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Hafu: The Mixed-Race Experience in Japan (2013)

A journey into the intricacies of mixed-race Japanese and their multicultural experiences in modern day Japan. For some hafus, Japan is the only home they know, for some living in Japan is ... See full summary »

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A journey into the intricacies of mixed-race Japanese and their multicultural experiences in modern day Japan. For some hafus, Japan is the only home they know, for some living in Japan is an entirely new experience, and the others are caught somewhere between two different worlds. Written by Anonymous

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5 April 2013 (USA)  »

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OK as an intro to what it's like to be biracial in Japan. Fails as a documentary film.
2 December 2015 | by See all my reviews

The number 1 reason why anyone would watch this film is because they are half-Japanese or have a half-Japanese family member. People have been giving this film a high rating but that is probably only because there haven't been any other (notable) films that cover this topic. One could see this film as an "introduction to the half-Japanese experience". However, this film fails quite a bit as a documentary film. Great documentary films tend to expose viewers to an aspect of a particular person's life and makes them ask questions that they didn't even consider before. However, the filmmakers' visions are muddled and their approach is questionable.

This film follows four half Japanese people and one biracial family. Sophie, an Australian Japanese girl who is Australian and grew up in Australia. She goes to Japan, lives with her Japanese relatives, and purports that she's interested in learning Japanese but quickly gives up her studies and only hangs out with English speakers. Unlike the other three subjects that grew up in Japanese culture, her experience seems a bit out of place. Furthermore, the filmmakers' main statement for this film is about "how Japan is becoming multinational". I'm not really sure why they would cover a subject who gave up on Japan without really trying to learn Japanese or its custom. I went to see this film with an Australian friend who actually worked hard to learn adequate Japanese and she was pretty annoyed by this.

The other subjects are more enlightening. However, instead of "showing", this film "tells". One subject states "how tiring it can be to continuously having to explain his background". The filmmakers could have easily accumulated footage of him being constantly asked the same thing over and over again or other Japanese people reacting with bewilderment. However, such scenes were non-existence(there was one quick scene that briefly address this). It felt like a poetry reading than an actual film.

One subject's story mainly focuses on the group he's running rather than his story and it felt like an advertisement for the organization rather than a documentary. Again, it really felt out of place. And although I am biased, I have had dealt with Mixed Roots Japan before and my opinion of them are pretty poor. I'm sure they have done some good but I find their views to be pretty strict and are extremely unwilling to consider other views and their focus on race is intense to the point that it is pretty racist. The members would go on about how they want more "half black members" and get excited when there's one. I personally have never treated people based on their color and to me, this is treating people as a curio object and not as a person. I find their views really disturbing and I personally don't want them to represent the entire biracial community in Japan.

Overall, it's good to have a film like this. However, as a documentary film, it fails miserably and unless you have a significant interest in this topic, you'll be coming out disappointed. I wasn't convinced that "Japan is becoming more multicultural" and the anecdotes within this film are mostly self-contained and you don't see these subjects interacting with "the regular non-biracial Japanese crowd" that much. Biracial people have lives outside of biracial group they are running or telling anecdotes about their experiences. This documentary could have explored what their day to day lives were like and given a more overarching glimpse into their lives.

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