FIlm Review: Oyster Factory is honest
Filmed over the course of one week on the Inland sea of Japan’s Ushimado, Okayama, Kazuhiro Soda’s Oyster Factory is an observational documentary which addresses the slowly changing attitudes of Japanese people in a case study of an oyster farming factory.
A two-hour-and-25-minute film edited from 90 hours worth of footage and shot over the course of a week, Soda along with this wife Yukiko Watanabe capture intimate, everyday moments that occur at the oyster factory. The use of a skeleton crew provides Soda and Watanabe personal, intimate moments in which characters are open to speaking about the changing nature of Japan as well as conservative prejudices regarding cultural norms and ways of being. At times it is challenging to piece together a story from everyday conversations but Soda manages to curate a film which is both relaxing to watch and seems an honest reflection of Japanese society.
Although at times the documentary may seem a little dull or uninteresting, Oyster Factory uses these somewhat meaningless moments as reflective pauses within the documentary for viewers to ponder the unknown.
Oyster Factory opens with shot of a cat called Milk or otherwise known as Shiro (meaning white in Japanese) playfully posing for the camera. If watching oyster shucking is not to your taste, a side-story of a Shiro the cat’s adventures on the island, including attempting to enter the filmmakers’ residence, is a delightful moment, well worth the admission in itself.
Although there are moments of which vast shots of the ocean are used and it seems as if nothing is happening, the reflective nature of Oyster Factory is shown in its observational documentary form, of which Soda uses of footage which runs at a long duration. Repetitive sequences of oyster shucking and mundane conversations create a sort of documented archive of a slowing, declining industry.
There are a few factors of which are presented to us addressing the reasons for the decline in the oyster farming as seen on screen. The most obvious being the ageing population and the manual labour of which is seen as repetitive and tiring for many. Conclusions drawn from Oyster Factory include the hardworking nature of the Japanese elderly who delightfully smile at the camera whilst shucking oysters with such skill and precision.
There are racist attitudes carried by a few of the people in the film particularly those of the older generation, perhaps due to the tension surrounding Chinese and Japanese relations post World War II. It’s a stereotype built on obvious prejudice which includes that a throwaway comment on Chinese stealing (personally, being of Chinese descent I’m not sure if I should be offended but Soda seems to present a balanced portrayal of an obviously prejudiced view held towards certain racial groups within the film).
The ageing population of oyster farm workers is the biggest issue presented within Soda’s documentary, in which problems arise due to the declining industry. This includes the desire of many oyster farmers to retire but not having the ability to due to finances and the decline in popularity of oyster farming especially within younger generations of Japanese being such a manual and tedious industry.
The awareness of oyster farming’s decline as an industry that is celebrated by Japanese culture, in particular Japan’s long association with a love of seafood, is something which makes the decline of the fishing industry as addressed in Soda’s Oyster Factory of particular concern.
Oyster Factory screens as part of the Sydney Film Festival on 18th June. For more about SFF and to buy tickets, head to their website: http://www.sff.org.au/
Review by Addy Fong.