The 17th annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival kicks off today! Back in July, Schema spoke with directors Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi about their film Hafu, which will have its Vancouver premier on Saturday, November 9th at 1:30pm at VAFF.
The cultural term hafu, with both positive and negative connotations, is used to describe a Japanese person of mixed-race or mixed-ethnicity. Being hafu themselves, directors Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi explore the lives of five other hafu through their journeys to discovering their roots in Australia, Korea, Venezuela, Mexico and Ghana.
Schema Magazine: What do you think makes this film compelling?
Megumi Nishikura & Lara Perez Takagi: The struggle to define who we are and where we belong is universal. At our core, everyone wants to be accepted and loved for who they truly are. In the case of hafus and other multiracial people, the journey may be more aparent but nonetheless universal.
SM: What was it about the script or the concept of the film that compelled you to make it?
MN&LPT: On any given day walking through the streets of Tokyo, I noticed a visible population of mixed-Japanese and international families, however questions and comments such as “What country do come from?” and “Your Japanese is so good!” are all too common. I was raised to believe that I was both Japanese and American, but in Japan that identity is constantly being challenged. The number of Hafu celebrities on television had also increased but I noticed there was no deeper conversation about their experience growing up mixed in Japan. WIthin 1 in 49 babies, or approximately 200,000 babies, born between international couples in Japan, I believe that the definition of what it means to be Japanese must expand to include hafus.
SM: How did you find this story, or did it find you?
MN&LPT: In 2006, I moved back to Japan after living in the US for 11 years. I found that the identity issues that I thought I had resolved years ago resurface. Am I Japanese? Am I American? Do I belong here? In my journey to answer these questions, I started seeking out other half-Japanese individuals/communities and came across the Hafu Project- a photography/interview project by Marcia Yumi Lise and Natalie Maya Willer. They were coming to Japan to expand their project and I wrote to them enthusiastically about my desire to collaborate with them using my filmmaking skills. What started at out as making some fun short youtube videos then turned into a deeper conversation about producing a feature film about the half-Japanese experience. WIth the changing demographics in Japan, there has never been a better time to bring these stories to light so I
SM: What elements of the script come out of (or are drawn from) your personal experience?
MN&LPT: I believe that there is a part of me in everyone of the subjects of the film but in particular my experience most resembles that of Alex Oi.
I too switched from Japanese school to International school at a similar age. While I was never bullied at Japanese school, I was hyper aware that I was different and stood out from my classmates. When I switched to international school, I struggled with the English language. I remember many moments after school, sitting across from my mother frustrated with learning spelling and grammar.
I also identify with Ed and how he felt disconnected to Japan. Having gone to international school myself, and with my dreams of becoming a filmmaker, I felt that once I moved to the US and went to film school, my life would be in the US from there on out and I would probably never live in Japan again. However, I did end up returning to Japan and like Ed I am trying the best to create multicultural dialogue in Japan, through this film.
SM: Whose voice were you hoping to elevate in the film?
MN&LPT: Naturally, the voices we are trying to elevate are the Hafus. The last film exploring this topic was made in 1995 by an African American filmmaker named Reggie LIfe.
There have been some TV programs on the subject but all in all the hafu community has been dissatisfied with the coverage. They have found those programs to be superficial or further cementing stereotypes that all Hafus are bilingual and model beautiful. With our film, we wanted to give audiences an intimate look into the lives of an every day Hafu.
SM: How do you think your film reflects the ever-expanding cultural diversity of the world?
MN&LPT: This film is about the growing diversity in Japan. While Japan is not actually homogenous, it is largely perceived to be so by itself and the rest of the world.
For that reason, this new emerging minority group of mixed-Japanese is strong evidence that cultural and racial diversity is increasing worldwide.
SM: Does your film reflect a diversity you see today, or a vision of something for the future?
MN&LPT: I believe that “Hafu” speaks to the existing yet largely unknown diversity in Japan today, however through it we also share our vision for a multiracial/cultural Japan in which each and everyone of us is respected for who we are not what we look like.
Info about screenings worldwide: hafufilm.com/en/