Capturing the atmosphere and disposition of a place through still images is no easy task, but in the dramatic photographs that make up Yoshiki Hase’s project Ena, both people and their mystical surroundings are presented with poetic ease. When Hase was hired to be part of a film crew in 2010, he travelled to a small community in the Japanese countryside, and was immediately taken by the ethereal atmosphere and rich colours that surrounded him. Ena, the name of the town, is nestled in the gorge stretching across the southern side of the Gifu Prefecture in Japan. “The towering Mt. Ena, casting its shadow across both the Gifu and Nagano prefectures, is considered sacred,” Hase explains. “It is said to enshrine the amnion that once encapsulated the sun goddess Amaterasu.”

Ena 011 © Yoshiki Hase

The mountain is often shrouded in a layer of clouds, so that its peak is rarely visible from the town below. But its looming presence contributes to the region’s air of mystery. When Hase’s film project wrapped shooting, he returned to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, but could not get Ena off his mind. “I soon found myself with a large format camera and film in hand, making regular trips back to Ena,” he reflects. “Before I realized it, seven years had gone by.”

Those large format stylings directly contribute to the depth and richness of Hase’s photographs, with saturated blues that amplify the presence of the sky, water, and cool tones of the fresh mountain air. These hues are synonymous with the people who appear in each frame, who pose for the camera in quirky ways, demonstrating a collective personality among the villagers.

Ena 049 © Yoshiki Hase
Ena 015 © Yoshiki Hase

In one image, a group of friends pose with a piano outside, some engaged in conversation while another balances on one foot on top of the instrument. Similarly, with a waterfall as their backdrop, two friends pose for the camera – one playing a trumpet while the other lounges in a chair that has been uncharacteristically nestled into the river’s shallow water. The originality of each personality shines through, but their collective eccentricity also pervades.

Ena 027 © Yoshiki Hase

Hase hopes that the images offer a different perspective on small towns throughout Japan’s periphery, which are often written off as bland or uncultured. “While it’s easy to characterize Ena as commonplace,” Hase explains, “what I experienced there on a personal level was much different. Daily life was transformed into an intimate stage, and the people were inseparable from the place in a way that can never be replicated.”