Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan (2013)

Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan (2013) star-full1.jpgstar-full1.jpgstar-full1.jpgstar-half1.jpgstar-no1.jpg

It’s been a few years since I’ve attended the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. The last time I was there, I watched The Mountain Thief and was blown away by the documentary. This time time, I caught a documentary from Japan and was equally blown away. As much as we may talk about the rise of interracial couples in North America, have you ever considered what it’s like to be a person of mixed heritage in Japan?

As I’ve discussed in the past, Japan tends to be something of a closed off society. It’s remarkably difficult for foreigners to become citizens and the culture, generally speaking, is quite homogeneous in nature. With Hafu, we look into the lives of several individuals of mixed race. What happens when you mix Japanese bloodlines and culture with someone from Mexico, Ghana, Australia or Korea? The challenges are great, but the “hafu” population (from the English half-breed) is growing in Japan. The documentary digs deep into their stories and their struggles, discussing whether “hafu” is a derogatory term and what it means to understand who you really are.

While I am not a mixed-race individual, I can empathize. I’m surrounded by Chinese culture and Chinese food, to be sure, but I self-identify more as a Canadian. And even so, when I travel, I still have people give me a confused look when they ask me where I’m from and I tell them I’m Canadian.

But where are you really from?

Living in a cultural and racial purgatory, as one of the people interviewed in the documentary put it, leaves you yearning for a sense of belonging. Who am I and where do I fit in?

13 Assassins (2010)

13 Assassins (2010) star-full1.jpgstar-full1.jpgstar-half1.jpgstar-no1.jpgstar-no1.jpg

Set toward the end of feudal period in Japan, 13 Assassins follows a group of elite samurai as they aim to assassinate a tyrannical lord who revels in unnecessary brutality. Much of the movie surrounds the enlistment of the 13 samurai and it can feel slow in its development.

While we did get to enjoy some fun swordplay in Rurouni Kenshin, the final epic battle in 13 Assassins is on a far grander scale. For my part, it was the only real big redeeming element of an otherwise slow-developing film. That said, there is one scene along the way where we see a woman who has had all four of her limbs severed, so this is certainly not a film for the faint of heart. It’s raw, it’s brutal and it’s unapologetic in its presentation.

The Birds (1963)

The Birds (1963) star-full1.jpgstar-full1.jpgstar-no1.jpgstar-no1.jpgstar-no1.jpg

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been fifty years since this film was originally released. Having never actually seen it before and recognizing the legendary reputation of Alfred Hitchcock for horror, I figured it was worth a shot. Perhaps I come from a different sentimentality or maybe the film hasn’t aged as well as others, but I didn’t find The Birds to be all that great.

A well-to-do big town girl goes to visit a smaller seaside town, only to get attacked by a gull out on the water. This cascades into a series of unexplained phenomena where not only the seagulls, but also the crows and other birds have started to gather in alarmingly large numbers, attacking and even killing the townspeople at random. We’re never offered any sort of real explanation.

I understand that The Birds is largely a mood-driven piece rather than a plot-driven one, and I understand that the special effects were very impressive for the time, but The Birds just didn’t do it for me…. as frightening as a marauding murder of crows may be.