Film Review: Returning Souls
(by Ruth E. Toulson, in Visual Anthropology, 25:450-451, 2012)
Returning Souls. Directed by Hu Tai-Li; 85 mins., DVD, 2012, color; in Taiwanese, with English subtitles. Distributed by email@example.com; Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Nankang 115, Taipei, Taiwan.
In 1958, in the aftermath of a typhoon, the carved pillars of an ancestral house were removed from Tafalong village, in Taiwan, and taken for safe keeping to the Institute of Ethnology Museum at Academia Sinica in Taipei, where they remain to this day. The pillars contained the souls of the ancestors of the Kakita'an family, members of the Amis tribe, the largest indigenous group in the island. With remarkable subtlety Returning Souls documents the long journey to recreate the pillars, rebuild the ancestral house, and win back the souls of the ancestors. The Tafalong villagers hope that rebuilding the ancestral house will prompt cultural revitalization and lead to the recovery of the soul of the village itself. The film provides a moving record of the frustrations and triumphs experienced by the Tafalong villagers and sheds new light on a range of intellectual issues: the changing role of the museum, the complexities of cultural property claims, the tensions inherent in cultural revitalization projects-all of which have import well beyond this particular context.