A couple of days ago, I was able to see the movie ハーフ. It’s a documentary that follows five mixed-race individuals and their experiences living in Japan.
Although not Japanese, I am biracial. As such, this movie really resonated with me. Also, having lived in rural Japan for three years teaching English, I know how it feels to be ‘The Gaijin’ (literally ‘outside person’). Some days, it was incredibly hard to deal with the stares, the comments and the microaggressions that were thrown my way.
But for people who actually are of Japanese ancestry, I imagine the experience is so much harder.
The movie is, in my opinion, well done and shows a very diverse group of individuals. The filmmakers did a great job showing some of the different issues that they face. From Fusae, a woman who struggles with her identity after finding out she is half Korean to Sophia, an Australian/Japanese woman who moves to Tokyo to learn more about her Japanese heritage, the stories are all very emotional and I found myself really feeling for these people.
I won’t go too much in to their stories so as not to spoil anything, but some of them are pretty sad. One in particular nearly made me cry. The experiences that these people have are so personal and seeing them talk about it is fascinating.
One of the stories I related most to was Alex, the third grader who is bullied in school for being ‘英語人’ (English-boy). Having taught in Japanese junior high and elementary schools, I’ve seen this kind of behavior firsthand. I’ve had a few students who are half Japanese and half insert-other-nationality.
At one of my elementary schools, I had a second grader who was half Japanese and half American. He proudly bragged about it to his friends when I first met him. “俺,アメリカ人！英語しゃべるばい！” he would proclaim proudly ‘I’m American! I can speak English!’.
When a group of his classmates asked him to speak English to me, however, he fell silent. His eyes would look from me back to his friends and then back to me. It was almost like he was suddenly insecure and didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of his friends or in front of me. Like he was caught between two cultures.
“You don’t have to talk to me in English to impress them,” I told him gently (in English) as the other students stared on in awe. “You can speak to me in whatever language you want.” He looked at me and seemed to understand.
Throughout the rest of my time at that elementary school, he never did speak to me in English. On the occasion that I was teaching second graders, though, I could hear his confident voice shout out the vocab word in his perfect, adorable kid!English.
The film ‘Hafu’ touches on how Japanese society treats people who are considered ‘different’ or ‘not really Japanese’. Although subtle and largely unspoken, there is a strong collective opinion on being ‘full Japanese’ in modern-day society. Even though there are many Hafu celebrities who are adored in Japan, the term ‘Hafu’ itself carries with it the meaning of ‘half foreigness’.
This plays a huge role in mixed-race individuals’ own opinions of themselves and many of them have difficulty defining who they are – especially during their formative years. This point is captured beautifully through the interviews with the people themselves.
Overall, I really enjoyed this movie and I think that it brings about a conversation that Japan very much needs to be having. In a culture that can, at times, be incredibly ethnocentric and xenophobic, Japan needs to realize that, like it or not, it is changing.
It will be interesting to see what kinds of discussions this movie brings up across the country. With the number of interracial marriages skyrocketing throughout the country and the Olympics coming in 2020, Japan has every reason to look within itself and consider the topics that ‘Hafu’ brings up.
For more information on ‘Hafu’, the trailer, and how YOU can get a screening of it shown in your area, check out: http://hafufilm.com