A Peak into the World of the Deep

Have you ever wonder about the creatures that lurk under the deep blue oceans which covers almost 70 percent of the earth’s surface? If yes, read on and discover how curiosity, with a little assistance from sophisticated technologies plus...

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Have you ever wonder about the creatures that lurk under the deep blue oceans which covers almost 70 percent of the earth’s surface? If yes, read on and discover how curiosity, with a little assistance from sophisticated technologies plus mega amount of endurance hours, have brought the NHK’s team to discovering one the world’s largest sea creatures from the deep dark oceans just off the coast of Japan. Executive Producer Hiromichi Iwasaki shares with us his thoughts on The Legends of the Deep: The Giant Squid, which won the Best Documentary Programme (One-Off/Special) in Asian Television Awards 2013.


What is special about the documentary that you believe has contributed to winning this category?

Showing people something beyond their horizons—something they have never seen—was, I think, the original point of television. This programme not only commemorated the 60th anniversary of television broadcasts in Japan but also reflects the original objective of television in that it shows people the world of the giant squid in the faraway ocean depths. I think the jurors appreciated this characteristic of the programme.


Animal and sea creature documentaries have always been a popular genre. What makes you think that a story about giant squids would be interesting?

We made the programme about giant squids as part of a two-programme series called Legends of the Deep. The other programme in the series features deep-sea sharks. People had known about the existence of giant squids for 150 years. They knew about the creatures’ amazing size because examples had been found in the guts of whales and because remains had drifted ashore. But nobody had seen a giant squid alive. The fact that such huge creatures were so elusive made them all the more fascinating and fired up the imaginations of scientists and many other people. We are living in the 21st century; most of the world’s mysterious creatures have been filmed and shown in television programmes. The giant squid was the last remaining big mystery for makers of nature documentaries. It was so alluring but seemed so unattainable, it was something of a holy grail. We aimed the programme mainly at families. We also wanted it to attract young people who do not usually watch television.


You spent 400 hours totaling 100 dives in finding the giant squid. What are the factors taken into consideration whilst producing the programme?

Giant squids live at intermediate depths (between the deep sea and the surface) in a vast ocean. So although they’re huge, achieving an encounter with one was extremely difficult. The people most knowledgeable about sea creatures are fishermen, so we got information from them and used it to formulate our shooting strategy. We took into account factors including giant squids’ favorite food, the depths at which they live, and the best season for shooting. We then submerged a small deep-sea camera nearly 500 times and sent down a submersible robot. We got pictures of other deep-sea squids, but we did not encounter any giant squids. We suspected our lights were driving giant squids away, so we developed an ultrasensitive deep-sea camera that works with special red lights that giant squids can’t see. I do not think we would have been successful if we had not made such steady efforts to collect information and develop equipment.


What was the most challenging task faced whilst filming this programme?

The giant squid was a legendary creature; one that the world’s most noted nature programme makers and researchers had repeatedly failed to sight. The journey we made in its pursuit was a series of obstacles that we had never experienced. It was like climbing a mountain that nobody had climbed before. We filmed for a year and then another with no results. We sent down a deep-sea camera from a little fishing boat more than 500 times. Then we had to put the project on hold for a year because of the Great East Japan Earthquake. But simple hard work and perseverance ultimately led to success.


Photo (c) NHK, NEP, Discovery channel

About Hiromichi Iwasaki

photo (IWASAKI, Hiromichi)3

Mr. Hiromichi Iwasaki is a leading natural-history producer who joined NHK in 1984 and started his career as a programme director before being transferred to the Science Programmes Division in 1989. He has since produced many extraordinary natural-history programmes including the Global Family series and the award winning Vampire from the Abyss. In addition to producing, “The Life of Birds” series while assigned to the BBC Natural History Unit. Iwasaki has been involved in numerous “Planet Earth” and “Frozen Planet” with the BBC, and “Planet of Ocean” with Tele-Images. He finished heading the series and went on to reveal the mysteries of the deep sea which succeeded in capturing the first-ever images of the giant squid in its natural habitat. Currently he is working on the next series of “Deep Ocean”.