What do you when people abandon your village? Create life-size dolls to keep you company and keep the village look real? Well, that is exactly what has happened in a village in Japan’s remote lya valley.
The village Nagoru, located on the Shikoku Island has almost lost all its inhabitants. They have all moved out to bigger towns and cities. Now there are only about a few dozen people left to re-populate thier village.
One citizen of the village Ayano Tsukimi, 64-years-old, returned to her village 11 years ago on a mission to repopulate it. She had done a pretty good job in populating the village with homemade dolls, hell she even managed to fill a abandoned school with dolls of children, teachers and other staffs.
In a new documentary, “The Valley Of Dolls,” Tsukimi shares her world with Berlin-based filmmaker Fritz Schumann. She explains that she started by planting seeds in the emptying village. When the plants didn’t take, she thought she needed a scarecrow. She fashioned one to look like her father, and from there came the idea to recreate all of the people who once lived in the village.
Partly, this was to draw in outsiders. “I thought people will get interested and take photos if I put dolls at the entrance of the valley. I put them on the field doing work, or waiting for the bus,” Tsukimi says.
The documentary is beautifully filmed, with long shots of the dolls looking perfectly natural in their surroundings. Tsukimi is the only voice heard, and her thoughtful musings tackle questions of mortality, urbanization, and the loneliness of human existence.
Previous coverage of her work reduced it with words like “creepy,” so the complexity is refreshing. Tsukimi explains that she isn’t interested in “weird” dolls. Hers are meant to blend into the scenery as their real life versions would have. She makes them from straw, rags and old clothes, and has turned over some 350 dolls by her count. While the faces are the hardest to get right, she says she’s got a gift for grandmothers.
She’s clearly succeeded in attracting attention. Last year, an Australian newspaper interviewed Ken Osetroff, the director of a travel company that includes Nagoru in a tour package of autumnal Japan, because of the dolls. Osetroff says the village can’t be found on a map: “It’s one of those places that’s very difficult to get to, and we’re predicting in the next four years it will be abandoned, as everyone’s moving away or dying.”
Even the dolls don’t last longer than three years, according to Tsukimi. She keeps a large number in play by creating new ones constantly. Surrounded as she is by frozen faces, she doesn’t think of herself aging or ever stopping. At one point in the documentary, considering her own mortality, she chuckles. “I’ll probably live on forever,” she says.
Checkout the trailer of the documentary below:
Photos from the Valley of Dolls: