Oyster Factory (Kaki Kouba)
“Oyster Factory” is a feature length documentary that observes and depicts the rich and complex world of small oyster factories including its fishermen and workers. The film closely follows their daily lives, which seem uneventful on the surface, but are facing some gradual, inevitable changes because of the depopulation of their town and globalization.
"It is a rare film of intelligence and empathy. The film’s deceptively simple setup and purist filmmaking craft gave me an eye-opening picture of contemporary Japan."
- Asako Fujioka
The Hollywood Reporter
"New York-based Kazuhiro Soda's documentary reveals more of Japan's social problems through stories of struggling workers at provincial shellfish processing plants."
by Clarence Tsui
Online and in print, Kazuhiro Soda is never hesitant to make his political views known. The New York-based Japanese filmmaker writes damning posts about the rise of warmongers in his home country and abroad in his blog, and among his published books are Fascism Without Enthusiasm andDo Japanese People Want To Throw Away Democracy? His films, however, have taken a very different approach, with problems in Japan's national narrative gently revealed through exposition-free representations of ordinary lives on the margins.
Oyster Factory, Soda's latest, which just debuted at Locarno, bears testament to the filmmaker's skills in wringing out big issues from the "little people." Edited out of 90 hours of footage shot over three weeks in one seaside community in southwestern Japan, the film slowly and successfully teases out the country's clammed-up anxiety about a new, globalized economy through the struggle of workers in mom-and-pop shellfish process businesses.
Engaging as always with his settings and subjects, Soda demonstrates an instinct in capturing fears and doubts when they come to the fore, while also carefully putting these emotional implosions in context.
PardoLive (Locarno Film Festival's official daily)
Kaki Kouba - Saturday, China is coming
by Aurélie Godet
If tomorrow Kazuhiro Sôda were to ring at your door with his camera in tow, rejoice. He would make your family and coworkers accept his friendly self, remain omnipresent but discrete, and would leave with a story much more thrilling than you ever imagined your daily life was, somehow also documenting your countrymen’s idiosyncrasies and concerns in the background.
Who would have thought that fishing and shucking oysters could be so engaging to a film audience? It is, though. And for many reasons beyond the mollusk itself. Sôda’s new observational documentary depicts the world of small oyster factories in Japan’s southern province of Okayama, where rural exodus has made resorting to extra workforce from China unavoidable. As the staff of the Hirano Oyster Factory is getting ready to welcome two new colleagues, we gradually understand that the Chinese are landing on these shores with a bit of a reputation...
Viewers familiar with Sôda’s previous documentaries (Mental, the Campaign and Theatre diptychs) will recognize the filmmaker’s talent for recording people’s unconscious behaviors and welcoming unpredictability. An open attitude rewarded again by a surge of strange or comical events.
Films may not change the world, but Kazuhiro Sôda’s films can certainly show us how to look and truly see our changing world.
I made “Oyster Factory” (Kaki Kouba) in the same observational method and style as my previous films. I conducted no research, held no meetings with my subjects, nor did I write a synopsis before the shoot, in order to avoid preconceptions and pre-established harmony. In the editing too, I did not set a goal or theme before I edited the film. Instead, I tried to make new discoveries in the course of filming and editing.
In this film, I did not depict any violence, miseries, or social injustices that are often the favorite subjects of documentaries. You could find a trace of the disaster that shook the whole world, but the disaster itself doesn’t happen in this film. What you see are the ordinary lives of loveable fishermen and workers.
Nevertheless, I believe “Oyster Factory” is a film about change.
When society and the times change in a fundamental way, I believe these changes happen gradually in our everyday lives rather than through a one sudden, big incident. The speed of these changes is so slow that we often overlook them. But if you let your mind settle into a serenity, sometimes you can witness the moment where subtle but essential changes occur, making distinct sounds. I have a feeling that I was able to witness such a moment and depict it in this film.
The changes and challenges experienced by the characters in this film, such as the decline of the primary industry and issues of coexistence, are resonant with the whole of Japanese society and many other developed countries in the 21st century.
I believe what I witnessed at the oyster factories can be seen as a miniature of the larger world. I hope the film can serve as a window for viewers to think about the important issues we all are probably going to deal with at least for the next several decades.
Observational Film #6
2015, 145 minutes, Documentary
Locarno International Film Festival