Guest in Focus: Lunch Bee House

In the 2021 edition of the Nippon Connection Film Festival’s NIPPON DOCS section, we are presenting Laura Liverani (right) and Neo SORA’s (middle) documentary film AINU NENO AN AINU as a world premiere.

Directors Laura Liverani (Japan/Italy), Neo SORA (Japan/USA), and producer Valý Þórsteinsdóttir (Iceland) (left) form the creative collective Lunch Bee House, named in homage to the Ainu restaurant Lunch House BEE in the Nibutani district in Hokkaido Prefecture. With diverse backgrounds in photography, film, music, art, and anthropology, they combine diverse talents and skills that have enabled them to realize internationally appraised photography and film projects. AINU NENO AN AINU (2019 / NC ’21) is their first feature-length documentary. Thank you for taking your time for this interview.

You created the documentary AINU NENO AN AINU as a collective. Why the name “Lunch Bee House” for your collective and how is the food there?

To capture the strong sense of community we experienced while filming, we used the name of the cafe run by Yukiko Kaizawa, an Ainu woman in Nibutani. Although she would only open on special occasions, she would always cook great Ainu food for the whole community, including wild mountain vegetables such as Kitopiro, or Ainu leek. The food prepared by Ms Kaizawa was usually shared in her textile workshop across the street from the cafe, referred to as the “prefab”. While we were living and filming in Nibutani and became part of the Kaizawa extended family, we would often eat and hang out at the Prefab, featured in several scenes of our film. We then learned that being adopted into the community derives from a traditional Ainu social practice called Utari, that still survives today in different forms.

(Nippon Connection 2021 – Nippon Docs: Ainu Neno An Ainu, Laura Liverani and Neo Sora)

How did you work together on this documentary being three countries and three time zones apart?

We conceived the project while we were all in Japan. In 2014 Laura and Valy traveled to Hokkaido to learn more about Ainu culture, and decided to set our film in the small village of Nibutani after meeting Maya (the main narrator in our film) and her family. Then Neo and Laura spent two months in 2015 living and filming in Hokkaido. After shooting, we managed to work all together on editing: first Reykjavik, then Tokyo and London. At a point when we felt our project was stuck, Neo involved like-minded film editor Takuya Kawakami, and went back to Nibutani alone to shoot follow up material. In 2019 Neo and Laura spent one intensive month on the editing in Tokyo with Takuya, and finally our film was completed. Valy’s contribution, although she would not always be physically present while filming, was very important throughout the making of the documentary: she had been to Nibutani and knew the community, yet she was able to be more objective than Neo and Laura during post-production, as she wasn’t as emotionally attached to the content. In brief, to work as an international collective is a very interesting process, although definitely not time effective.

When did you first hear about the indigenous people of the Ainu and when did you decide to make a film about them?

Although coming from different backgrounds, all of us shared the same passion for Ainu culture. We came together naturally, as a “punk band of filmmaking” to pursue our first film as a collaborative project. Laura had started a photo series also called Ainu Neno An Ainu a few years earlier. After meeting with Valy and Neo in Tokyo in 2014, the idea of making a documentary film together came up. We were interested in what it means to be an Ainu today, in everyday life practices, and in addressing the sense of belonging within a community in the double process of both preserving and reinventing their own culture, after a history of forced assimilation.

(Nippon Connection 2021 – Nippon Docs: Ainu Neno An Ainu, Laura Liverani and Neo SORA)

Japan 2020, 72 min
Watch the film here from June 1 to 6, 2021
at the 21st Nippon Connection Film Festival
Check out the trailer here!

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