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122 min. Japanese.

Sometimes Mr Murata thinks that it was just yesterday when he was 50 or 60. “And now I’m pushing 90,” he says.
Like many parts of rural Japan, the fishing village of Ushimado suffers from an ageing population. Every day, Mr Murata still takes his boat out on the inland sea that separates Honshu and Shikoku, two of Japan’s main islands. He sells his catch at the local market, with a large share going to Mrs Koso, who runs the local fish trade and tours the village daily in her delivery van. She knows her customers’ preferences and habits inside out and tells the filmmakers how long each of the empty houses has been abandoned.
Ushimado provides the ideal spot for the patient observations made in Kazuhiro Soda’s Minatomachi, which is shot in mesmerising black and white. This location isn’t just perfect because the film’s producer Kiyoko Kashiwagi’s family hails from the village, nor because Shohei Imamura shot two features here. It’s perfect because all that’s needed is to listen and follow the local people, who – like the elderly Mrs Komiyama – occasionally hijack the camera and tell heart-breaking stories no outsider has ever wanted to hear. (Christoph Terhechte)

Kazuhiro Soda was born in Ashikaga, Tochigi, Japan in 1970 and has lived in New York since 1993. He earned a degree in Religious Studies at Tokyo University, and in 1997, he completed a degree in Film Studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He directed fiction films and numerous television documentaries until completing his first full-length documentary, Senkyo, in 2007. Along with making films, Soda also writes non-fiction books and articles for film magazines. His recent publications include “Kansatsusuru Otoko” (2016, A Man Who Observes) and “Nekkyo naki Fashizumu” (2014, Fascism Without Enthusiasm). Soda was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan in the United States until 2017.

Ghost play and documentary

Ushimado is the hometown of the mother of my wife, Kiyoko Kashiwagi. For this reason, we often visited this town. We met some local fishermen there and ended up filming OYSTER FACTORY in November 2013.
For the past ten years, I’ve been making documentaries using ‘observation’ as my key word. I spontaneously roll my camera, watching and listening closely to the reality in front of me, banning myself from doing research or prescribing themes or writing a script before shooting. I impose these rules (my ‘Ten Commandments’) on myself to avoid preconceptions and to discover something beyond my expectations.
The MINATOMACHI project also just emerged without planning. While we were walking around Ushimado to shoot some landscape shots for OYSTER FACTORY, we accidentally met Wai-chan, the fisherman working at the shore. He reminded me of the story “The Old Man and the Sea”, so I started filming him; then Kumi started invading my frame. Then we met Koso of the fish market, Kubota and their stray cats, and Muragimi at the cemetery. Completing a cycle in Ushimado’s ecological, economic, and social chain, we found ourselves accumulating enough footage for a whole other film about the town.
The entry point into a film is usually hidden in the most unexpected of places in our daily life. The ‘hole’ looks so small and dull that we tend to overlook it. But if we enter, looking and listening carefully, we can discover a world that is rich and attractive.
In particular, the ‘hole’ Kumi invited us into was a mysterious one that even seemed to connect to the netherworld. In Japanese Noh theatre, there is a popular form called Mugen Noh, in which a traveller meets a ghost who tells him what happened at a specific site.  The scene where I am taken up the mountain by Kumi at twilight is just like a Mugen Noh play. I had never imagined that I could film something like that in a documentary. MINATOMACHI could make viewers feel as if they were watching a dream or an illusion.
Until the final stage of post-production, this film was in colour. I had even finished the colour grading in colour. But thanks to Kiyoko’s spur-of-the-moment idea, I decided to turn everything black-and-white, and did the grading all over again. Black-and-white has an effect of putting on another layer of fiction, which fits this film perfectly. In fact, I cannot imagine this film in colour anymore. I cannot believe I was seeing it in colour until the very last stage of post-production. (Kazuhiro Soda)

Ten Commandments
1 No research.
2 No meetings with subjects.
3 No scripts.
4 Roll the camera yourself.
5 Shoot for as long as possible.
6 Cover small areas deeply.
7 Do not set up a theme or goal before editing.
8 No narration, superimposed titles, or music.
9 Use long takes.
10 Pay for the production yourself.

Respect and distance

The island is beautiful. The sea is beautiful. And so is the cat. But most of all, the people there are so beautiful. The scene in which one of the subjects briefly takes over the film – bringing the camera with her to finally tell a story she probably had never told anyone – was so calmly stunning, raw, and emotional. It didn‘t feel forced or manipulated. It just seemed like something very naturally walked into the filmmaking. That's the art of documentary filmmaking.
The film feels like an observational record of the sincere, respectful relationship between the director and his subjects; and the director’s respectful distance from the people there. And that's why the last scene, in which the director leaves the island with the camera, is quietly heart-breaking.   
MINATOMACHI is such a subtly moving and breath-taking documentary. (Bong Joon Ho)

Production Kiyoko Kashiwagi, Kazuhiro Soda. Production company Laboratory X (New York, USA). Director Kazuhiro Soda. Director of photography Kazuhiro Soda. Editing Kazuhiro Soda. Sound Kazuhiro Soda.

World sales TriCoast Worldwide


1995: A Night in New York (10 min.), A Flower and a Woman (5 min.). 1996: Freezing Sunlight (85 min.). 1997: The Flicker (17 min.). 2007: Senkyo / Campaign (120 min., forum 2007). 2008: Seishin / Mental (135 min., forum 2009). 2010: Peace (75 min.). 2012: Engeki 1 / Theatre 1 (172 min.), Engeki 2 / Theatre 2 (170 min.). 2013: Senkyo 2 / Campaign 2 (149 min.). 2015: Kaki Kouba / Oyster Factory (145 min.). 2018: The Big House (119 min.), Minatomachi / Inland Sea.

Photo: © 2018 Laboratory X, Inc.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur