Taimagura Grandma

Taimagura Grandma


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Masay Mukaida is the Grandma in question and she farms and lives, initially with her husband Kumedo, in the foothills of a mountain in rural Japan. This is her story, captured on 16mm film by debut documentary maker Yoshihiko Sumikawa. We watch as Grandma and Grandpa eke out their living. She makes miso from fermented soya beans each spring, treading them first with a pair of wellies and then pounding the pulp into blocks, finally hanging them in the rafters to dry. It takes three years to complete the process from bean to miso and, at one point, she wonders if it is a day she will see. Grandpa, meanwhile, does what he can in the fields and around the house, chopping wood and tending potatoes. But he is elderly - over 90 - and knows he won't be able to go on forever.

Part way through the film, he does, indeed, die, which is why this is Grandma's story, watching as she adapts to life on her own. It is clear that this is a vanishing way of life. Despite a neighbour moving on to a plot of land nearby, you sense that the old couple are carrying tradition with them, much of which will be lost forever.

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In many ways this is a fascinating document of a disappearing era, but it isn't all that it could be. There is limited voice-over narrative, largely concerned with stating the obvious and frequently repeating something that Grandma has just said. This feels patronising to the audience. Also, some aspects seem out of sequence. We see Granddad twiddling with what appears to be an outsize set of worry beads early in the film but it isn't until right near the end that we are told what these are.

It is clear Grandma has a busy life, with little time to put her feet up, yet the film is languorous and slow. While a sense of place is important, lingering (and not very good) shots of the local wildlife are really superfluous. Also, the neighbour drifts in and out with little explanation. You get no real sense of him and the old couple forming a genuine bond and yet, by the end of the film, it is clear that their lives became closely linked through friendship.

If this sounds niggly, it's just the frustration talking, with a bit of tightening and fleshing out this could have been a truly great documentary. Instead, it is a wonderful subject examined in an average way.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2005
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Documentary examining a vanishing way of life in Japan.

Director: Yoshihiko Sumikawa

Year: 2005

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Japan


EIFF 2005

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