With Ainu Mosir, a production only made possible by being selected by the Cinéfondation Residence and the Sam Spiegel International Film Lab, Takeshi Fukagawa delivers his second feature film. His latest narrative features, two guest roles not-withstanding, an all non-actor Ainu cast.
One day at school meeting with his teacher and mother, Kanto (Kanto Shimokura), a 3rd year junior high school student, is asked about his future plan, i.e. which high school he wants to go next year. His mother (Emi Shimokura) is willing to support whatever decision her son makes, but her son say any school is okey, as long as he can leave Akan Ainu Village.
Debo (Debo Akibe), a rather central figure in the village and something of a father figure for Kanto, desires to perform the Iomante (i.e. a sacrificial act) but is met with a certain reluctance when explaining his desire in a discussion with other elderly members of the community. One day, he invites Kanto for a camping trip. Besides initiating him in certain Ainu traditions and telling him stories about his already deceased father, he also shows him the caged bear cub called Chibi and invites him to raise the cub together. Kanto enthusiastically accepts Debo’s invitation, not knowing the bear’s true purpose.
Ainu Mosir is a narrative about tensions, a subjective tension caused by being born into two different Others (an Ainu and a Japanese culture) as well as the tension a certain Other (i.e. Ainu culture) feels by being encapsulated by a larger Other (i.e. Japanese culture).
The first tension is explored via Kanto’s narrative trajectory. One day, he confronts his mother with his desire to escape the Ainu village. He wants to leave his hometown because his hometown is “not normal”. How should we understand this? When Kanto refers to the abnormality of his village, he refers to the fact that Akan Ainu village functions as a sort of tourist attraction – the village features around twenty charming folk craft shops, some traditional restaurants, a theater called Ikor, and a museum (i.e. the Ainu Living Memorial Hall). While one could argue Akan Ainu village is a place to celebrate and educate people about Ainu culture, it should be apparent that the village main purpose is to provide entertainment.
Kanto’s statement “they make you do Ainu stuff” should not be taken, like the mother does, literally. Is it not rather that living in this place dedicated to Ainu culture impels those born into this Ainu Other to show, by crafting and/or by performing, the traditions of this Other to an audience desiring entertainment (Narra-note 1)? At a certain level, what Kanto wants to escape is this subtle societal pressure to perform his Ainu-ness.
While it becomes clear that Kanto’s struggle with his Ainu identity is related to reality of death as such and the (acceptance of the) death of his father, Fukagawa is sadly not able to give Kanto’s trajectory the touching dimension it needs. The way Fukugawa resolves Kanto’s struggle is narratively and visually speaking too intellectual for its own good.
The second tension is explored via Debo and his desire to perform the Iomante. This religious act forms the backbone of the Ainu’s religious cyclic relationship with the gods (Culture-note 1). In the discussion between the village elders about performing this religious sacrificial act, the opponents fear that this act will not be accepted or understood by the Japanese Other/society. This fear is underpinned, in our view, by the following question: To which extent can we remain Ainu under the Japanese Other? While singular Othered subjects love to meet the Ainu with their preconceived ideas and touristic desire, can these subjects truly accept the Ainu when they reveal how Other they are?
Debo, for that matter, does not want to remain Ainu in name only – i.e. performing the Ainu craft-traditions for the Japanese Other’s entertainment. Debo wants to perform this act to understand what it means to be an Ainu, to be able to fully become Ainu at the symbolic level. In other words, he does not want to remain an Ainu by being born in this specific Other, but an Ainu that performs the act that gives this specific Other he was born into its imaginary consistency.
The composition of Ainu Mosir – a balanced mix between fixed shots, slow spatial moving shots, and tracking shots – stands out due to its shakiness. This subtle documentary-like shakiness, like it does in many other narratives, gives the unfolding of the fictional narrative a certain sense of realism. This sense of realism, as implied by using this cinematographical device, also gives Ainu Mosir a certain intimacy. In a certain way, the subtle shakiness emphasizes the very fact that we are given a rare chance to explore, in a more intimate way, the peculiarities of the Ainu culture and the subjects that, beyond born into the Japanese Other – read society, are also born into the Other of the Ainu (Culture-note 2).
Ainu Mosir is a great narrative that offers a beautiful exploration of the peculiarities of Ainu culture from the perspective of the Ainu as such as well as an enlightening insight into the problematic position this Other culture holds within the broader Japanese Other and the subjective problems being born in two Others can cause. Fukagawa’s narrative might lack some much-needed emotionality, but his narrative does succeed to confront the spectator with an enduring problem marking modernity: the problem of accepting the Otherness of the bi-cultured other.
Narra-note 1: The fact that they live in a place of tourism also forces the people of the village (e.g. Kanto’s mother) to perform the image the others have of Ainu, an image riddled with prejudices, for this other.
Culture note 1: The religious act of Iomante is explained in the narrative as follow: By raising a bear cub the Ainu can live together with the god in the cub for a certain while. Sacrificing the cub, after it has grown up, allows the god to return to the world of gods. As the bear cub was well cared for before it was sacrificed, the god, upon returning to the world of gods, can tell the other gods how great the human world is. As a result, the other gods return to this world as owls, bears, …etc., which the Ainu then receive as godly gifts.
Psycho-note 1: Some spectators might argue that the Ainu want to perform the essence of what being an Ainu is, but, from a psychoanalytic level, this makes no sense. At the level of imaginary, at the level of the ego, there is no essence.
Culture-note 2: Ainu Mosir introduces the famous traditional wooden crafts (i.e. carvings of bears, birds, etc.) and the traditional clothing. Fukagawa’s narrative gives us also a taste of traditional Ainu dances, Ainu language, Ainu songs, and certain traditional religious acts, like greeting the mountain and performing chacchari (a prayer for safety) before entering the forest as well as the Marimo ceremony.