Ainu means human in Ainu language

Synopsis

The Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan. Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, was previously called Ainumosir, or land of the Ainu. Ainu traditions are facing a critical situation; the latest survey revealed that the Ainu population is less than 20,000 people in Hokkaido, and UNESCO has recognized the language as ‘critically endangered.’ 

This documentary was filmed in Biratori town in Hokkaido, where many people with Ainu roots still live. It is also known as the hometown of the late Shigeru Kayano, who contributed greatly to the field of research on Ainu culture. 

Since 1869, as a result of the new Meiji government’s categorizing the Ainu people as “commoners” in family registries, implementing assimilation policies, and developing their land, the Ainu culture has quickly declined.

After 150 years, modern-day Ainu live joyfully in this town adapting traditions to their current lifestyle.  

The main characters in this documentary are four Ainu elders, who were born in the 1930s. One who has experienced discrimination and poverty, another who makes traditional Ainu dress, one who remembers oral folklore told by her grandmother, and another who has observed traditional rituals, such as the bear sacrifice ceremony.

 

They remember their parents and grandparents spoke in Ainu but they weren’t actually taught the language as their parents believed that their children would have a better life if they lived as “Japanese.”

After many decades passed, they have tried to educate themselves and be proactive as local leaders. This documentary tells the story of how Ainu cultural traditions are alive now through people’s efforts.

2019 |HD | 80min | Japan |
Producer/Director/Camera/Editor: Naomi Mizoguchi

Produced by : GARA FILMS in collaboration with Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum


 

Director’s Statement

I was born in Hyogo Prefecture, and became an adult knowing almost nothing about the Ainu.

After collaborating on a film with the indigenous people in Colombia, Ecuador, and Nepal, I found myself with a strong desire to learn about the Ainu who live in my home country, Japan.

In 2008, I visited the town of Biratori for the first time. At the time, I was searching for ways in which indigenous people from around the world could meet and learn from each other through video making.


On my fifth visit to Biratori in 2015, a staff member of the local museum made a statement to the effect that they wanted to document modern Ainu culture on video. This inspired me to make this film, Ainu.
The four elders featured in the film were born before World War II, went through many difficulties, and survived changes in the times.

Now, even at 80, they all are proactive in various local activities and try to pass down Ainu culture. I was certain that the stories and activities of these four people would become invaluable video material not only of Ainu history, but indeed, Japanese history as a whole.


The existence of the Ainu people is virtually unknown not only around the world, but also in Japan. My biggest hope is that this documentary will increase the number of people who become interested in the rich, sophisticated culture of the Ainu by learning about the daily life and history of the four people featured in the film.