MORIOKA >> A documentary film featuring a large, dairy-farming family of five sons and two daughters recently screened in Tokyo.
Edited down from more than 1,000 hours of video, “Yamafutokoro ni Idakarete” (“In the Arms of Mountains”) is based on a television series detailing the more than 20-year struggle of the Yoshizuka family as it strives to thrive in the harsh but beautiful natural setting of Iwate Prefecture.
The film was produced by Morioka-based TV Iwate as part of its 50th anniversary.
Kimio Yoshizuka, 67, and his family own and work a dairy farm in a mountainous area of Tanohata Village. Distinct from most dairy farmers who feed their cows in a barn, the family takes their cows to graze in the mountains throughout the year, allowing them to feed on wild grasses. Yoshizuka moved to the village in 1974 to do free-range farming.
He caught the eye of Takashi Endo of TV Iwate, who had covered agriculture in the prefecture. Endo became fascinated with the daily life of the large family.
“Small children helped … by carrying branches and leading cattle. I was impressed that such a situation still (existed),” he said.
A major turning point for the farm came in 1996, when Yoshizuka began his own milk brand. The farmer touted the quality of milk produced from “mountain dairy farming.” His campaign was broadcast nationwide, boosting demand.
From that point on, Endo continued to document the family’s milestones, including the children’s graduations and marriages. He chronicled challenges as well.
Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the dairy was threatened. Since mountain dairy farming involves cows going to pasture, radioactive contamination was a concern. But despite the milk having been proven safe, business declined dramatically. To dispel concerns, Endo documented Yoshizuka undergoing safety inspections.
Over 24 years of filming, sometimes the challenges were between family members. One segment candidly captured a confrontation between Yoshizuka and a son, who had studied dairy farming outside the prefecture, over management of the farm.
“I think Yoshizuka grew by listening to (his children’s) opinions,” Endo said.
Today, the farm has expanded to cheese production, and its customer base is steadily increasing. Not all the children are in the family business; some now live outside the prefecture.
But in the last scene of the film, the entire family gathers around the table just like old times. And audiences will see Yoshizuka broadly smile, surrounded by many grandchildren.