Inland Sea (Minatomachi)
— Bong Joon Ho, Film Director ("Parasite").
"A delicate, patient, and rewarding film."
— Benjamin Illos, Directors' Fortnight, Cannes.
The island is beautiful. The sea is beautiful. And so is the cat. But most of all, the people there are so beautiful.
The scene in which one of the subjects briefly takes over the film – bringing the camera with her to finally tell a story she probably had never told anyone – was so calmly stunning, raw, and emotional. It didn't feel forced or manipulated. It just seemed like something very naturally walked into the filmmaking. It's an art of documentary filmmaking.
The film feels like an observational record of the sincere, respectful relationship between the director and his subjects. And director's 'respectful distance' from the people there.
And that's why the last scene in which the director leaves the island with the camera is quietly heartbreaking.
“Inland Sea” is such a subtly moving and breathtaking documentary.
– Bong Joon Ho, Film Director (“Parasite” “Okja”)
Observational Film #7
2018, 122 minutes, Documentary
Berlin International Film Festival
Wai-chan is one of the last remaining fishermen in Ushimado, a small village in Seto Inland Sea, Japan. At the age of 86, he still fishes alone on a small boat to make his living, dreaming about retirement. Kumi-san is an 84-year-old villager who wanders around the shore everyday. She believes a social welfare facility “stole” her disabled son to receive subsidy from the government. A “late-stage elderly” Koso-san runs a small seafood store left by her deceased husband. She sells fish to local villagers
and provides leftovers to stray cats.
Forsaken by the era of modernization of post-war Japan, Ushimado, a town so beloved by film director Shohei Imamura that he set two of his films there (“Black Rain”, “Dr. Akagi”), is rapidly aging and declining. Its rich, ancient culture and the tight-knit community are also on the verge of disappearing.
Portrayed in black and white photography, this latest observational documentary by Kazuhiro Soda (“Campaign”, “Mental”, “Oyster Factory”) poetically depicts the twilight days of a village and its people by the dreamlike Inland Sea.
Ushimado is the hometown of my wife Kiyoko Kashiwagi’s mother. For this reason, we often visited this town. We met some local fishermen and ended up filming “Oyster Factory” (Observational Film #6, 2015) in November 2013.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been making documentaries using “observation” as my key word. I spontaneously roll my camera, watching and listening closely to the reality in front of me, banning myself from doing research or prescribing themes or writing a script before shooting. I impose these rules (my “Ten Commandments”) on myself to avoid preconceptions and to discover something beyond my expectation.
The “Inland Sea” project also just emerged without planning. While we were walking around Ushimado to shoot some landscape shots for “Oyster Factory”, we accidentally met Wai-chan, the fisherman working at the shore. He reminded me of the story “The Old Man and the Sea,” so eHe I started filming him, then Kumi started invading my frame. Then we met Koso of the fish market, Kubota and their stray cats, and Muragimi at the cemetery. Completing a cycle in Ushimado’s ecological, economic, and social chain, we found ourselves accumulating enough footage for a whole “other film” about the town.
The entry point into a film is usually hidden in the most unexpected of places in our daily life. The “hole” looks so small and dull that we tend to overlook it. But if we enter, looking and listening carefully, we can discover a world that is rich and attractive.
In particular, the “hole” Kumi invited us into was a mysterious one that even seemed to connect to the netherworld. In Japanese noh theatre, there is a popular form called “mugen noh,” in which a traveler meets a ghost who tells him what happened at a specific site. The scene where I was taken up the mountain by Kumi at twilight, is just like a mugen noh play. I had never imagined that I could film something like that in a documentary. “Inland Sea” could make viewers feel as if they were watching a dream or an illusion.
Until the final stage of post-production, this film was in color. I had even finished the color grading in color. But at Kiyoko’s spur-of-the-moment idea, I decided to turn everything black-and-white, and did the grading all over again. Black and white has an effect of putting on another layer of fiction, which fits this film perfectly. In fact, I cannot imagine this film in color anymore. I cannot believe I was seeing it in color until the very last stage of the post-production.
1 No research.
2 No meetings with subjects.
3 No scripts.
4 Roll the camera yourself.
5 Shoot for as long as possible.
6 Cover small areas deeply.
7 Do not set up a theme or goal before editing.
8 No narration, super-imposed titles, or music.
9 Use long takes.
10 Pay for the production yourself.