Ushimado was once a thriving town on the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, but now the modern world seems to have forgotten this remote settlement. Inland Sea is filmmaker Kazuhiro Sôda‘s second observational documentary focusing on Ushimado. Much like his previous film Oyster Factory, Inland Sea examines the financial struggles of Ushimado’s residents, though it also explores how the ageing population has been left behind by the modern world.
The small town of Ushimado relies on its fishing industry. The days of booming trade have gone, and elderly citizens struggle to make ends meet with the falling price of fish. In the first half of Inland Sea, Sôda follows Wai-Chan, an eighty-five-year-old man still working as a fisherman. Sôda’s style of filmmaking in simply observing Wai-Chan go about his work is engaging. The sounds of gentle waves splashing or his boat motor buzzing are hypnotic, allowing the audience to focus further on his actions. Wai-Chan painstakingly removes the fish he has caught from his nets by hand. As he tosses them aside on the boat, the fish lie on the deck taking their last breaths which seems representative of Ushimado’s ageing community and their culture dying out. The decline in trade sets up the second half of the film, which shows the immense impact it has had on the town. Wai-Chan and another fellow resident reveal how their children have either left for better jobs or sadly deserted them altogether.
Sôda understands how to make a thought-provoking, moving observational documentary. His decision to first film, and then find his story and themes through the editing process, has worked well here. Every word and action occur naturally, and this allows the audience to empathise with the subjects. Many people may well relate to the film if they too are part of a small community struggling to survive.
For a film that had no script or research, Inland Sea‘s story progresses patiently and flows wonderfully into each scene. The long takes solicit the audience to fixate on the actions on camera. The black and white presentation of the film gives a timeless look, but the lack of colour also heightens the plight of the town.
Inland Sea may well leave the audience feeling melancholic, but it is also sentimental as the audience will become fond of the Ushimado residents who appear in the film. Sadly it appears as if the community may die out, though Inland Sea ensures that they will still be remembered through film.