• Kyodo

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Hobetsu is an underpopulated Hokkaido town where residents aged 65 or older account for one-quarter of its 4,000 citizens.

Residents normally brag about the rice and melons grown in the town, situated at the foot of the Hidaka mountain range in south central Hokkaido.

Now they talk about a locally made video musical featuring impromptu performances by people with an average age of 74.

“Tambo de Miyujikaru” (“Musical Paddy”), currently being aired in various parts of Hokkaido, has revitalized the community.

The idea for the flick was hatched after director Yoichi Sai gave a guest speech at a cultural meeting in November 2001. He told the town’s residents that movie-making translates into building human resources and cited a movie produced by elementary school pupils to mark their graduation.

That prompted town resident Koichi Harada, 76, to approach Sai about producing a movie for the town. He readily offered to help.

Harada became chairman of the movie committee. The story, written by a town official, is about an ailing couple whose children planned a wedding for them because they could not hold a ceremony due to World War II.

The committee persuaded shy members of the community to appear in the film, saying all they had to do was keep “smiling” in front of the camera.

At the shoot, Sai instructed the crew to let the performers continue singing. They were not audible at first and their gestures were small. Some people did nothing but scowl.

But in the end, they all had smiles on their faces.

Shooting started each morning after the performers had their blood pressure checked and responded to a doctor’s questions.

A retired 73-year-old hairdresser took charge of makeup.

A single home video camera was used and a microphone was attached to a clothes-hanging pole.

The bridegroom appeared in a peasant costume and the bride wore an apron over her outfit. As they walked slowly before being pronounced husband and wife, those attending the ceremony sang in a loud chorus, “Hobetsu is a green town.”

About 170 staffers and performers took part in making the musical, which took 15 months to complete.

It was shown to a standing-room-only crowd at a theater in the town of Shintoku during a film festival in May. There was applause and laughter during its 45-minute showing.

Sai, who visited Hobetsu more than 20 times while the musical was being made, said the effort was not what people might call an attempt to boost the town’s economy, but was instead motivated by their desire to make a movie.

He said he wanted moviegoers to watch the power of nonprofessionals.

Masayoshi Saito, the 60-year-old screenwriter, said elderly residents started wearing brightly colored clothing after the movie was made.

Executive committee members said they are now being asked by residents when the next flick will be made.

The committee plans to hold a fashion show featuring farm clothing and clothes for wheelchair users for senior citizens. Elderly residents will draw designs and serve as models.

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