and 1984, said he placed his absolute trust in VTV staff members to edit the documentary series.

A city at war where danger could strike at any time, he noted that the elders would never forget the heroic struggle, and the younger generations need to learn about it to be proud of their motherland.

For VTV reporter Xuan Tung, ‘Memoirs of Vietnam’ is only the beginning of a long-term programme. He has nurtured the idea of producing a series of documentaries with each episode lasting 15 to 20 minutes representing a specific topic, such as ‘Hanoi during the war’, and ‘Life during the subsidy period’. He expects that the documentaries, conveying many messages from the past, will contribute to the collective memory of Vietnamese people, inspiring patriotism and national pride.