Minka: How a Japanese Farmhouse Changed the Lives of Two Men

A still from the film Minka (Image courtesy Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC)

A still from the film Minka (Image courtesy Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC)


It is rare to find a film that is pitch-perfect in its cinematography, story, pacing, and length, but Davina Pardo’s short film Minka is such a gem. (I owe writer Craig Mod a thank you for turning me onto this quiet masterpiece.)

Based on journalist John Roderick’s book Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, the film is a moving meditation on place, memory, friendship, family, and the meaning of home. Most remarkable, this haunting story plays out in a mere 15 minutes.

Minka is the Japanese name for the dwellings of 18th-century farmers, merchants, and artisans (i.e., the three non samurai-castes), but as Wikipedia explains, this caste-connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional Japanese style residence of an appropriate age could be referred to as minka. The word minka literally means “a house of the people.”



The story of how AP foreign correspondent John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son Yoshihiro Takishita met, and then rescued a massive, timber minka by moving it from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura is full of small surprises and revelations (the biggest one comes at the end of the film).

Minka-Roderick-CoverMinka is a film that celebrates stillness. Pardo’s camera lovingly lingers on sun, shadows, and dust. But the peaceful home is not just a restored space full of beautiful, personal objects, it is also an expression of the deep connection between Roderick and Takishita and of familial love. 44 years after the house was moved from the mountains to Tokyo, Yoshihiro Takishita reflects on the importance of place in his life and the life of his adopted American father.

There is a powerful sense of place in this short film. Minka recalls another poignant movie about the connection between objects and life—Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours, an elegiac French film about a country house, art, and personal possessions after the death of a mother.

Roderick is best known for covering Mao Zedong and other Chinese Communist guerillas while living with them in a cave during the mid-1940s. He spent 70 years working as a journalist and foreign correspondent. Roderick reopened the Associated Press bureau in Beijing in 1979.

Yoshihiro Takishita has a law degree and was still a college student when he undertook the project of moving the farmhouse for his foster father in 1967. The minka project changed the entire trajectory of his career. He has since carried out 35 other renovations and writes and lectures regularly about architecture. Mr. Takishita has also established the NPO for preservation of old houses and is President of the Association for Preserving Old Japanese Farm Houses.

Davina Pardo’s Minka is 15 minutes well spent. Her illuminating film will leave you with a sense of calm and appreciation for those who create their own families in life.

Thanks to Pardo, you can watch the entire film right here on Gwarlingo.

Minka has received a number of awards and was featured at numerous film festivals. To learn more about the filmmaker, the movie, or to purchase a DVD for personal or institutional use, please visit Pardo’s website.


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Further Reading

Also, check out the Gwarlingo Store–a handpicked selection of books of interest to writers, artists, teachers, art lovers, and other creative individuals. A portion of all your purchases made through the Gwarlingo Store portal, benefits Gwarlingo.

(Note: All images are courtesy Davina Pardo, Birdlings LLC, and birdlings.com)

By | 2016-11-11T21:49:44+00:00 09.17.13|Design, Images, Spaces|3 Comments

About the Author:

I’ve spent almost 20 years helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. (One friend likes to call me “the arts enabler.”) From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, curating, and creative projects full-time. In 2015 I was named a “Top 100 Artist, Innovator, Creative” by Origin magazine. I've appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, and in 2017 I was the recipient of the Wampler Art Professorship at James Madison University. I am the founder of the Gwarlingo Salon series, which connects artists like DJ Spooky with rural audiences in the Monadnock region. In 2017 my collaborator Corwin Levi and I will publish our first book, Mirror Mirrored, which combines Grimms’ fairy tales with vintage illustration remixes and the work of contemporary artists like Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and Amy Cutler. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, but have called New Hampshire home since 1999. My studio is located in the historic, mill village of Harrisville. I miss fried okra, the early southern spring, and restaurants that stay open past 9:00 p.m., but rural life agrees with me. In New Hampshire I can see the stars, go kayaking or snowshoeing, watch bald eagles fish in the lake, and focus on my creative work in silence. I no longer have to worry about traffic jams; deer, wild turkeys, and frost heaves are the primary road hazards here. Although I live in the country, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a vibrant arts community that extends beyond this small New England village. The quiet days are punctuated by regular travel and frequent visits to museums, theaters, readings, arts events, lectures, and open studios around the country. (You can read my full CV here.) Thanks for visiting Gwarlingo. I hope you'll be in touch.


  1. Tina Schumann September 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Whew. Thanks again Michelle. Gwarlingo never fails to satify and turn me on to something I might have missed. Many thanks.

    • Michelle Aldredge September 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed Minka, Tina. I’ve seen the film four times now, and it moves me every single time I watch it.

      Davina’s film is a great example of the dilemma filmmakers face today, particularly with short works like this. Do you share it on the web for free so more people can see it, or do you reserve the film for festivals, DVD purchase, etc? Every situation is different I suppose. I’m just grateful that Davina was generous enough to share the work online so that readers like you could see this 15-minute gem.

  2. Jeffrey Gross September 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    The film is very moving – almost too much so.

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