82-year old Itokazu Shigeru, alone in a small wooden skiff, fishes the swift waters of the Black Stream. Unflagging courage and undiluted pride carry him through a long fishing drought and sustain an existence balanced between the bounty and the danger of the sea. Pitting his fine-honed skill against the explosive strength of a 400-pound marlin, the old man prevails, a testament to human spirit and vitality.
Uminchu takes place on Yonaguni, a small remote island of the Okinawa chain, on the southern extremity of the Japanese archipelago. It is an island of rugged beauty, with steep cliffs of coral rock washed by the East China Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Fully exposed to the elements, the island is subject to the unbuffered lash of the storm and the calming embrace of still seas.
Uminchu is an Okinawan word that means, literally, “a man of the sea”, and is used to refer to fishermen. As the title suggests, the uminchu of Yonaguni retain the essential character of the fisherman, facing alone the challenge and the potential of the big catch. Marlin fishing can be highly profitable, but it is dangerous and unpredictable. On Yonaguni – far removed from the factory ships and drift nets that now dominate ocean fisheries – skill, spirit, and fate combine to express the essence of human coexistence with nature.
Two years in production, Uminchu captures the rhythm of Itokazu’s life, the practiced skill with which he prepares his harpoon, his caress as he blesses his boat in the dark of the predawn, the hypnotic surge and flow of the day at sea. The old man’s careful, measured ways contrast with the free-spirited élan of the young fishermen, who celebrate their youth in exuberant boat races across the harbor, and overpower marlin with their brute strength. But, in the end, Itokazu demonstrates that decades of “walking the sea” are more than a match for the muscle of youth.
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