Dir.: Claudia Varejão, Documentary with Matsumi Koiso, Mayumi Mitsuhashi, Masumi Shibahara; Portugal/Japan 2016, 113 min.
Claudia Varejão (No escuro do cinema os sapatos) writes, directs and photographs this unique form of ethno-fiction that follows three women divers in their perilous daily foray to catch shellfish and pearl oysters without modern diving equipment.
Living in the fishing village of Wagu on the Ise peninsula in the Pacific Ocean, they are locally known as Ama-sans which – broadly translated – means ‘diving mermaids’, and this particular art of fishing first started two millennia ago. The women descend fearlessly into the depths of the ocean simply wearing water-proof balaclavas over their traditional headscarves. The trio: Matsumi, Mayumi and Masumi are part of a 50-strong band of female fisherwomen in Wagu who work during the summer months, in the winter they work in the fields. Often the main breadwinners in the families, their headscarves are emblems of their spirituality, and they are bound by sisterhood.
When the fishing season kicks off after a large celebration at the start of the year, they clamber into a boat called Minemaru, and once again take issue with the captain about their diminishing financial returns. Although have been fishing for thirty years, each year seems to see them earning less, despite the dangers involved. The three women represent three generations and each has their own particular style which very much identifies their age. After the catch is hauled it, they relax on karaoke nights with their families. Ama-san is very austere documentary, making even Fred Wiseman look self-indulgent and over-elaborate by comparison. Whilst this form of ethno-fiction resonates most closely with the style of Jean Rouch, the length of the documentary, and consistent lack of sub- and inter-titles, makes identification often difficult for the audience. AS
ON LIMITED RELEASE AT THE ICA, LONDON W1