Japanese films make their Whitehorse debuts

Filmmaker Linda Ohama was at home in Canada in 2011 when news broke of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated the coastal Tohoku region of Japan.

Filmmaker Linda Ohama was at home in Canada in 2011 when news broke of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that devastated the coastal Tohoku region of Japan.

The massive wave followed by the Fukuskima nuclear disaster displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in the region.

The next morning, Ohama’s six-year-old granddaughter started asking about the children living in the area.

“She said she’d like to do something to help them and I asked her, if you were a child in Japan, in Tohoku right this minute and this happened, what would you need the most?” Ohama said.

“So my granddaughter said, for someone to hug her. So she wouldn’t feel so alone and afraid.”

Since the young girl couldn’t go to Tohoku she grabbed a piece of her bed sheet and told her grandmother she was going to create her own hug for the kids in Japan.

That started a national movement.

Kids from around Canada — including three schools in Whitehorse — decorated pieces of cloth with messages of support and hope that Ohama took to schools in Japan.

That first visit turned into a two-and-a-half year stretch in which Ohama lived in the Tohoku region and filmed her documentary Tohoku no Shingetsu: A New Moon Over Tohoku.

The film, about the people of the Tohoku region trying to rebuild their lives, is one of two coming to Whitehorse over the next 30 days thanks in part to the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon.

Ohama, who has multiple award-winning films under her belt, said she didn’t start out in Tohoku wanting to film a documentary.

“It’s such a big undertaking and plus I didn’t feel like I had the right to tell the story,” she said.

“I’m an outsider and I hardly spoke Japanese.”

But over time she kept hearing from locals who wanted to tell their story, she said. So she decided to take on the challenge.

After about three months she went into the no-go zone in Fukushima, close to the nuclear plant.

“The first town that I went to was totally deserted, everything was abandoned. It was like a ghost town, it was like a science fiction scene where all life has disappeared.”

She was a one-person crew most of the time, living in a tent and filming with a camera she purchased through online fundraising.

“Most of the time I lived in a pup tent and carried my computer and a few clothes and my camera equipment.”

When the people she was filming found out she was Canadian, that broke down some barriers. They were more willing to step outside the Japanese culture that tells them they need to be polite and quiet, she said.

“Once they get a chance to talk, you see them almost healing right in front of you,” she said.

“They’re just humans: sometimes you just need someone to talk to, and cry with. My granddaughter was right, just a hug.”

Ohama estimates she spoke to 80 people, from all walks of life, trying to rebuild after the disaster.

That includes a father whose 12-year-old daughter was killed. The school where she died was destroyed but whenever the man interacted with other children, he was cheerful, Ohama said.

“He said he was a lucky man because he was a father for 12 years instead of never being a father at all.”

That’s the mentality of the people she met, Ohama said — they tried to appreciate what they have.

“I think the Tohoku people really show that you can find beauty and you can find joy.”

Tohoku no Shingetsu: A New Moon Over Tohoku is showing March 5 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Ohama will be at the screening for a question-and-answer session.

For those interested in more Japanese culture, the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon is hosting another film night Feb. 22 at the Old Fire Hall.

A Tale of Samurai Cooking is part love story and part opportunity for local foodies to learn more about Japanese cooking.

The film is set in the Edo period of Japan. It tells the story of a Japanese woman who discovers her husband is a terrible chef, even though he is one of a long line of renowned cooks. She takes it upon herself to improve his skills.

Both of the films have English subtitles.

These kinds of films are a chance to spread more understanding of Japanese culture, said Fumi Torigai, president of the Japanese Canadian Association of Yukon.

“In this day and age I think anything that helps our understanding of each other between different cultures, I think that’s very important and meaningful.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Silver rules out HST, layoffs and royalty changes

Yukon’s financial advisory panel has released its final report

City of Whitehorse budgets $30M for infrastructure over four years

‘I think we’re concentrating on the most important things’

Yukon community liaison for MMIWG inquiry fired

Melissa Carlick, the Whitehorse-based community liaison officer for the national Missing and… Continue reading

Yukon man holds no grudge after being attacked by bison

‘The poor guy was only trying to fend off someone who he knew was trying to kill him’

Straight and true: the story of the Yukon colours

Michael Gates | History Hunter Last week, I participated in the 150th… Continue reading

Get ready to tumble: Whitehorse’s Polarettes to flip out at fundraiser

‘There’s a mandatory five-minute break at the end, just so people don’t fall over’

Alaska’s governor goes to China

There are very different rules for resource projects depending on which side of the border you’re on

Yukon survey shows broad support for legal pot

But there’s no consensus on retail and distribution models

Yukon government releases survey on the territory’s liquor laws

Changes could include allowing sale of booze in grocery stores

Get family consent before moving patients to other hospitals: NDP critic

‘Where is the respect and where is the dignity?’

Bill C-17 passes third reading in House of Commons

The bill, which will repeal controversial amendments made to YESAA by Bill S-6, will now go to Senate

White Pass and Yukon Route musical chugs on without director

The cast and crew of Stonecliff are pushing forward without Conrad Boyce, who went on medical leave

Most Read