The second feature from Japanese writer-director Takeshi Fukunaga, Ainu Mosir is a unique – if somewhat contradictory – coming-of-age tale that balances its distinct traditional Japanese flavour with a modern twist. And herein lies what this film is all about: exploring the preservation of tradition within the modern age as we follow 14-year-old Kanto (Kanto Shimokura), who is living as part of an indigenous community which performs classic Ainu customs for tourists. However, when he discovers his community are planning on reviving a controversial ritual, our protagonist must decide where his morals lie.
Set in a village where tradition and modernity collide, Fukunaga’s latest work transports us into its own little world outside of time. One of the opening shots of a man performing traditional Ainu music in front of tourists is the perfect introduction to both the feature’s subject and tone. Intercutting this with picturesque shots of the rural area only helps to further establish the relationship between the long-established and the contemporary. This counterpoint is highlighted at various other points throughout the film without ever becoming intrusive. There’s Kanto’s band, who’d rather use modern rock instruments instead of Ainu ones; flashing neon lights during traditional dances; and a PA system that reminds viewers the village is a tourist attraction.
Depicted through elegant cinemaphotography and direction, with noteworthy performances from all of the main players (especially young Shimokura and Debo Akibe, who plays a family friend), the narrative draws us irresistibly into this distinct world and the angsty mindset of the protagonist. However, given the excellent setup and exploration of the movie’s main themes, it’s bewildering how rushed and contradictory the resolution feels.
Throughout the majority of the picture, Kanto (like the rest of the teenagers in his village) is frustrated with tradition. Our protagonist has a more than valid reason to be angry about the aforementioned ritual – until he isn’t, that is. Without spoiling events, all of Kanto’s frustrations evaporate instantaneously after one brief encounter. Consequently, the film’s message goes from one of standing for what you believe in into one of quiet resignation. And that just doesn’t sit right.
With Japan’s Ainu population in decline, Ainu Mosir attempts to fulfil the same goal as its subjects: to preserve a dying culture. While the intent is noble and well-executed, a misguided message has the film falling flat at the final hurdle.
Ainu Mosir does not have a UK release date yet.