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The Image It Bears

Ainu Mosir

Japan/USA/China, 2020, 84 minutes. Directed and written by Takeshi Fukunaga.

The last few years have witnessed the springing up of cinematic depictions of Ainu culture, including both documentaries and fictions. As yet another sketch, Ainu Mosir brings together glimpses of the Ainu society’s social landscape and a teenager’s growing up story written by director Takeshi Fukunaga. Behind both there is the director’s avidity to approach to his neighboring community (Fukunaga is Japanese, or wajin, from Hokkaido), keen and cautious, if not overtly. The film flitted in and out of the Ainu people’s lifestyles, rituals, and beliefs, without bothering itself with a further effort to ask the more acute questions underneath the appearance. His gesture very much resembles the teenage boy in the film, curious and respectful, but doesn’t really know what to do with the familiar stranger, especially when this stranger is not an individual or an object, but a culture, a civilization.

The director’s good intentions and enthusiasm earned him help and support in Akan Kotan. However, as the film involves many local Japanese and Ainu residents, negotiations are inevitable between the enthusiastic outsider and the local community, as well as within the community itself. The Ainu people enjoys thousands of years of history but remains little known as it was only recognized recently. Between tradition and the contemporary, between the struggles of preserving the culture and the new chances such as the nationally sponsored promotion of Ainu culture and the boom of ethnic tourism, individuals stand out as powerful agents for the community, while also being concerned with self-interests that don’t always conform to our imagination of “for the sake of the indigenous culture”. Just like the rest of us. In this sense, the quandary shown in the story and the direction of the film is rather honest in its anti-climax. It can be taken as a response to the innocent audience who hope to learn about every deepest secret and difficult condition about the marginalized indigenous people whenever they come to a title related to it. Whereas as a matter of fact there could be nothing different from the “normal” and “ordinary”. What else are your expecting? There is nothing you don’t already know.

The sacred is latent. It has always been. Between the heavy tradition that asks for sacrifice and the temperature-less modernized, globalized condition, it’s a breath of fresh air to glance from the dead cub’s eyes.

Kanto (Kanto Shimokura)


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