Friday, August 31, 2012

Great Ethnographic Film: Cuba Sentimental

Image borrowed from Cuba Sentimental web page.

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in the Anthro-Film Laboratory (vol. 4) organized by Itsushi Kawase in Osaka. The main event was the showing of the film, Cuba Sentimental by Sachiko Tanuma. A work in progress film on the journey and reception of Cuba Sentimental was also showed. Here is the film synopsis (from the Cuba Sentimental web page):  

Sachi, who lived in Havana for her anthropological study between 2002-2004, sees all her Cuban friends leaving the country to anywhere they can -- Spain, England, Chile, the United States. Visiting them in their new homes, and visiting their relatives and friends still in Cuba, the film explores how Cubans feel about leaving their country, a place that has been known for its utopian dream.

The second film was mostly a reflexive exercise blending comments from viewers, filmmakers and subjects of Cuba Sentimental. It also exposes more of the personal ties the filmmaker has with her subjects. I really like Cuba Sentimental a lot, and I will focus on that film although I might also react to some comments from the second film as well.

The film's main theme seems to be immigration as is follows people's immigration and integration into their new societies after leaving Cuba. I would argue that the film wonderfully illustrates globalization. We are treated to more than a glimpse of the local setting of Cuba - in fact, we see much that western media sources have failed to show. And then we see people moving to different parts of the world and how they go about living their new lives. It was interesting to note - and very telling as well - that the person who had the most difficulty integrating in terms of career, language and personal life was the subject who immigrated into the United States. Other subjects who went to countries in Europe and South America were able to find employment in their professional and academic fields and even enter jobs at prestigious institutions - some were even employed in government positions.

One commenter in the second film questioned whether the film was really about immigration at all - he was more impressed with the subject themselves, suggesting that the theme was really friendship, a theme that most people could identify with. I agree that the film does a great job of showing us Cuban individuals who make up a close circle of friends. But this quality should not take away from the globalization/immigration issues. Anthropology looks at globalization in terms of the lives of real people - how are real people affected by local and global forces. That we get to know and care about the subjects of the film is really a result of the long and quality fieldwork of Tanuma.

Tanuma's fieldwork and filmmaking are muli-layered. We see the group of Cubans through Tanuma's eyes/camera; we see her showing her film to the subjects themselves in their new locations and getting their reactions; we see her sharing the filmed reactions of subjects in one location to subjects in other locations. In fact, Tanuma never seems to turn her camera off. This creates a truly participatory methodology that generates multiple perspectives and reactions.

This work is Tanuma's first attempt at filmmaking. Admittedly some of the shots and editing are not so professional. But we can easily forgive these technical aspects because of her quality of presentation style. Still these aspects bring to light the challenges that visual anthropologists have in the field. How can the visual anthropologist observe, participate and film all at the same time? How can the visual anthropologist capture real life in demanding settings and make a good composition at the same time? These are valid questions for discussion. A partial answer might be that the visual anthropologist learns to deal with these challenges and improves with experience. Tanuma will certainly improve in technical areas but not at the expenses of her quality presentation style (I hope). Whatever the future holds for Tanuma, a common reaction to her film is that viewers want to her to make more films.

Many thanks to Sachiko Tanuma for sharing her work. And thanks to all the participants of the Anthro-Film Lab - it was a great venue to see the films and have fruitful discussions. I look forward to more...

For more information about Tanuma and her work, check out her web site.


Monday, August 27, 2012

"The World in Two Minutes: Japan"

Here's another attempt to to represent Japan in a short video. It comes from a group (?) called WOKI TOKI. Here is their own explanation of their project (text accompanying their YouTube video):

We took the greatest videos from all over the world and made a mash-up from every country. The World In 2 Minutes describes different cultures, and how eccentric they are. 

Sigh... more tired stereotypes perpetuated once again, I'm afraid. But to be fair (?), they made videos for other countries (and their stereotypes), including Mexico, Russia, Chile, Brazil, India and the United States. (click on the country name to see the corresponding video).

I found this information on a web page called Rocket News 24, which promises "Bringing you yesterday's news from Japan and Asia, today." More "weird Japan" focused material, similar to Tokyo Mango. Not so academic but (sometimes) entertaining...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Ric O’Barry and his group to return to Taiji to oppose dolphin hunt"

From Japan Today, 8/26/12:

 Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project will return to Taiji, the town made infamous by the Academy Award-winning documentary “The Cove,” for the beginning of the six month-long dolphin slaughter season on Sept 1. 

 “Our Dolphin Project Team and I are returning to Taiji once again to oppose the killing of dolphins and to warn the people of Japan about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated dolphin meat,” O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, said in a statement to media. “The hunts must end, and the people of Japan will be the ones to end the hunts.” 

“We have made some progress; the number of dolphins being killed in Taiji has gone down for the past four years of our Save Japan Dolphins Campaign,” noted O’Barry. “The Japanese people, being warned about mercury and other contaminants in dolphin and whale meat, are buying less and less of it.” 

 Beginning at 11 a.m. on Sept 1, representatives from five continents will arrive at the Cove in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, to conduct a series of events to mark the new dolphin slaughter season. Participants will form a circle for a moment of silence for the souls of the dolphins that have been killed in the past and will be killed in the coming season. 

The prayer will also honor the victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as those who lost their lives in Wakayama Prefecture during typhoons. 

Participants will line the street in front of the Cove with signs in Japanese warning the Japanese people that dolphin meat is poisoned by mercury.


 Click here for previous VAOJ coverage about The Cove.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leaked iPhone 5 Promo (OK, it's a parody...)

"What do people use their iPhone for?" asks the video above? "Taking pictures (of their food)." Funny, but close to reality, especially in Japan. My back-up camera is my iPhone 4s - my previous (non-smart phone) cell phone had a much better quality camera. So I am happy at the prospect of improvements in future iPhone models...

More info: "iPhone 5 Parody Promo Takes Photo Obsession to its Logical Conclusion" by Josh Wolford.