Movie Review: “Hafu” (directed by Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi)
— By Louise George Kittaka
The Japanese term ‘hafu’ refers to someone of mixed cultural background, with one Japanese parent and one of another nationality. Although the word originally came from the very distasteful term ‘half-cast’, used to describe such individuals in the past, the term itself in Japanese doesn’t hold any such negative connotations. It simply means that someone has two cultures, and as one of the participants in this movie pointed out, most hafu people in Japan accept the label.
So what does it mean to be a hafu in a homogenous society like Japan? The movie follows four young adults in their 20s and 30s, and one boy of elementary school age and his family. Four of these people are based in Japan and the fifth grew up in Australia. While their family backgrounds and educations vary widely, all have had to think about how they fit into Japanese society.
Edward, who has one parent from Venezuela, was educated in the international school system and talks of feeling little connection with the local people in his neighbourhood. Starting a social group for bicultural people like himself, Mixed Roots, has allowed him to form close friendships and to launch a platform for reaching out to the wider community.
Japanese-Korean Fusae grew up believing both her parents were Japanese. She speaks emotionally of the shock of finding out about her Korean heritage as a teenager and how it impacted on her identity. These days she is a strong supporter of Mixed Roots, where she specialized in planning activities for members’ children, saying she wants them to grow up with positive experiences of being hafu.
The youngest subject is nine-year-old Alex, who lives with his Mexican mother, Japanese father and younger sister. The close-knit family are troubled when Alex experiences bullying at his Japanese primary school that appears to be based on him being hafu. When this impacts on his self-confidence, they decide to switch him to an international school, where he begins to reveal a new sense of self-awareness.
Bubbly Sophia, raised in Australia, comes to Japan with high hopes of mastering the language of her mother’s homeland but finds that it isn’t as easy to fit in as she expected.
Personally, I found the most touching story to be that of David, who was born in Ghana and moved to Japan at the age of six. After his parents split up two years later, David and his brothers were moved to an orphanage and had only occasional weekends with their Japanese father. David talks of his dream to build a school back in Ghana, and we follow his efforts to fundraise and make it a reality.
From the candid comments of the four adult participants, it is clear that each one had to make peace with their biracial identity on their own terms, and this wasn’t always an easy thing when they younger. The good news is that they are all happy, productive young adults who embrace both sides of their backgrounds. They wish to be accepted as regular members of Japanese society but still want their non-Japanese heritage to be honoured and valued. Is this a case of wanting the best of both worlds? Maybe. But when your identity straddles two worlds, then surely this is not asking too much.
David is used to people asking, “Where are you from?” and having to introduce himself over and over. While some hafus find this irritating, he cheerfully comments that he doesn’t really mind. It is helping other people realize that there are Japanese citizens like himself, and hopefully will make things a little easier for the ever-increasing generation of hafu children coming along behind.
workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD.
Favorite question: Free time? What's that??
Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.