Naomi MIZOGUCHI, born in Hyogo Prefecture, worked at a film production company in Japan before becoming a freelance filmmaker in 1995 and moving to New York in 2004 to study community media. In 2008, she co-established the non-profit-organization Cineminga, shooting a number of films with the active cooperation of indigenous people in South America and Asia. She then founded her own film production company GARA FILMS in 2014. AINU – INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF JAPAN (2019 / NC ’20) is her first feature-length documentary. We are very glad she took the time to answer our questions for our Guest in Focus series.
Where did you get the idea for your latest film?
While teaching the indigenous peoples of South America and Nepal about filmmaking, I realized I didn’t know anything about the Ainu, the indigenous people of my own home country. So in 2008, I first visited the town of Biratori, where I shot this film, to learn about them. While observing an Ainu language class, one of the Ainu seniors told me “If you want to keep learning about Ainu and are having difficulties with money, you are welcome to stay at my place.” I accepted his kind offer and have been visiting the town ever since.
In 2015, when I had a chat with a curator at the Nibutani Ainu Cultural Museum in Biratori, he told me “I really want to capture the life story of elders who have made their efforts to preserve Ainu culture as well as cultural events in the town. But I don’t know how to do that.” That was the moment I decided to create this documentary. I gave a proposal to the museum that I will take my responsibility to create a film by myself but I want the museum to be the collaborator. It means I will be the director. The museum supervises the Ainu culture and the language, plus to be a mediator with local people. I also offered to donate all the raw footage and the final film and I will try to screen the film inside and outside of Japan.
What was the biggest challenge while making your latest film?
The biggest challenge was that I was a crew of one even though sometimes I asked the museum for physical help. Not only did I film it myself, I had to direct it myself and carry all the equipment. There were two reasons why I did this. First and foremost, since I was sharing time with the elders at their homes, language classes, Ainu rituals and other occasions for many years, I was able to establish a trust and rapport with the elders before I started filming. So, having another crewmember around would’ve created an awkward and uncomfortable situation for them and it would’ve showed on camera. I didn’t want that. The second reason was simple: I wanted to save money, especially with airfares between the US and Japan being so expensive.
What are some challenges women especially are faced with in the world of Japanese filmmaking?
When I had worked in Japan in the 1990s, the majority of the staff were men and women were very rare in production except in the makeup/hair and costume departments. Nowadays, you see more and more women as directors or cinematographers, not only in Japan but all over the world.
I think the biggest challenge as a woman at work – it’s not just the filmmaking industry – is the time when women face a turning point, such as having children. Women need to decide and change their way of life. Another problem is that there are women who experience sexual harassment.
On the other hand, I heard from my clients and bosses that women have a tendency to work more meticulously and responsibly than men – though, I think this is not always the case. Once, a man told me that being a woman is an advantage because of our adaptable manners and kind attitude. In fact, I have gotten job offers because I am a woman. But my hope is gender equality will be the rule in our society and not the exception.