About Ubusuna Project

The Ubusuna Project is a video project that covers mainly agricultural so-called “disappearing” villages from the inside, with unique themes. Cinematographer Mile Nagaoka has worked as project leader with a variety of cinematographers from around the world on each assignment.

The 2014 fiscal year marks the third year since the project began. The films “Ubusuna” and “Ubusuna – 2” contain the first two years of material, and have been screened in several locations around the world, gathering empathy and support. Works will continue to be produced for the Ubusuna series.

The word ubusuna refers to the land itself, as well as the god of that land. People believe that their ubusuna protects them from when they are born until they die.

In recent years, Japan has come to be considered an advanced economy facing new challenges. Perhaps the concept of ubusuna offers some hints for overcoming these challenges and living positively into the future. This word can be thought of as an alternative to the concept of national territory. It is an embodiment of the Japanese spirituality and worldview.

As environmentally damaging development and environmental destruction continues, a native culture of praying over each blade of grass still remains. This feels almost too obvious to put into words, but as this culture continues to be lost in the present day, the goal of this project is to somehow leave a record of it.

The series aims to document stories using contemporary sensibilities and technology, rather than merely long sentimentally for that which has passed, praise everything blindly, or stiffly report on events.

About the “Ubusuna” films

Here in Japan, the forests and mountains are never far away. 73% of Japan’s land is mountainous, and approximately 66% of that is forested. Despite Japan’s cosmopolitain image, only 5% of Japan’s land is residential. Despite the huge impact mountains and forests have on our daily lives, contemporary society is getting increasingly urbanized, and human society is losing its connection to the mountains and forests.

Not that long ago, people coexisted with the mountains and forests. The knowledge and beliefs they gained from living in the harsh natural environment gave shape to human lifestyles, and now, when focus is being placed on environmental problems and sustainability, there are many things we could learn from the lifestyles and values of the recent past. Cinematographer Mile Nagaoka lives in Kamiyama, deep in the mountains of the island of Shikoku. He travels around Japan with creators from around the world to “Explore Life with Forests” in places where those ways that were once commonplace remain today.

In order to connect these things that may seem unconnected at first glance, the team walks, watches, listens, and records. Many people who have seen the film have found within it reflections upon their own roots, a certain nostalgia, and a heavy emotional impact regarding the challenges facing Japan today.

Filming locations: Kito, Tokushima / Toyamagou, Nagano / Hayakawa, Yamanashi / Haguro, Yamagata / Iide, Yamagata / Kakinoki, Shimane / Hikimi, Shimane / Kudaka Island, Okinawa

In the second work, Ubusuna – 2, we moved on from the themes of mountain issues and dissappearing villages covered in the first Ubusuna film, and took a deeper look at the meaning of the word ubusuna itself.

The reality and hopes of the people living in Fukushima who lost everything in the 2011 disaster, old traditions and wisdom that remains at the headwaters of a river in Shizuoka, a festival and birthing hut where the ubusuna was housed in Fukui, the lumber industry in TOkushima, a holy tree in Kagoshima… All these various contemporary realities are transversed, and the resulting record is like a search through a collection of ancient treasures, looking for clues.

Filming locations: Kawauchi, Fukushima / Imazuwakamatsu Temporary Housing, Fukushima / Funehiki, Fukushima / Miharu, Fukushima / Nishida, Fukushima / Misato, Tokushima / Naka, Tokushima / Ibusuki, Kagoshima / Roppogaoka, Chiba / Misakubo, Shizuoka / Nishidori, Shizuoka / Ikawa, Shizuoka / Ooi, Fukui / Jogu, Fukui / Irohama, Fukui / etc.


Nagaoka Mile



Cinematographer living in Kamiyama since 2012. After a period of freelance work, he founded Nagaoka Motion Pictures. Director of Ubusuna and Ubusuna – 2. In charge of everything from planning to editing.
(Caravans joined: all caravans)


Ayumi Arakawa



Born in Shiojiri, Nagano. After spending one year on exchange in the United States, she stayed in her hometown until high school graduation. After graduating with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Tokyo University, she began working for a branch of a major advertising agency. Currently raising her daughter, who was born in August, 2014. 

Rufus Ward



After graduating from art school, Rufus moved to Kamiyama and is currently active as an artist and painter. Has released works in a variety of genres.
(Caravans joined: “Ubusuna” Nagano, Yamanashi / “Ubusuna – 2” Shizuoka, Fukushima)

Ben Ruffell


Country:New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s most well-known Cinematographers. His work “UKETAMAU” from the yamabushi segment of Ubusuna was shown at several film festivals.
(Caravans joined: “Ubusuna” Yamagata, “Ubusuna – 2” Tokyo, Chiba)

John W. J. Cho



A well-known young Malaysian Cinematographer. His award-winning film “The Apprentice” was shown at the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2012.
(Caravans joined: “Ubusuna” Shimane)

Kirsten Tan



A well-known young Cinematographer from Singapore. Nominated for over 40 film festivals, she has won awards at several international film festivals. Currently working mainly on commercials, and based in New York.
(Caravans joined: “Ubusuna” Okinawa)

Manus Sweeney



Freelance cameraman and editor based in Amsterdam.
(Caravans joined: “Ubusuna – 2” Fukui)

Tom Vincent



Born in London in 1967. Came to Japan in 1996. After working in a variety of capacities including board member and creative director of IMG SRC inc, he produced bilingual online magazine PingMag from 2005-08, then founded Tonoloop Network in 2009. He works on web and video content for a variety of companies while also participating in many regional projects.

About the Caravan

We call it a caravan from the tightly-scheduled short trips of ten days or less where footage from each location was filmed. Additionally, from a desire to emphasize not only Japanese perspective but also that of people from other countries, we invited cinematographers from a variety of other countries to accompany each of the filming excursions.


A digital copy of “Ubusuna” is available for purchase in SD and HD via Paypal. We haven’t made any DVDs available for overseas use, but if you would prefer a DVD copy and you’re located outside Japan, please get in touch. We also welcome enquiries from film festivals and people interested in holding screenings. Additionally, feel free to contact us with any comments or suggestions.