Megumi Nishikura Explorations Into Being Hafu

Megumi is passionate about documentary storytelling. A 2002 graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of Arts Film and Television program, she has been working steadily in the documentary film industry, first in post production as an assistant editor and editor, and from 2007, as a freelance documentary producer and director. Most of her recent documentaries have been for the United Nations and various foundations and NGOs on global and social issues. In 2009, she began to re-explore issues of multiculturalism, diversity, and identity. She worked with the Loving Day Project—an educational community organization which celebrates the legalization of interracial marriage in the US―to produce a video about their flagship celebration held each year in New York City. Her passion is to use the medium of film to remind people of our common humanity.

What began as a personal journey to find her own place in a world between cultures has transformed, through the power of film, into a way for thousands to explore exactly what it means to be “hafu”.

In September, filmmaker Megumi Nishikura gave a powerful, moving, and extremely personal presentation at TEDxKyoto. Her film, Hafu, is showing in theaters around the world, and offers an insightful look into the experiences of five hafu in Japan. The film opens in Kobe on November 23, and I can’t wait to see it.

HAFU is more than a mere documentary about mixed race Japanese, or so called Hafu. The film seeks to break with the “one nation, one culture, one race” paradigm which has shaped much of contemporary Japan’s self-image, and makes a compelling argument for the hybrid reality of Japanese identity today. At the same time, Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi, both Hafu themselves, render visible the hardship of those subjects who do not comfortably fit into common categories of belonging, and offer them a platform to be heard. What happens if my looks do not match my nationality, or if my language does not reflect my home country? Who defines the compatibility of subjects and their identities in the first place?

Most of the featured protagonists grew up in Japan, but cannot escape the role of the foreigner. As a Venezuelan citizen, Ed has to renew his visa every few years, despite being raised by his Japanese mother in Japan. Every time again, he is confronted with his identification as an outsider to Japanese society and the prospect of being expelled from the country he identifies both as home and hostile.

Fusae is part of that same community of “foreigners within.” Part Korean and part Japanese, she appears with a strong sense of belonging at first, “I was born in Kobe, so this is where I want to work and pay taxes.” After a while, however, Fusae allows a deeper look into the traumatic experience of being mixed race in Japan and the tears she sheds reveal the inner turmoil that defines the lives of many other Hafus: of David, born to a Japanese father and Ghanaian mother, who surprised the other kids with the fact that his blood was not green, but red as theirs; of Sophia, who grew up in Australia ashamed of her bento box lunch and secretly wishing to be blond like her class mates. What all of the here depicted Hafus share, is the longing to belong. Not just to be acknowledged, as Ed puts it, but to be understood and accepted.

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