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The Amazing Film "Diary of Rooftop Water Towers" opens the New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, January 25, 2019.

By Al Nigrin

originally published: 01/21/2019

The Amazing Film "Diary of Rooftop Water Towers" opens the New Jersey Film Festival this Friday, January 25, 2019.

Nobuyuki Asai’s poetic homage to New York City’s water towers Diary of Rooftop Water Towers Premieres at the New Jersey Film Festival on Friday, January 25, 2019. 

Here is the interview I conducted with Diary of Rooftop Water Towers Director Nobuyuki Asai and Producer Keiko Shinonaga:

Nigrin:  Your incredibly beautiful film Diary of Rooftop Water Towers is a diary on New York City’s Water Towers. Please tell us more about your film and what motivated you to make it?

Asai and Shinonaga: First of all, we were astonished to see so many different kinds of water towers when we first arrived in New York many years ago.  Living in this City for a long period of time, the water towers gradually struck us as if they were like human beings. Perhaps with their wooden made figures set against the glass and steel of modern buildings, they looked like Don Quixote or medieval Japanese Samurai warriors standing against the powers of authority. Most of water towers stand alone, but some of them are coupled like father and son, others are like families…. clustered together. The diversity of these water towers parallels the events and observations that we ourselves have experienced in the midst of the changing times of day and night, or during the beautiful or harsh weather in our lives. Then we decided to make this film as a kind of parable that expresses the importance of diversity and it celebrates the understanding, recognition, and enjoyment of the richness of this diversity.

Nigrin:  Did you shoot Diary of Rooftop Water Towers on motion picture film?

Asai: Yes, I made this film with 35mm motion picture film.This film was not made as simple introduction to New York’s water towers.  We rather wanted to create various circumstances and times of our life through the introduction of various water towers and diverse city sounds.  We knew that we did not want to have super digital reality of image in our film. We thought 35mm black and white images wee much appropriate for this endeavor. As well, I studied “Film Making”, so I was trained how to handle film.

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Nigrin:  How long did it take this film and how did you secure the funding for it?

Asai:  It took 16 years. But I did not think of spending so long a time on it. There were tremendous difficulties in finishing this project.  Our camera, sound, and editing equipment were sometimes broken. Used equipment gave us trouble, but even brand new equipment had problems, often due to filming in harsh weather. Some of the equipment was foreign made, so it took a quite time to get the parts needed to fix it. I also had physical health concern, which necessitated an operation and an assistant broke his ribs twice. Also our business film lab was closed. And on top of that Kodak stopped manufacturing one of the two B & W films which had been using during our production. Last but not least, our financial situation totally collapsed. We had to raise money. We continued to shoot the film. Yet it was impossible to develop it for quite an extended time. Then, at last, a co-producer was found, and we fortunately got two grants--one from the Jerome Foundation and another from New York Council on the Arts.  That financial support was such a great help for us to complete our project.

Nigrin:  How were you get access to all of these location?


Asai: I walked with a very small video camera looking for interesting water towers all over the five boroughs, from street to street, and avenue to avenue, throughout New York City. Then we wrote a letter to request the permission to film on those rooftops. However, we received permission only 20% to 30% of the time.

Nigrin:  What has been the reaction from audiences to your film so far?

Asai and Shinonaga

We have not shown our film at a public screening, yet. The screening at The New Jersey Film festival will be the World Premiere! The few private screenings we have had have been very well received.

Nigrin:  Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info  about your film you would like to relay to our readers?

Asai and Shinonaga: We began our project right after 9/11, in 2001, and the “ If you see something say something “ slogan was pervasive at this time. Therefore, this unexpected misfortune amplified our work’s frustrations. Whether I was on location-scouting, recording sound, and even shooting on the rooftop,  certain people and NYPD officers were skeptically wondering what we were doing and then misunderstood us as if we were terrorist. But on the other hand, many superintendents and building mangers were especially kind in accommodating us during shooting to carry heavy camera equipment or providing ladders of excessive length up to the highest reaches of the rooftops.  Some building owners returned our token of appreciation with saying “We do not need your check” as we often offered payment for the chance to shoot there. But rather they said “make a good movie and let us know when you finish.” Can you imagine how much encouragement we received with those words? Our film really could not have been completed without these people’s extraordinary goodwill and kindness.

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Diary of Rooftop Water Towerswill be preceded by short animation film Geometry. Here is more info for this screening. 

Geometry – Simo Liu (Los Angeles, California)  A short animation inspired by the work of experimental filmmakers Oskar Fischinger and John Whitney. 2018; 2 min. 

Diary of Rooftop Water Towers – Nobuyuki Asai (New York, New York)  A poetic homage to New York City’s water towers as they evolve through the seasons, their mutability comparable to that of human lives. Over 200 shots of rooftop water towers are separated by brief intervals of black leader, which evoke a city symphony that changes throughout the day and through the seasons. 2018; 103 min Q+A Session by DirectorNobuyuki Asai and Producer Keiko Shinonaga!   Co-sponsored by the Rutgers University Cinema Studies Program!

Friday, January 25, 2019 at 7PM  In Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University
, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey

$12=General; $10=Students+Seniors; $9=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends

Information: (848) 932-8482;


Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.



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