Short Films of the Ainu

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August 16th, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - August 26th, 2023 @ 11:59 pm EDT

Cost: Free
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Short Films of the Ainu

Streaming Canada-wide: Wednesday, August 16, 6:00PM – Saturday, August 26, 11:59PM (ET)

In recognition of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, the Japan Foundation, Toronto is delighted to present a selection of rare short films that explore the Ainu language, history, canoe-making, sake, and modern life. 

These documentary shorts were made by filmmakers who are connected with the Ainu communities of Hokkaido in northern Japan, also known as Ainumosir (アイヌモシㇼ), meaning “the land of the Ainu” or “the quiet earth where humans dwell.” While the films present contrasting perspectives of the historic and the contemporary, to show important traditions as well as modern Ainu lives, there are themes of ethnography, preservation, and survival that bind all of them.

All films are presented in Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles. Free admission. Register below. 

Happy Ainu

Directed by YAMADA Yuichiro • 2020 • Documentary / Indigenous • 10:45 • Presented in Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles

The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. With no one speaking or learning it as their mother tongue anymore, the Ainu language is in danger of disappearing. Under such circumstances, 21-year-old university student SEKINE Maya uses YouTube to deliver Ainu language course. Her father, Kenji, on the other hand, has worked hard to revive the Ainu language for many years as a teacher, but he is originally from Hyogo Prefecture and not ethnically Ainu. Although they have worked together with reconstructing the Ainu language, Maya and Kenji’s different approaches to identity and cultural preservation have clashed since Maya’s childhood.

TONOTO Kamuy, a Spirit of Sake

Directed by KAYANO Shiro • 1992 • Documentary / Indigenous • 20:25 • Presented in Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles

This film is about making tonoto, a traditional fermented drink. Tonoto is used in spiritual ceremonies by the Ainu, an indigenous people in northern Japan. Filmmaker KAYANO Shiro records his parents making tonoto in their home. He has also captured the ritual when a new cise, an Ainu traditional house, is built. This is KAYANO Shiro’s first piece of work as a filmmaker. TONOTO Kamuy has received an award from the Shimonaka Foundation.

rametokkor yan

Directed by YAMADA Yuichiro • 2019 • Documentary / Indigenous • 10:35 • Presented in Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles

In 2009, UNESCO said that Ainu Language is critically endangered. Today, none speaks Ainu as a mother language. Kenji SEKINE, an Ainu language instructor, tries to make Ainu language alive and teaches it to the children in Nibutani, Hokkaido. However, he is not Ainu. 20 years ago, he just happened to visit Nibutani while he was traveling all around Japan. He met Maki there and married her the following year. After 20 years, he has become one of the most important people for the revival of the Ainu language.

Language is the Proof of People A Story about Canoe-Making

Directed by KAYANO Shiro • 1993 • Documentary / Indigenous • 21:28 • Presented in Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles

This film documents the process of making a cip, a traditional canoe made and used by the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. Nowadays, no Ainu people uses a cip in daily life to hunt fish or travel. Therefore, few people know how to make a cip. This film centers on two men making a canoe, and it is one of the most important Ainu records because these two men in have now passed away. The director also included a recording made in 1967 of an elderly native Ainu speaker telling a traditional story about a canoe.

The film premiered at the Yamagata International Documentary Festival in 1993.

Notes from Director KAYANO Shiro:

The director’s father, KAYANO Shigeru (1926-2006), was one of the last native speakers of the Ainu language, and a leader of the Ainu’s ethnic movement in Japan in the 1990s. He wrote over 100 books about Ainu culture and language and recorded traditional stories which were passed down only orally. He was also famous for being the first Ainu politician in the Japanese Diet. His effort led to the enactment of a law to promote Ainu culture in1997, and this led to the law in 2019, which categorized the Ainu as indigenous people in Japan for the first time in history.

Shiro inherited his father’s legacy and has been leading the Nibutani Language Class as well as FM Pipausi, the first Ainu community radio station. FM Piapusi has broadcast over 260 shows since 2001.

Director Biography – YAMADA Yuichiro:

YAMADA Yuichiro is a filmmaker based in Hokkaido, Japan. After graduating from the graduate school of the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York in 2010, he started “Yamada Art Film” in Japan. He is involved in video production for educational institutions and local governments, and creates short documentaries. In 2018, he received the Hokkaido Director’s Award at the Sapporo International Short Film Festival. In 2021, he won the Director of the Year award in the Yahoo! Japan Creators Program, and in the following year, 2022, he received the Docs for SDGs Award at Tokyo Docs.

Related Programming:

Filmmakers Conversation: Short Films of the Ainu

Now available on the JFT Youtube Channel

In conjunction with our online film program, Short Films of the Ainu, we invite you to join us for a special conversation about the preservation of Ainu culture, family, language, and identity, through the lens of documentary filmmaking. Details here.


August 16th, 2023 @ 6:00 pm
August 26th, 2023 @ 11:59 pm
Japanese and Ainu with English subtitles
Event Category:


The Japan Foundation, Toronto
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