Behind the Doc Lens

Season 1: Blog 8– “Mrs. Judo” Q&A Interview with Director Yuriko Gamo Romer By Lauren Brody

Trailer of “Mrs. Judo”

In the film, Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful, we learn 98 year old Keiko Fukuda’s inspirational story as the first woman to earn a tenth degree in judo. As important as her legacy in judo is the generous and humble way that she lived her life while reinventing the role for women in the sport.

Q1: Why did you decide to make this film?
A1: I was reading Oprah’s “O” magazine and came across an article on Keiko Fukuda. I was intrigued by her story, especially because of my Japanese heritage. I have never done judo but I have experience with karate. It turned out that Fukuda’s judo dojo was two blocks from where I live. I went there and introduced myself. She was happy to talk to me in Japanese. Then, we met for tea and I learned more about her history and how she had come from Japan. From there, I decided that I wanted to share her story with the world.

Fukuda was very supportive of filming. A lot about her mission in life goes on beyond her lifetime and scope. She realized that the film would reach more people.

Q2: Fukuda’s motto is “be strong, be gentle, be beautiful.” Is Fukuda’s legacy more about how she lived life than her tenth degree judo ranking?
A2: The working title of the film was actually Be Strong, Be gentle, Be beautiful but my colleagues told me it would be too long, impractical but I didn’t want to lose Fukuda’s motto so I decided to use it as a subtitle.

Fukuda felt strongly that how you live your life was the most important thing, not the physical part which translated to her focus on judo. She felt generosity, unity and love in community was what mattered and this is how she practiced judo. It was impossible not to inherit philosophy from those around her.

Q3: What challenges did you run into when using subtitles to tell Fukuda’s story?
A3: At the beginning, I tried to minimize the use of subtitles (particularly over b-roll and archival) but in the end, I decided to strike a balance. I know it’s easier not to read subtitles as it distracts from the complete visual experience. I would cut the film how I wanted to cut it, put in the subtitles and then readjust. Because I do understand Japanese, I would have to shut down the audio during the editing process or consult others to ensure that the subtitles were OK and the audience could understand. You can’t literally translate the dialogue because there are too many words. You have to be poetic. That’s the challenge and the art of subtitle work.

Q4: What role did Fukuda’s judo lineage play in her life?
A4: Her judo lineage was significant and she wouldn’t have practiced judo without it. Her grandfather was her master’s first teacher. Fukuda felt like she had inherited this responsibility—she needed to teach judo and pass it on. She didn’t do it just because of her grandfather but she inherited the responsibility and took pride in her involvement with judo.

Q5: How did Fukuda’s humility and strength inspire you?
A5: It was a privilege and an honor to spend time with Fukuda and do the project. What I took most to heart was that making a documentary film on a shoestring budget, it felt like I was never going to finish it and it was insurmountable. Then I would look at Fukuda and say to myself, “who am I to give up?” Just being in a room with her was inspiring. I felt her strength and humanity—and by strength I do not mean the forceful/aggressive American version of strength. I meant the sheer strength of her character. And I felt motivated to stick with it.

Q6: In the film, Fukuda states that, “good judo is helping other people.” How does this statement reflect on Fukuda’s life outlook as a whole?
A6: Fukuda definitely provided a bridge between Japan and the United States after World War II. When she came to San Francisco, Americans met someone from Japan and learned about Japanese culture. She wasn’t famous. Anyone from the U.S. who met her felt that bridge to humanity and culture. She also popularized Judo for women by being the role model that many women needed. In so many ways, she lived her life “helping other people.”

Q7: What difficulties did you encounter while making Mrs. Judo?
A7: We started filming on Fukuda’s 95th birthday in 2008. I met Fukuda 1.5 years earlier but I wanted to get to know her and research her story. We filmed Japan on location. We filmed for ten days and had no second chances. It was invigorating and exciting to be there. Fukuda was being honored, we had great interviews—but it was also tough. It was an expensive shoot. We were fortunate to receive a lot of support and understanding with our budget from the US Japan Foundation and the generosity and flexibility of other filmmakers. I took one of two principle cinematographers (Emily Taguchi) as well as a sound recordist (Claudia Katayanagi). I hired an Associate Producer (Jonathan Hall) in Japan and I hired my cousin as a driver and location coordinator. We had a van and needed the mobility and flexibility to get around. All the in between time we shot b-roll and conducted interviews. It was a tremendous amount of work in a short time. We worked morning, noon and night. 1/3-1/2 of our meals were eaten in the van between locations.

The film premiered on March 11, 2012 so it was a five year project. It was very challenging but also rewarding.

Q8: What advice can you give about making a documentary film about a person’s life and legacy?
A8: If you want to finish a film, you really have to admire the person, or feel strongly about what they stand for. You have to have an intense passion for the person to stay committed to why it’s so important to get that person’s story out there. If you don’t strongly believe that people need to learn and be inspired, you won’t finish. If you do, then you will do everything it takes to finish your film.
For more information on director Yuriko Gamo Romer and her work, visit:

© 2013 Behind the Doc Lens. (Lauren Brody, Blogger & Isabel Garcia, Producer).

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