Monday, January 30, 2017

Suturing Cultures

***** UPDATE February 7, 2017 *****
"Suturing Cultures" is now On Demand free until Feb 20, 2017. Link HERE

Usually I do not speak much about the films I am working on until after they are completed.

The first draft of this blog began "I do not know why I usually do not speak much about the films I am working on until after they are completed".  But that would not have been true.  I do know why: it is because every time I begin a film, I am afraid I will fail.

Perhaps someday I will write more about how illuminating the process of making this film has been for me (about team dynamics, about being a producer, about perseverance) but for now I will simply say that I am extremely honoured and excited to finally be able to share more details (after THIS brief mention back in October) about my newest documentary, "Suturing Cultures".  It will be premiering world-wide on the NHK World channel on February 6 (or 5, depending on timezone), but don't worry if you don't have NHK World on your TV as you can watch it for FREE on your computer, smartphone or tablet (info HERE)!

At Juntendo University, the oldest medical school in Japan, Dr. Yuko Takeda is preparing young medical students for a career during which they will most likely see foreign patients in addition to Japanese ones. As these future doctors who come from a traditionally homogeneous society navigate issues of culture, religion and sexual orientation in English, the real lesson comes when they realize that what they are being taught is about how to become better doctors.

This is the second documentary I have made for the NHK World series "Inside Lens", following last year's "Dying at Home" (INFO).  And while this film, like all of my recent films, also features a strong story line based around issues of health and medicine, the setting this time is not in a hospital or in a patient's home, but rather in Juntendo University, the oldest medical school in Japan.

I feel so fortunate to have been surrounded by an amazing creative team: editor Chris Huang, composer Komitetsu, an amazing NHK producer Yukari Harada (and many others), while working with awesome footage from the camera of Thomas Schlottman, who also shot "Dying at Home".  And it has been a poignant time as well as this also marks the last film on which my assistant, Rei, will be working.  Rei has been my right-hand for the past 18 months, but he is now going off to graduate school, well on his path to becoming a film director in his own right.

We are just a month into 2017, but this has already been one of the busiest times in my life.  And there will be more exciting news in the coming weeks as this was not the only work-in-progress I had waiting in the wings...

Thank you all so very much for your support and encouragement!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The "Voluntary Evacuees" of Fukushima

I was honoured to be asked by the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ website HERE) to MC today's press conference "Fukushima Voluntary Evacuees on Verge of Losing Homes" (press release HERE).  Noriko Matsumoto, Hidetake Ishimaru and Chia Yoshida spoke about what is referred to as the "March 2017 Problem”, when the government will end support to people they deem to have "voluntarily evacuated" from contaminated areas of Fukushima; this would in effect force those who can not afford to remain evacuated on their own to return to areas many feel are unsafe.

***** UPDATE (Jan 18, 2017 at 13:15)*****

The archived video of the press conference has been published on the FCCJ YouTube page:
***** UPDATE (Jan 17, 2017 at 22:44)*****
The AFP just published this article about today's press conference:

***** END UPDATES *****
The press conference was live-streamed (and will be posted to the FCCJ YouTube channel HERE tomorrow).  As I have done in the past (and as I did when Timothy Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, gave a press conference entitled "Fukushima Catastrophe and its Effects on Wildlife" HERE), in addition to MC'ing, I also live-Tweeted the press conference (screen grabs below) from my @DocumentingIan account.

Hidetake Ishimaru, director of "Minna no Data Site", a citizen's radiation measuring station, presented documents comparing the government policies regarding Fukushima and Chernobyl radiation levels.  After his speech, I wanted to make sure that a very central point was not being lost on those in attendance, and I felt the need to bring it up before the Q&A: the phrase "voluntary evacuee", which has the connotation that people have chosen to evacuate unnecessarily and with the added implication that they are simply "worrying too much" is being used to describe people who have decided they must evacuate their children from contaminated areas on their own because they live outside the official evacuation zone.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government arbitrarily created the evacuation zones, I believe making them as small as possible in an effort to pay compensation to as few people as possible.  The government then deemed anyone living outside of these zones who evacuated on their own as having "voluntarily evacuated".  This is despite the fact it has been proven that the radiation did not (and does not) spread in neat, concentric circles stopping at government-determined zones.  Proof of this lies in the fact that there have been countless incidents where radiation levels many times higher than those inside the evacuation zone have been found outside of it.  Using the word "voluntary", implying that they somehow have a choice, to refer to evacuees from these contaminated areas is nothing short of secondary victimization.

During the Q&A, a journalist in attendance carried this discussion further, asking if there was not some way other than "voluntary evacuee" to refer to this group of people.  Author Chia Yoshida, one of the panelists, stated that one official way they can be referred to is as "people from outside the official evacuation zone who have evacuated", but that such phrasing is awkward and long.

With problems as deep and complex as are happening in Fukushima, issues of language and translation often occur.  Part way through the presser, I realized there were some problems with the English interpretation.  During the Q&A, some important words in an answer from Mrs. Noriko Matsumoto, an evacuee from Fukushima, had been omitted in the interpretation, lessening the impact of her statement.  Wanting to make sure that Mrs. Matsumoto's courage in sharing her story was not missed by the non-Japanese-speaking attendees, I broke decorum and corrected the translator.   Mrs. Matsumoto had given a very emotional account of Fukushima children being bullied at their new school.  When parents complained to administrators, they were told "you made the choice to evacuate- if your children are being bullied, that's your fault" (the unlined/ bold words had been inadvertently omitted by the translator).   Mrs. Matsumoto's account showed that it is not only children being bullied, but adults as well; in addition to the physical threat of exposure to radiation, evacuees are also facing emotional and psychological trauma.

Following the press conference, I had the opportunity to speak with documentary directors Kamanaka Hitomi (with whom I published THIS VIDEO and article for the Japan Times in 2015) and Atsushi Funahashi (whom I had first met at Cultural Typhoon in 2013 HERE).  Both of these filmmakers have filmed extensively in Fukushima and were supporting today's panelists.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Learning to Say Goodbye さよならの伝え方

This article was first published in English in the magazine "5": Designing Media Ecology (6th issue, December 2016 INFO), and appears here with permission.  The Japanese, translated by Takako Matsui, is published here for the first time. My gratitude to Sarah Lushia for her editing and advice, as well as to the editors of "5" for their corrections and the opportunity to write this article.

本記事は、雑誌『5: Designing Media Ecology』6号(『5』編集室、2016年12月発行)に掲載された英語原稿と、その日本語訳です(翻訳・松井貴子)。日本語訳はこれが初出となります。

It has been an honor to serve as a Bird’s Eye View guest columnist for the past two years, but as they say “all good things must come to an end.” Since learning this would be my last column, I have been reflecting on the words we use when parting both in English and Japanese.
2年間にわたってこの「Bird’s Eye View」に寄稿するという光栄に浴してきた。けれど、どんな良いことにも終わりはある。今回が最終回だと決まってから、僕は日本語と英語の別れの表現について考えていた。

In Japan, people tend to opt for parting phrases such as: “Jya, mata ne,” (see you again) or “Rai shu ne,” (see you next week) which feel quite friendly and imply a future meeting. In more formal situations, one might say shitsureitashimashita (please forgive my intrusion), domo arigatou gozaimashita (thank you so much), or something as simple as oyasuminasai (goodnight). But despite the word sayonara being widely known abroad as the Japanese word for “goodbye,” even by those who have not seriously studied the language, it is actually a word seldom heard in Japan.

If one is not careful when using sayonara, it can make the parting feel cool, or depending on the situation and tone of voice, it could even sound quite final with the implication being that the separation will be forever. And while there are times in life one must say a final “goodbye,” perhaps following a fight between two lovers, in most social situations one would not wish to leave friends or colleagues with such an ominous feeling.

Such subtleties in using newly learned words and phrases are often overlooked in beginner-level language courses, which is perhaps why I never liked studying Japanese with textbooks. Wanting to learn not just vocabulary but also how to use the words in more complex social situations, I prefer instead to share a meal or go for a drive with friends. Interactions such as these provide opportunities to learn the words and phrases native speakers really use, like what they actually say when parting.

Admittedly my uneasiness with how and when to say sayonara did not begin in Japanese… it began with how to say “goodbye” in English. Growing up, my family moved a lot. I attended nine schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, including four high schools in three different states. While this may have given me the ability to make friends quickly, it also forced me to part with them as well. After a while, the pain of saying “goodbye” was something I did everything I could to avoid, preferring instead to quietly fade out. When I knew it would be the last time to see a particularly close friend, I would leave with an upbeat “see you later!” leading my friend to believe there would be at least one more chance to say “goodbye,” although I knew there was not. Having to hear or say “goodbye” had simply become too difficult for me.
しかし、いつ、どうやって「サヨナラ」を告げるかという問題は、僕にとっては日本語の学習とともに始まったのではなかった。そもそもそれは、僕には英語の問題でもあった。僕の家族はとても引越しが多く、僕は幼稚園から12年生の間に9つの学校に通い、ハイスクールだけで4つ、それも3つの州にまたがっていた。おかげですぐに友だちをつくるという能力を 育んだのかもしれないが、そこには常に友だちとの別れがあった。やがて僕は、「goodbye」の語を口にすることが耐えがたく、それを言うくらいならだまっていなくなるほうがましだと思うようになった。とくに仲のいい友だちに対しては、僕は別れの瀬戸際にも明るく「じゃ、またあとで!」と言ってその場を離れた。相手はまたあとで「goodbye」の語を交わす機会があるのだと思ったろう。もちろん、その機会はなかった。だれかと「goodbye」を交わし合うことは、僕にはただつらすぎるものになっていた。

My inability to say “goodbye” was something I was forced to come to terms with the last time I saw my mother alive. She was sick, and I was visiting her for Christmas. At the end of our visit, I stopped to see her one last time on my way to the airport before flying home to Tokyo. I leaned down and hugged her while she was lying in her bed, and although I knew it would most likely be the last time I ever saw my mother alive, I uttered, “see you soon.” She looked up at me and as if to correct me, replied “talk to you soon.” My mother knew we would not see each other again, and she was not going to allow that to remain unacknowledged. But still, neither of us used the word “goodbye.”

Thinking about my inability to say “goodbye,” I began to question if it was really true the word sayonara is rarely used in Japanese or, perhaps, if I was subconsciously inventing a cultural observation that provided me a convenient excuse not to use a word that already made me feel uncomfortable. I decided to ask Arakawa-san, my first teacher of Japanese when I moved to Japan many years ago.

Arakawa-san told me that while it was something that had never occurred to her before, she believed it was true and that even she herself rarely used sayonara. In fact, the only time in recent memory she had uttered the word was at a funeral for a friend; in offering she had said, arigatou (thank you) followed by sayonara (goodbye). Arakawa-san told me that she sometimes even says sayonara with a feeling of thanks to her possessions when they are no longer of use and must be discarded. When she told me this, I was reminded of the temples that assist with the disposal of auspicious objects such as seasonal decorations, dolls and even sewing needles, as it is felt these things cannot simply be unceremoniously thrown away.

Cautioning me against thinking of sayonara as a bad word, Arakawa-san said she believes it has a beautiful hibiki (ring) to it. As an example, she told me about a recent poetry reading she had been to where sayonara had been used in a poem to communicate many complex feelings, like giving thanks and bidding farewell to the cherry blossom season.

So sayonara does not merely signal the end to something, but it can also be used to mark a transition and give gratitude. While I may still be learning to say “goodbye,” I realize now that there are situations in life where no other word can express one’s feelings in quite the same way as the word sayonara.