by Shan Qiao in Toronto
From a machine gun wielding high school girl-yakuza boss to time travelling samurai; from sexual awakening in the final devastating days of WWII Tokyo to the true story of “the Japanese Schindler”, Canadian and Japanese audiences enjoyed yet another cultural feast at the 5th annual Toronto Japanese Film Festival.
The Festival ran for two weeks in June in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC), located at Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. It screened more than two dozen Japanese movies to over 10,000 audience members from all over the GTA.
“Our 2016 line-up again reflects the films that resonate with Japanese audiences, critics and Japanese Academy Award judges, providing a thorough cross section of the very diverse Japanese film industry. In our first four years we attracted large and diverse crowds and much positive reaction to the films,” says Gary Kawaguchi, President of JCCC.
The 70th anniversary of the Second World War
A lot of films came out the end of 2015 that marked 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. These include Nagasaki – Memories of My Son, which centred around a mother who lost her son when the atomic bomb was dropped; and The Emperor in August, a powerful political drama that tells the little-known story of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War.
There was also Persona Non Grata, the story of Ghiune Sugihara, known as the “Schindler of Japan” for saving 6,000 Jewish people from the Holocaust; and When I Was Most Beautiful, a story of Japanese people’s lives in the summer of 1945 when the war is drawing to a close.
James Heron, Executive Director of JCCC, says that 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is quite significant in Japan, particularly because many of the people involved in the war are at the end of their lives.
“We saw a lot of the films from different perspectives. There are consistent anti-war films, mostly about the people who were trapped,” he continues. “Average Japanese people feel like they were trapped between the military government that started the War and the gigantic response from the Allies powers. The films are made for domestic markets, so they tend to look at things from Japanese perspective.”
Internment and Japanese persecution in Canada
“Last year we showed the film Asah, which was all about the internment of Japanese-Canadians. The film was made entirely in Japan but was about a Japanese-Canadian baseball team that really played for the pride of Japanese Canadians. The team was ended when Japanese Canadians were put into camps,” says Heron.
Japanese-Canadians had to suffer internment after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced that Japanese-Canadians were to move into prisoner of war camps. Their possessions were confiscated and their belongings were sold.
Heron, who spent 11 years living and working in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese. His wife is also Japanese. “One of the reason the Festival and the Cultural Centre exists is many Japanese-Canadians feel that they were persecuted in the Second World War because people didn’t understand them and Japanese culture. Because Canadians didn’t understand, they were afraid of the Japanese, even the Japanese-Canadians who were born here, “ he explains.
By having the Cultural Centre where they could introduce Japanese-Canadian and Japanese culture, the organizers hope there will be better understanding and that persecution will never happen again to Japanese-Canadians.
Aftermath of the Festival
When the audience enjoyed sushi and Japanese sake at TJFF’s closing ceremony, Dr. Sandra Annett, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, announced that Being Good, a movie on raising children and having compassion, received the Grand Prize Jury Award for Best Film.
A coming-of-age story, Flying Colors, won the Kobayashi Audience Choice.
Toronto resident Shiming Fei, 29, particularly enjoyed The Magnificent Nine, which featured one of her favourite Japanese actors, Eita.
As a young Chinese person who came to Canada to study ten years ago, Shiming says she experiences Japanese culture through food and TV dramas. This is why Festivals like TJFF are so important to her.
“I come here for the food and movie, maybe make a couple of new friends,” she giggles, renewing her search for her favourite hors-d’oeuvre at the closing reception of the Festival.
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