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Can’t Go Native? 2010


Distributed by Can't Go Native?
Produced by David W. Plath
Directed by Chet Kinkaid
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Aging, Anthropology, Area Studies, Asian Studies, Biography, Careers, Education, Geography

Date Entered: 05/20/2011

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

When L. Keith Brown, an Iowa native and University of Chicago graduate student, went to Japan in 1961 to pursue ethnographic field study, he chose a remote area of northeastern Japan to do his doctoral work. Dozoku, a multigenerational kinship system, formed the basis for his research while over the next 50 years he also became invested in the lives of the people he interviewed. Brown returned to the area on nearly an annual basis to study rural, urban and regional local history and practices. Now a recognized scholar in the field of Japanese Studies and Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, he returned in 2009 to the small town of Mizusawa in the Iwate Prefecture to visit old friends, renew acquaintanceships, and continue his research.

Filmed before the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami that devastated the region, this cheerful portrait serves as a personal video diary, in which Brown describes his own rural background, his professional career and family life set against a background of his field work in Japan. It is an enjoyable illustration of what it means to be both a master teacher and an anthropologist doing longitudinal field work, using low-technology tools such as 3x5 notecards, a bicycle and small hand-held camera. Given his clear affection and interest in Mizusawa, Brown is asked why he never ‘went native.’ His response informs the audience about the critical difference between researcher and tourist or potential immigrant.

The upbeat documentary, written and produced by David W. Plath, a peer anthropologist and Asian Studies expert, also includes interviews with Brown, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, former students, and research study participants. Viewers who are interested in ethnographic field work and/or of biographies of educators who have made a difference may enjoy this title.