As they grow older, many people discover how little they really know about their family history. For Linda Ohama, what began as a simple tribute to mark the centennial birthday of her Obaachan (grandmother) blossomed into a full-length film that took five years to complete.
The film examines the journey of Asayo Murakami, who came to Steveston British Columbia as a "picture bride" from Hiroshima in 1923. As her research continued, Linda made a remarkable discovery: although Asayo's life was repeatedly touched by history - the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, World War II, and arguably, BC's most shameful chapter, the internment and disenfranchising of Japanese Canadians - it was a painful secret that challenged her indomitable spirit. This revelation took the film in an unexpected direction and would eventually help her progeny understand their identity and put them in touch with their past.
Ohama had a difficult task before her - given the nature of the subject matter, she had to carefully balance all the elements to avoid the cheesy melodrama typical of the genre, while taking care not to minimize the emotionality of the events. She also had to avoid the continuity gap trap when combining the historical footage, with dramatizations and present day footage. To Ohama's credit, the sequences blend seamlessly. The project also turned into a family affair: family members are featured throughout and Linda's sister Natsuko Ohama, an established actress in her own right, portrays the young Asayo, capturing her resilience and a defiance uncharacteristic of her grandmother's culture and generation.
Obaachan's Garden is a beautiful film that reminds us to always look deeper if we expect to truly understand someone. There was no shortage of damp eyes and sniffling among the preview audience, so remember to bring some Kleenex.
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