An Interview with Ryohei Sasatani, Director of SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

ID12_Sanka Nomads of the mountains_director (2)

Winner of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022‘s Japan Cuts Award, Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains is the debut narrative feature of Ryohei Sasatani. Originally getting his start with documentaries, he has released a number of works that concern themes of human beings existing within nature. After winning the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture, production on Sanka was set into motion and shot there.

The story is set in the summer of 1965 and revolves around a teenage boy named Norio (Rairu Sugita) who returns from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma and encounters three Sanka, nomadic folk whose lives are spent wandering around mountains and living off the land. It begins by chasing a spirited teenage girl named Hana (Naru Komukai) then meeting her father Shozo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and the wisecracking grandmother Tae (Yoko Ran). In contrast to a stern father (Kisuke Iida), a budding land developer, and a strict society that is modernising, these three outsiders offer an alternative family who teach the boy to live as part of nature as well as the customs of Sanka culture. This puts him on a collision course with his father who wants to develop the land.

What unfolds is a well-written story of Norio’s growth while under the influence of the Sanka people as he learns from them and reckons with his family ties to the land as well as the burgeoning economic boom that Japan is about to undergo. This story, with themes of environmentalism and the price of progress, also gives a snapshot of the Sanka way of life that has since faded. It is all couched in the gorgeous landscape of Gunma Prefecture which becomes a character of its own as the weather and locations create a deep impression. You can read my review here.

Sanka was due to play at the Japan Cuts festival of new Japanese film in New York but that has been postponed until next year. Since it is currently on release in Japan, the interview will be published now. In it, Ryohei Sasatani talks about the making of the film, from working with the elements, animals, and the rugged landscape to the philosophy he planted in the story and also a little about the Sanka people.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington’s translations.

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SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite

Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains    Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster

山歌(サンカ)Sanka

Release Date: April 22nd, 2022

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Ryohei Sasatani

Writer: Ryohei Sasatani (Screenplay),

Starring: Rairu Sugita, Naru Komukai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kisuke Iida, Shungiku Uchida, Yoko Ran,

Website

Films featuring the clash that occurs when the forces of modernisation meet tradition and the natural world are myriad. From the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994) to indie films like Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s The Tale of Iya (2013) and Akio Jissoji’s Poem (1972), it is a perennial theme.

Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani enters the fray with Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains, his debut narrative feature film based on his script which won the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture. His structurally solid and visually enthralling story channels this conflict through the dramatic self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist who is caught between the drive for the future and the last gasp of a fading past.

Set in the summer of 1965, we see the return of Norio (Rairu Sugita) from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma as he prepares for his high school entrance exams. Alongside a few items of physical baggage like textbooks, we notice that Norio lugs the emotional weight of adolescent alienation as shown via his distant attitude to others, the bruise on his face from schoolyard bullies, and his inability to focus on his studies. His teenage angst brews away in the confines of the traditional house he has decamped to and the hothouse atmosphere becomes even more stifling in the presence of his overbearing father (Kisuke Iida), a war veteran and amateur industrialist bent on revitalising the nearby town.

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