In Echigo in Japan the snow often lies several feet deep well into May covering landscape and villages. Over the centuries the inhabitants have organised their lives accordingly. In order to record their very distinctive forms of everyday life, their festivals and religious rituals Ulrike Ottinger journeyed to the mythical snow country – accompanied by two Kabuki performers. Taking the parts of the students Takeo and Mako they follow in the footsteps of Bokushi Suzuki who in the mid-19th century wrote his remarkable book “Snow Country Tales”.
A beautiful vixen fox leads the two protagonists astray and they undergo a wondrous metamorphosis. As a man and woman of the Edo period they now travel through the past and again and again encounter the present: Temple children build the holy mountain Fuji-san out of snow; a woman weaver, producing flimsy crepe in the icy cold, is haunted by an evil mountain demon; at the festival of the gods of paths and roads the rice straw pyramid with New Years’ poems and wishes is burned and the popular ritual of bridegroom throwing takes place. The son of the transformed couple becomes a famous actor. Yet the jealous Emperor banishes him to the gold and silver island of Sado, to whose thousand-year history of exile we owe the saddest and at the same time most beautiful Japanese poems. From the island his longing gaze roams over the ocean. These three elements: Kabuki, poetry and the reality of the Snow Country combine with the music of Yumiko Tanaka to make a visually striking and moving film.