New film depicts prejudice faced by Brazilians in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Film director Izuru Narushima

The sadness and anger of Brazilians facing discrimination in Japan, and the bond they form with a Japanese artisan, is the subject of a new film now playing in theaters.

“Acknowledging each individual’s feelings creates bonds between people, regardless of the country they come from,” said director Izuru Narushima about the film, which is titled “Familia.”

Seiji, played by Koji Yakusho, is a potter living alone in a mountain village. He reunites with his son Manabu (Ryo Yoshizawa) when his son returns temporarily to Japan with the refugee woman he married while working abroad.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian couple living in an apartment complex are having problems with a group of thugs. Part of the film was shot in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, at the Homi Danchi apartment complex that is home to many Brazilians who work in factories.

“The atmosphere that the complex exudes can’t be created through cinematography, only by the passing of time. That’s why shooting there was crucial. It’s one of the pillars of the film,” Narushima said.

Narushima has long been interested in immigrants and refugees. He once lived in the Okubo district of Tokyo, an area where many people from overseas reside, and has close friends who are originally from South Korea and China.

Narushima heard hate speech while having a meal with some of them and wondered, “Can’t we live in harmony regardless of political issues?” This spurred him to create the film.

The Brazilians cast in the film were selected through auditions, but have little or no experience in acting. Narushima previously cast children with little acting experience to play junior high school students in his 2015 film “Solomon no Gisho” (Solomon’s Perjury).

“A baseball pitcher isn’t suddenly able to pitch as fast as 150 kph, but he or she should be able to act. So, it’s important for me to bring out the real potential [of the cast],” said the director.

What’s important for inexperienced actors, according to Narushima, is to “truly become the characters in the story and live in the film.”

In keeping with this approach, he spoke with the Brazilian cast members before shooting and learned about their situations. Narushima then prepared the script based on their stories, “aiming to make the cast understand as they act that [the film] is about themselves,” Narushima said.

He likens a director to a fish broker or a chef. “I always try to think about the best way of ‘cooking’ [to draw out the appeal of actors], but I don’t know what each new actor will be like. This process is quite interesting, and that’s the reason I’ve been using such actors,” he said.