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Review: Wild Japan – Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands (2015)

Directed by: Gavin Maxwell, David Marks, Susie Painter | 150 minutes |

Japan is a densely populated and industrialized country full of large cities where technology and a highly developed service sector go hand in hand. But beyond the big and bustling metropolises like Tokyo, the land of the rising sun also has a surprisingly wide variety of spectacular landscapes, where Japan, dominated by concrete jungles and flickering neon lights, gives way to rugged nature. The people who live in these remote areas still often respect ancient traditions and strive for a life in harmony with nature.

The series “Wild Japan” beautifully shows how animals and people have adapted over time to the often unpredictable and sometimes extreme natural phenomena that are typical of the Asian country. Active volcanoes, earthquakes, harsh and snowy winters or stormy summers, these are all vagaries of Mother Nature that you can encounter in Japan. The series is divided into three parts that successively take a closer look at the densely populated, but also mountainous and forested Honshu (the largest island in Japan), the subtropical islands in the southwest and the northern, sometimes fairy-tale-like Hokkaido, especially in the winter months.

Japanese tree frogs that build foam nests in trees to give their offspring a safe start in life, coral reefs full of colorful and imposing fish, firefly squids glowing in the dark deep sea, Steller’s sea eagles (the heaviest eagles in the world), wild swans and dancing Chinese cranes that stand out beautifully against a winter wonderland, industrious squirrels that scavenge for their living in colorful autumn forests and the now famous Japanese macaques that live in natural hot springs in the cold months, these are all examples that are discussed in ‘Wild Japan’ and illustrate how diverse and spectacular the animal world still is in some parts of the country. Wild Japan also has an eye for the human inhabitants who inhabit the wilder parts of the archipelago, people who often still live in harmony with nature and are largely dependent on what the land and the sea have to offer. For example, we get to know the inhabitants of the island of Okinawa, people who, due to a balanced diet of lots of vegetables, fruit and fish, are not very susceptible to modern lifestyle diseases and who often grow very old, two older females who catch sea snakes on a small scale to soup and ‘underwater agriers’ who harvest the nutritious seaweed mozuko. Fine examples of a peaceful coexistence between humans and animals are the fishermen on Hokkaido, men who share the benefits of salmon migration with the bears that surround their fishing boats, and the ice fishermen on the same island who voluntarily donate some of their loot to the sea eagles who live near them.

The interesting mix of nature and cultural history, supported by the special and crystal clear images, makes “Wild Japan” a beautiful series that shows a wild and authentic side of the East Asian archipelago that we normally rarely see.

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