Uminchu: The Old Man and the East China Sea

Director: John Junkerman

Institute History

  • 1991 Sundance Film Festival


The fisherman who is the subject of John Junkerman's remarkable documentary is eighty-two-year-old Shigeru Itokazu, who lives on Yonaguni Island, a dot at the southern end of the Okinawan chain. Yonaguni's only real industry is fishing, and the prize catch is giant marlin, which can easily gouge attackers with their swords. The younger men on Yonaguni have adapted to the times: they go out to sea in motorboats and use rocket harpoons and winches to catch and load their prey. But Itokazu clings to traditional methods, going out alone in his sabani dugout and trusting in his own skill and strength. The climax of the film shows Itokazu's struggle with a huge marlin many times his own weight in images that would have left Hemingway speechless.

Junkerman is an American journalist and filmmaker with a long-standing interest in Japan; it took him two years to complete Uminchu. The film captures not only Itokazu's life and work, but also the economy and rhythms of the island itself, from the cooperative market that forms the center of community life, to the boat races during the annual Hari Festival. With Junkerman's poetic, nondidactic film, Okinawan realities are reaching the screen at last.

— Tony Rayns (1990)

Screening Details


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