Inland Sea (2018/Kazuhiro SODA/Japan-USA)
Opening sequence :
– Konnichi wa, says the cameraman off-screen as the old lady turns to the camera, and replies likewise. The film begins with a welcoming greeting (as we are casually introduced to who will become the two main characters of the film).
In the foreground, the old lady calls for Wai-chan in the distance. But she soon adds he doesn’t hear well. Cut to the reverse shot, looking back at the lady, and slowly panning toward the legs of the old man who has sit in the shade of a shack. Tilt up, revealing his head, hidden under a cap. Close up of his face, eyes down, from under his visor. He’s mumbling to himself, ignoring the camera. Cut to his hands mending a net by tying several solid knots. His wrinkled hands manipulate netting needle and scissors. Cut to the next shot as the old man cuts with the scissors (cut on cut). He raises the net, out of focus – as a nylon prison over his face – satisfied with his repair.
Now on his boat, he throws another net to the quay. Trice he repeats « it’s to catch rockfish ». A woman voice off screens asks a question twice, but doesn’t get an answer. He complains about the the price of nets, and how fishes are cheaper than the tools nowadays. At 86, fishing on his own... It’s dangerous. He should retire, he says. The cameraman films him at a low angle shot because he’s hunched over his net, his body folded in half. And we see the lovely tiny harbor of Ushimado behind him.
These were the first ever spontaneous takes of the shooting, without meeting, preparation, rehearsal or guidance. As per the filmmaker’s own « Commandments ».
Origin of the project
Ushimado is the hometown of his mother-in-law, so he was familiar with the area where they spent vacations with his wife and producer, Kiyoko KASHIWAGI.
Observational film #7
There was Oyster Factory (2015) and Inland Sea (2018). And followed by The Big House (2018) his first documentary outside of Japan, on and around the largest USA arena : Michigan Stadium, filmed with the help of co-directors and students from the University of Michigan.
The Ten Commandments of « Observational filmmaking »
From his experience he learnt how to make documentaries in everyway unlike the fabricated « world » of television. He’d rather skip the research and script part, to focus on the spontaneity of his characters discovered on the spot. And, like Frederick WISEMAN, he favors long takes, without narration, titles nor music.
This reminds me of a graphic I made to explain all the obstacles to contemplation in traditional cinema, with a set of interdictions in forbidden pictograms.
CCC & Observational Films
Plotlessness corresponds to his Commandment #3, #7 & #8. Wordlessness (doesn’t mean without speech altogether, but rather laconical and natural conversation) corresponds to #8. Slowness corresponds to #5, #6 & #9. And Alienation (with the caveat : distanciation of characters does not mean complete separation but the natural boundary we experience with strangers in real life) corresponds to #1, #2 & #7.
CCC is not necessarily documentaries made guerilla-style, like advocates his « Ten Commandments »… although these are conditions to produce a free and independant film form that film companies eschew. But the natural, free-wheeling, patient, extensive types of images resulting from his method correspond more or less to what other CCC filmmakers record in their films. Natural like Lisandro ALONSO, because the approach to the characters is genuine and direct. Free-wheeling like Naomi KAWASE, because she lets things happen in front of the lens and goes with the flow. Patient like Raymond DEPARDON, because he takes time to meet people and makes his camera become invisible. Extensive like Alexander SOKUROV, because he register hours and hours of footage.
For one thing CCC is not a homogenous stylistic block, it is more a general regimen of images that contrasts with everything else on the theatrical circuit. And it is a family of filmmakers who share the same spirit of dailylife rhythm and extended takes.
Observing, interpreting, observing, interpreting…
Looking and Listening
Five Portraits in-situ in circle
KOSO-san. Back at her store, she preps, weights and condition the fishes under clim film. Then she drives her pick-up truck around town directly to her faithful customers. She calls herself a « late-stage eldery » (75 years-old and over). She’s been doing this job, alongside her husband – until he passed away – for more than 55 years straight. One customer at her shop is KUBOTA who came to collect offal (fish heads rejects)...
KUBOTA. Back at home, always accompanied by her son, she cooks the fish heads with rice. The heads are cut up in close up. Her numerous cats seem fascinated by this cook. Sure enough, the food was prepared for the cats. Some stray cats from the neighbourhood. As the filmmaker chats up with them outside their house, in a narrow alley, passes by MURAGIMI in a haste, embarassed by the idea of disturbing the documentary shooting...
MURAGIMI. Enticed by the KUBOTA family advice, the filmmaker follows this way, where people attend a flower festival. On his way, he finds again MURAGIMI crouched on the side of the path. She visits the neighborhood cemetery, up hill, to tend to her old ancestors tombstones overtaken by grass. Precisely on the day of the Chrisanthemus flowers contest. From this vantage point we can see Wai-chan’s boat entering the harbor. Call back to the seafront, where Kumiko is talking to an old lady friend on the embankment...
Kumiko « Kumi » (KOMIYAMA). Last story but first character on screen (she says « good afternoon » in the opening sequence). So the film comes back full circle by following this singular lady around, down on the shorefront. She is quite a character, full of pernicious comments, gossips and bizarre stories. She knows everything and guides the filmmaker and his wife up and down hill, from one extremity of the port to the other, and back, according to promises of great shots for the film...
Thus we hear « why don’t you go there ? » « Why don’t you shoot this or that ? » « Look ! » « Show this on camera instead »... And amused, confounded, complicit, he follows suit, aiming the camera in the right direction, chasing their footsteps. He also keeps those underachieved moments with camera adresses, these neutral transitions in the final cut, because they are integer part of the process of filming a documentary, moreover full of truth and sincerity.
The filmmaker who doesn’t cut out « camera address »
But Kazuhiro SODA doesn’t mind. He welcomes these little incursions of reality like a moment of complicity with his characters and his audience as well. He believes « observation » has to be « participative observation » ; meaning the involvement of the filmmaker-cameraman on location, amidst a crowd of people aware of the camera in their environment, is matter of fact and should not be concealed on screen.
Hands and faces
Labor at work : an unspoken language
Cycle of fishes
Connections with Kazuhiro SODA filmography
Peace (2010) : feeding stray cats
Oyster Factory (2015) : cooked oysters (from the Hirano Factory) at the oyster bar. Presence of Kumi and Wai-chan two characters first met in this film.
Comparison with CCC (Contemporary Contemplative Cinema)
This couple of filmmakers from the Ethnographic Sensory Lab in Harvard, made an extraordinary performance art piece by strapping 10 « Go-pro » cameras to a fishing ship : to the mast, to the cables, to the forehead or the chest of a fisherman, to a pole plunged underwater… As many surveillance cameras perched to peer and survey each move of the fishermen and women, each activity on deck, each process of the labor chain. No narration, no interview, just the cadence of images colliding with one another making sense of a fragmented whole.
Profil Paysan (2001-2008/Raymond DEPARDON/FR)
Former photographer, DEPARDON filmed a series of three documentaries on the aging rural world of French peasants, each three years apart : L’approche ; Le quotidien ; La vie moderne. There we follow the daily lives of old peasants and their successors when present. He films them with a static lens, at work, in the fields, at home, in a very intimate yet respectfully distant way. He lets them, taciturn introverts, talk to the camera with their own words, and collects memories and despair.
Desertification : The twilight of Ushimado
A dedicated ascent to the Hospital
Indeed this sequence, with Kumi, toward the end of the film, is a piece of art. It starts on the embankment in the harbor, where Kumi and Wai-chan always hang out. Kumi, as usual is pointing at somewhere else, up hill, behind them, to drag the shooting there with her. « You should film the hospital » The filmmaker is first reluctant to go, but eventually follows along, for what will become the best scene at the heart of the film : a 10 minutes of confession non-stop, after a couple of minutes of walk.
From the director’s statement : « 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. »
This moment is like an oracle.