One look at Puujee’s smiling face and you understand why photographer Yoshiharu Sekino found the 6-year-old Mongolian shepherd girl such a captivating subject. After stumbling across Puujee on his transcontinental “great journey” (the defiant girl went about her business, shielding her face and refusing to be photographed), Sekino returned with a video crew to record the lives of her nomadic family, caught in the country’s shift to a mercantile economy. Pic would be National Geographic gold, if not for its homemovie production values. As is, the few Westerners who meet “Puujee” will likely do so on the smallscreen.
Despite its rough production values (herky-jerky camerawork and clumsy onscreen narration), director Kazuya Yamada’s footage offers a priceless portrait of this seldom seen, fast disappearing world. Clearly, as Mongolia modernizes, children like Puujee can’t sustain this way of life, and the crew tags along for her first day of school. Other captivating sequences range from ageless tradition (disassembling the family’s movable habitat) to life-and-death developments (moving livestock during a winter freeze). Hardship and mortality haunts everything, and in its final minutes, “Puujee” packs a devastating punch.