績（う）みの村 「Isao (u) minomura」
Running Time: 51 mins.
Director: Keishiro Ikeda
One of the more interesting trends in documentaries made in Japan over the last decade is the number that are dedicated to tracking the movement of people from the major cities back to small villages as they take up farming and find their place in smaller communities. This focus on settlers in smaller villages and on communitarianism is here in Cooperation and Community, my favourite film from the Housen strand since it gives an insight into a village undergoing a fascinating revitalisation and offers a possible answer to the much-publicised issue of the falling population and the stresses of modern life in Japan.
This particular documentary takes place in a small mountain village near Miyazu city in the Tango Peninsula which is located in Kyoto Prefecture. It is here that twelve households reside. It had been dying since most of the youngsters had left for the bigger cities but recently, more and more people disillusioned with life in capitalist society have arrived seeking a new way of living. These new settlers are only allowed in through introductions from friends and family ensuring some harmony as these newcomers and the original population of mostly elderly people must learn to get along.
Harmony is important. The people who live in this village must depend upon each other for help if they are to survive living off the land. As beautiful as it is, it is also a physically tough lifestyle as can be seen from the constant work and talk of work on screen. Natives persist in farming but having new blood offers a boost to spirits and a bond can be seen forming on screen as people cooperate in working with the land. The native villages tell us that there is a special word to describe this bond, “ko-ryoku”, which means mutual support. It is a phonetic word that has sprung from the local dialect. There is no kanji. Say it to an outsider and they may not know what it means but through this documentary we get a taste of the cooperation it takes for this community to exist as the original residents and settlers get along.
We know who is a settler and who is a resident through on-screen text and plenty of direct to camera interviews that give us interesting background of everyone involved but difference doesn’t matter. When we arrive we see everyone helping each other, everyone wanting and finding a purpose as they plant and reap rice, raise fences to stop wild boars digging up food, take part in alcohol brewing and vinegar production and adopt customs that make a community one such as exercising together.
Working together fosters socialising and we see the two groups, previously separate in terms of the spaces they lived in, get to know each other and talk. Groups of women take part in wisteria weaving with the elderly taking the lead and recounting their wedding days and working hard on the land, men dealing with rice crop talk about the wild animals nearby and life in the past. As they do this the original residents reflect on the traditions of their environment and relay social memory and family histories through teaching the newcomers how to maintain the landscape, the village shrine and conduct festival as well as working in traditional industries. Autobiographical stories are traded and a real bond forms.
As one of the natives remarks, “we worked too hard in our youth and when we got older we couldn’t stretch and bend.” Seeing their smiles as kids run around and make music to serenade people farming and seeing them interact with settlers who take on work and listen to their teachings, you can tell that they are happy to share their lives and space and that this community will grow.
Director Keishiro Ikeda filmed this over the course of two years, riding a motorbike for four hours between his school and the village where he stayed, getting to know the people in the village and living a similar lifestyle in order to truly understand the word “ko-ryoku” and he ably shows it on screen by documenting the interactions taking place between people in this formerly underpopulated village. We see the changing seasons in the stunning shots of verdant nature, rain falling and mist rising from fields, and the celebration of the natural world in many static shots that give the landscape a character of its own.
Cooperation and Community provides a contemporary insight into a whole host of issues with the incredibly beautiful landscape acting as the stage. Seeing the revitalisation of a tiny village thanks to an influx of new people from bigger cities and hearing about the lives of a variety of people from new residents learning how to farm, to elderly residents thankful that they have new neighbours was satisfying for me, a person interested in Japanese culture. Having lived in a community a little like this, I found it engaging and hopeful. I have a feeling anyone interested in different forms of life will find this equally interesting since Ikeda has created a fascinating documentary that should have broad appeal.
Ikeda was born in Kagoshima city in 1990 and completed a Masters Degree in Video Department, Ritsumeikan University Graduate School of Image Sciences.