Saturday, January 05, 2013

First Look ’13: Inori

A small community in the mountainous Nara prefecture seems to live in perfect harmony with nature.  Actually, that is sort of a problem.  There ought to be more people around to throw off the balance.  Instead, only a rapidly aging remnant is left.  Director-cinematographer-editor Pedro González-Rubio quietly documents the villagers and their environment in Inori (trailer here), which screens tomorrow as a selection the Museum of the Moving Image’s second annual First Look film series.

Totsukawa village was always small, but it was once relatively bustling.  However, as economic opportunities dried up, the younger generations migrated to larger cities.  Now only senior citizens remain.  Some feel honor bound to stay and tend the graves of their parents.  Others simply cannot face the trauma of moving.

Ironically, some viewers might initially consider the village a verdant paradise.  Produced by celebrated Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, Inori is more similar in look and tone to her contemplative feature Mourning Forest than her intensely personal documentaries.  González-Rubio vividly captures a sense of the area’s hushed stillness. At first it is quite striking, but it never really changes.  As a result, Inori’s mere seventy-two minutes become rather sluggish.  Time indeed passes slowly up here in the mountains.

Nevertheless, González-Rubio frames some lovely shots.  While his approach is strictly observational, Inori still engenders respect for the villagers.  These are not hicks.  They have worked hard all their lives, but they are educated and dignified.  Religious and/or spiritual, Shinto and Buddhist practice also appears to be strong within the remaining community.  Frankly, this was probably a nice place to live in more prosperous times.

Inori has images that could be sold as collectible prints, but as a viewing experience it is rather static.  More of a hike through the woods than a film, Inori is best saved for González-Rubio and Kawase’s most ardent admirers.  For those self-identifying cats, it screens tomorrow (1/6) in Astoria, Queens, as the 2013 edition of First Look continues at MoMI.