玄牝 げんぴん
A film by KAWASE Naomi

( 17 August, 2010 )

As the seasons turn, so life turns.

A dimly lit tatami-mat room. It is kept at a temperature and humidity close to that of the mother’s womb, to allow the fetus to enter this world in comfort. The mother lies on the floor, watched over by her family. Nearby sits an elderly doctor, quietly awaiting the birth. After a while, as if hailing the new life, the mother’s voice rises in ecstasy: “That feels so good.” “I’ve been waiting for you.” “You’re so warm.” “Thank you.”

The film takes place at the Yoshimura Clinic, in the city of Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture, near the center of Japan. The clinic stands in a dense forest, as if protected by something in the midst of a rapidly developing residential district. Expectant mothers come here from across the country, seeking a natural childbirth that doesn’t depend on medical intervention.
The work of childbirth, essential and instinctive to humans, has continued without change from the beginning of time. But in today’s world, with the flood of information about childbirth, pregnancy brings anxiety along with joy.

Mari speaks about being nervous because she feared giving birth on a hospital delivery table. Yura, a surgeon, has knowledge of modern medicine, but for herself she chose natural childbirth without hesitation. Midori speaks in tears about the delivery of her first child; before she knew it, she was given drugs to speed up her labor, suction was applied to the fetus, and she ended up being more concerned about herself than the newborn baby. In a home economics class in junior high school, Mihoko was shown a shocking video that left her fearing the pain of childbirth. Another Mari exercised in preparation for natural childbirth, but in the end, gave birth in a hospital. Her hopes went unfulfilled, but she speaks of the joy she felt when she embraced her baby…

Each with her own thoughts and circumstances, preparing her body and soul for a delivery that suits her?supporting these women is the Yoshimura Clinic in Okazaki, and Dr. Yoshimura Tadashi. Dr. Yoshimura, a pioneer of natural childbirth, has supervised more than 20,000 deliveries since 1961. “Anxiety is the greatest foe in childbirth. Once you’re pregnant, you need to walk, exercise, and give yourself over to natural forces. Don’t be lazy, edgy, or craving.”

Commuting to the “old house” at the Yoshimura Clinic (an Edo-period farmhouse that is about 300-years old), the expectant mothers continue to exercise their bodies up to the day of delivery. As the days pass, they become more cheerful, strong, and beautiful. Imagining the future of the new lives being nurtured, the women await the day when they will lay eyes upon their newborn babies…

Capturing the incomparable, natural beauty of these women, as they face life unfiltered, Kawase Naomi returns to her origins to break new ground.

“Life is not something that exists on its own, it has continued in succession, and it will continue to do so,” director Kawase Naomi comments, recalling the birth of her son in 2004. Four years ago, her documentary “Tarachime -birth/mother-” examined the ties of one life to another, based on her own experience of childbirth. Now, as a mother, she nestles in and turns her camera toward women who have chosen to have their babies through natural childbirth, and Dr. Yoshimura Tadashi, who has watched over them and their families for a half century.

“There are regions in people’s hearts and bodies that are God’s, where even a doctor can do nothing.” Having spent years pursuing the essence of childbirth, Yoshimura observes that life and death are inseparable. There are lives that end at the moment of birth, spirits that disappear before they are born… Everyone is born in danger and lives with contradiction. Following Yoshimura’s line of sight at his side, Kawase examines that reality, coming face to face with life in its essence. Since her first film, “Embracing,” Kawase Naomi has examined herself in the context of her family and friends. “Genpin” calls these films to mind, while breaking new ground for the director.

Filming began in the spring of 2009 and covered some 50 days through the four seasons. The incomparable beauty of the women who agreed to have the singular, precious moment of their childbirth recorded is captured on 16mm film. Kikuchi Nobuyuki, who has recorded sound for numerous Japanese films, including those of directors Sato Makoto, Aoyama Shinji, and Suwa Nobuhiro, created the delicate sound design, which conveys the presence of place and the subtle sound of breath, and opens the viewers five senses. The music was provided by Rocket Matsu, the leader of the acoustic orchestra group Pascals, which has toured live in Europe. His gorgeous musical tone touches the heart, and he also makes a special appearance in the film.

The title, “Genpin,” derives from the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “The valley spirit never dies. It is named the mysterious woman (genpin).” The valley spirit at the source of a large river ceaselessly gives birth to life and never dies out. Like the valley spirit, women are the source that gives birth to all life, and that function never ceases.

Lao Tzu called this genpin, “the mysterious woman.”

nterview with Director KAWASE Naomi

--How did you encounter the Yoshimura Clinic?
The acupuncturist I regularly visit introduced me to another patient who wanted to have a documentary made about the Yoshimura Clinic. That person gave me some letters and Dr. Yoshimura’s books, but I have always made films based on my own ideas, and I thought it would be difficult to make a film at someone else’s request. But I identified with some of what Dr. Yoshimura was saying, so I decided to make a trip to Okazaki and meet the doctor.

--What did you identify with?
I feel uncomfortable with the current practice of medicine-centered childbirth, and I gave birth to my son through a natural delivery, so I had a personal interest. I didn’t take a camera on that first visit, and I shared a drink with the doctor outdoors. He was very open and engaged us personally, not simply as a film crew. Also, the light shining on the field in front of the old house was beautiful, and I thought I’d like to come again.

--You shot the entire film in 16mm.
I didn’t just want to shoot anything and everything, but instead to approach the subjects with the stance that I would only shoot what I wanted to shoot. A roll of 16mm film lasts only 10 minutes. But even if it’s just momentary, a powerful image somehow brands itself on the viewer’s heart. Nowadays, with many documentaries, the filmmaker’s stance in facing the subject is weak, as if they can’t handle it, and they fall back on explaining things with images. But if there is strength residing in the images, the viewer’s sensibility will respond to it, so I decided to go with film, even with the challenge of filming childbirth.

--You filmed over the course of the seasons for a year. How did you proceed?
When filming a person like Dr. Yoshimura, who has well-established beliefs and a philosophy, if you’re content to follow those tracks, you can gather the material you need in three shoots. But it’s hard for the filmmaker to feel any zest in that. But, as I visited the clinic, I encountered striking women, and through filming childbirth, I was awakened to the practiced hands of the midwives… The light gradually reveals itself. So I began to turn the camera toward those things that were engraved on my heart in the course of facing this reality.

--It’s apparent in the footage that you won the trust of those you filmed.
I first open up myself, and approach the subject face on. The doctor sensed my resolve and spoke without concealing anything, and the expectant mothers were women who were open once I opened myself up to them. All of the women who come to the Yoshimura Clinic are people with their own ideas and strong will, so it was easy to form bonds, and no one hesitated about my observing their childbirth.

--Do you have any final thoughts, now that you’ve finished “Genpin”?
I have the sense that humanity is in a time of transition toward heading in a better direction. We cannot reject the progress of contemporary civilization and return to the past, but we must not forget about the continuation and preservation of the human species. When you think about the way that human life ought to be, contemporary medicine and traditional childbirth that believed in the instinctual strength of living beings are mutually supportive?the key is finding the right balance. I have a hunch this is going to be a new theme for me.


Dr. Yoshimura was born in Aichi Prefecture, 1956. He graduated from Nagoya University School of Medicine. In 1995 Dr. Yoshimura started his clinic in 1961, and has delivered more than 20,000 natural births without any medical intervention for 47 years. In the 60s, amid the high-growth period of the Japanese economy, delivery in hospitals became popular instead of delivery by midwives at home. At that time, Dr. Yoshimura also aimed at managed delivery with cutting-edge medical devices. However, he realized such devices could not produce a better delivery, and he had struggled to seek the truth of the delivery. Then he found that a life itself is very beautiful when it is delivered naturally with the force of the universe. He always takes snapshots of a mother and a child immediately after a natural birth, their faces captured with awe-inspiring expression. Women who have various kinds of problems to give birth naturally come from all over Japan, hoping he would deliver naturally. Meanwhile the mass media and people who are related to obstetrics both inside and outside of Japan, fascinated by his philosophy, are paying more and more attention to him.


Naomi Kawase was born in Nara, 1969. She graduated from the Osaka School of Photography (currently the School of Visual Arts Osaka) in 1989 and has begun making films on 16mm and 8mm since her college days. Her work soon caught the spotlight both domestically and internationally. In 1993, she made “Embracing”, which put on film her search for the father who abandoned her in her youth. At the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 1995, “Embracing” was given a Special Mention FIPRESCI Prize and “Katatsumori”, her portrait of grandmother who raised her, won an Award for Excellence in the New Asian Currents program. .

In 1997, Kawase became the youngest winner of the Camera d'Or Award in the history of Cannes Film Festival for her first feature "Suzaku". In 2000, she garnered both of the FIPRESCI Prize and the CICAE Prize at Locarno International Film Festival for the film "Hotaru." Since then, Kawase’s work has drawn greater attention from the cineaste circles. Retrospectives on her work were organized in many places in Europe.

Kawase is also highly recognized for her accomplishments in documentary filmmaking. Recent work includes “KyaKaRaBaA,” a co-production with the French TV station Arte, and “Tarachime-birth/mother,” a documentary that featured her process of giving birth to a first baby. The film has swept awards in international film festivals such as Locarno, Taiwan, Copenhagen and Yamagata.

In 2007, Kawase won the Grand Prix of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival for “The Mourning Forest,” and she continued to pick up challenging subjects in her lastest film “Seven Nights.” She is preparing new feature, “Hanezu no Tsuki”.

To welcome the 1300th anniversary of her hometown, Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, Kawase is now devoted to organizing the Nara International Film Festival 2010.

<Director’s Filmography>
Embracing (1992) . KATATSUMORI (1994) . SUZAKU (1997) . The Weald (1997) . MANGUEKYO (1999) . HOTARU (2000) . Kya Ka Ra Ba A (2001) . Letter from a Yellow Cherry Blossom (2002) . Shara (2003) . Tarachime -birth/mother- (2006) . The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori) (2007) . Seven Nights (2008) . KOMA (2009) . HOTARU 2009 version(2009)

Sound Designer: KIKUCHI Nobuyuki

In 1968, KIKUCHI was employed as a staff member of the OGAWA Production. He was involved in several productions including “A Japanese Village ? Furuyashikimura”(1982), “Magino Village - A Tale”(1987) before turning free lance. He soon became an irreplaceable sound designer among Japanese movies and has been working in many films including “EUREKA”(directed by Shinji AOYAMA, 2000), “Sad Vacation”(same, 2007), “M/OTHER”(Atuhiko SUWA, 1999), ”H story”(same, 2003),The Written Face”(Daniel Schmid,1995),”Tokyo Eyes”(Jean Pierre Limosin, 1998), “Bing’ ai”(Feng Yan, 2007).

He was also involved in Kawase’s productions such as “MANGUEKYO” and “ Kya Ka Ra Ba A”.

Music: Pascals, Rocket Matsu

Rocket Matsu was born in Tokyo, 1956. In 1995, He set up a 14 piece band Pascals, which was named after Pascal Comelade, a French Musician. In 2001, CD “Pascals” was produced under his supervision and was on sale in France. They earn a solid reputation through Europe, especially in France, Spain and Belgium.
In 2005, they were involved in KAWASE’s short film which was streamed onto the internet exclusively.
Rocket Matsu will appear in this documentary film as a keyboard harmonica player.

Cast: YOSHIMURA Tadashi . Director and Photographer: KAWASE Naomi . Sound : KIKUCHI Nobuyuki . Music: Pascals, Rocket Matsu . Editor: KANEKO Yusuke . Producer :NAITO Yuko . Production: Kumie Inc.
2010/Japan/92 min./color/35mm・HD/DTS Stereo/1:1.85

Toronto International Film Festival 2010

Screening Schedule:

●09/15 wed.09:00 pm at AMC2
●09/17 fri. 01:45 pm at AMC9
●09/19sun. 01:00 pm at AMC10

Press & Industry:
●09/14 tue. 09:00 am at Scotiabank Theatre9
●09/14 tue. 05:00 pm at NFB

San Sebastian International Film Festival 2010

Screening Schedule:
●09/22 wed. 09:30 am at Teatro Victoria Eugenia
●09/22 wed. 12:00 pm at Kursaal,1
●09/22 wed. 07:00 pm at Kursaal,1
●09/23 thu. 04:00 pm at Teatro Victoria Eugenia
●09/24 fri. 04:00 pm at Antiguo Berri,2

CONTACT TO: Kumie Inc. (NAITO Yuko)