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Sanrizuka: Heta buraku (1973)

Documentary on the life of the farmers of the Heta Village opposing their resettlement due to the construction of the Narita Airport.

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Documentary on the life of the farmers of the Heta Village opposing their resettlement due to the construction of the Narita Airport.

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1973 (Japan)  »

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Deadly dull
26 April 2006 | by See all my reviews

In the struggle between local farmers and the police (representing the government and the push to expand the airport at Narita), the director makes it totally clear that he is on the side of the farmers. Curiously, considering it is the focus of the story, there is no footage at all of the airport. The nearly two and a half hours is taken up almost entirely by the farmers expressing themselves, interspersed with very occasional questions from off-camera. There are many long and uncut scenes of these monologues. The director uses cuts sparingly, which makes the pace very leisurely indeed.

I was puzzled by the frequent use of the word "buraku". This word usually refers to a particular stratum of outcasts from Japanese society but, even though they were peasant farmers, they seemed to be ordinary Japanese. After some questioning, my wife explained that "buraku" also refers to a small settlement. The it clicked. The word "hamlet" featured quite a lot in the subtitles. So Heta Village was a mis-translation. Heta is a hamlet (buraku) within the village of Sanrizuka within the City of Narita. Mystery solved.

This should have been a group of sympathetic characters. And of course one feels for them and their plight and their fight. The few scenes of conflict consist only of the villagers cursing the riot police. Things could have been much more interesting if, say, the director had included some officials representing the airport authority confronting the farmers.

This documentary is oh so earnest. It is didactic, and is very sure of where it stands. The portrait that it presents of village life from a perhaps-bygone era is genuine and convincing. This doco is clearly an social history important record. So much more the pity it is so unrelentingly dull. At the screening I attended, more than half the audience had walked out by the time it finished – an unprecedented event at the Japan Foundation.

The vast bulk of the film is farmers speaking interminably long monologues straight to camera. There are a few group scenes where several people take turns to speak, but there is very little in the way of dialogue. The farmers give long and repetitive speeches and personal stories. Add the sheer number of people given screen time, and what you come up with is very, very dull cinema.


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