Website del documental "Ainu. Caminos a la memoria"
Centeno Martin, Marcos Pablo (2018) Contextualising N. G. Munro’s filming of the Ainu Bear Ceremony. Japan Society Proceedings , pp. 90-106. ISSN 0952-2050. (In Press)
After a struggle lasting many years and led by several Ainu associations, the Diet, Japanese parliament, eventually recognised the Ainu as the indigenous people of Japan. This took place in 2008, only one year after the United Nations issued the “Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”. I have the impression that this historical landmark fuelled interest in Ainu culture in Japan and some documentaries were released soon after: Tokyo Ainu (Hiroshi Moriya, 2011) and Kamui to ikiru (Hideki Komatsu, 2011). In 2012, I had the chance to attend a private screening of Moriya’s Tokyo Ainu, arranged by Alejandra Armendáriz, a Japanese Cinema researcher who would later become a Japan Society staff member and with whom I have maintained a long friendship from then on. Probably prompted by this revival of Ainu culture, I enrolled in Ainu language courses at Waseda University, established connections with members of the Ainu community and engaged in the production of the full-length documentary Ainu. Pathways to Memory which was released in 2014.
Delving deeper into the visibility and dissemination of Ainu culture, I noticed that it was essential to find out about prior cinematic representations of the Ainu. Surprisingly, I discovered that the recent films on the Ainu people were not a new phenomenon; far from it, the long period of discrimination and policies of assimilation to the Japanese culture and way of life contrasted with an extraordinary visibility that the Ainu had before World War II. As a result of a European fascination with the Ainu, they are featured in Les Aïnous à Yéso, comprised of two of the earliest thirtythree moving images ever shot in Japan, which were filmed by the French operator François-Constant Girel in 1897. After that, the Ainu were depicted by a number of Western film operators (Centeno 2017; 2015; Okada 2007).
Then, I came to know of the documentaries made by the Scottish physician Neil Gordon Munro which were extraordinarily inspiring. Munro produced the last works among a wave of Western documentaries prior to the Pacific War. In March 2017, I was invited to an event organised by the Japan Society in partnership with the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and held at SOAS, in which Munro’s The Ainu Bear Ceremony (1931) was screened alongside extracts from the documentary I directed; Ainu. Pathways to Memory. This was a bold and inspiring proposal that enabled the setting up of dialogue between the last pre-war documentaries and probably the first documentary film after the war. The event also allowed me to watch the different versions of the film that Munro had made on the Ainu bear ceremony —provided by George Barker, who at the time was working at the RAI—.
This text seeks to contextualise Munro’s work by focusing on the footage he shot on the bear festival, framing his role within the documentaries made on the Ainu before World War II. This research is intended to reveal why Munro’s documentary work presents a qualitative leap in the pre-war representation of the Ainu, and to explore how he inaugurates a new Western approach to this minority, surpassing previous moving images aimed at astonishing audiences with exotic images of “primitive people”.