Naomi Kawase is amongst the most renowned of contemporary Japanese filmmakers and Genpin is a sensually shot documentary revelation. In the heart of a dense Okazaki city forest, we follow Dr. Tadashi Yoshimura, midwives and expectant mothers during four seasons at a natural childbirth clinic. Employing centuries old practices that often run askew from contemporary medicine, Kawase’s tender film oscillates between the intimate moments of joy, pain and doubt in honouring this way of life.
The title, Genpin, overlays the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, ‘The valley spirit never dies / It is named the mysterious woman (genpin).’ In the film, the obstetrician Yoshimura Tadashi reflects on the relationship between childbirth and death, and observes, more as a human being than a doctor, that to deny death is to deny life. Life born into this world, life that ends at the moment of birth, life that ends before birth. Lives do not cease as a solitary life, but are carried on by the species, and continue. Through the flux of the Japanese seasons, Naomi Kawase entered the circle of the women giving birth at the Yoshimura Clinic and the world of Dr. Yoshimura, who has spent 40 years on the path of natural childbirth, and wove the footage she shot with her own 16mm camera into this film.