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.