Megumi Nishikura received the Rotary Peace Fellowship and attended ICU as a Master's degree student from 2006 - 08. Megumi's passion is to use the medium of film and video to remind people of our common humanity. In 2009, she began to explore stories from the multiracial community in both Japan and the United States. Her directorial feature debut, “Hafu - the mixed-race experience in Japan” screened theatrically in Japan, aired on PBS, and won the Best Documentary award at the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival in 2013. Other works include environmental documentaries for the United Nations and global and social issue videos for various foundations, NGOs and non-profit organizations. Megumi was kind enough to write this guest article and share the news on her latest film, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides.”
From ICU Alumna (MA, '08) Megumi Nishikura:
In Silver Spring, Maryland, I sat surrounded by cameras and lights across from Atsuko and Lucy Craft, who I was interviewing for the short documentary film, “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides.” This film tells the story of three journalist daughters who are trying to understand the irrevocable decision that their Japanese mothers made in marrying US servicemen in postwar Japan. It illustrates the perseverance they had as they built their lives and new families in middle America.
Since graduating from ICU in 2008, I have been interested in the stories of those who live in between our socially constructed boundaries of race, culture and nationality. This lead me to produce and direct my first feature length documentary film “Hafu - the mixed-race experience in Japan” which explores the experiences of young half-Japanese individuals living in Japan today. While producing “Hafu”, I quickly learned about the great diversity within the mixed-Japanese community that far exceeds the popular image of a hafu - Caucasian mixed, bilingual with model looks. Factors such as where you were born, the nationality of your parents, what language you were raised with, and others have a tremendous impact on one’s experience and identity. I knew that the stories captured in “Hafu” were only a slice of the whole experience and history of the mixed Japanese community.
It seemed almost by fate that a year after “Hafu” was released I was introduced to Lucy’s partners Kathryn Tolbert and Karen Kasmauski, the co-directors and subjects of the film. Their mothers were amongst 50,000 Japanese women who whether for love or survival married Americans during the US occupation of Japan. Once they arrived across the Pacific, these women spread out across America and often ended up as the only Asian woman in their neighborhoods. Barely speaking their husband’s language, they faced discrimination both personally and from the larger society. These women raised their children thousands of miles from Japan at a time when making a phone call home was a great luxury.
In the film, Kathryn asks her mother Hiroko, “Were you concerned about the children being part Japanese?” To which her mother replies, “Yes, at the beginning. I thought people would think my children were 'half and half'. Inferior human beings.” As a teenager, Karen grew up wondering why her mother was so different from the other mothers in the neighborhood. While her girlfriends’ parents seemed loving and supportive, she found her mother to be angry and critical. Upon asking her father about this, he simply replied, “It’s because she’s Japanese.” When Lucy confronts her mother about a particularly stinging criticism in junior high school, her mother responds by saying, “Go to another Japanese family, you'll get the same thing.” While cultural clashes within a mixed-family are not unheard of it may have been such misunderstandings that propelled Kathryn, Karen and Lucy to understand why their parents were able to marry their former enemies.
Together with a great production team at Blue Chalk Media, we produced “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight.” The film aired on the BBC World News on August 15, 2015 as a commemoration of Victory Over Japan day. The film recently won the Best Documentary Short at the Boston Asian Film Festival as well as the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. The film is now screening at film festivals, universities and cultural organizations. The next screening will be held in Tokyo, Japan on December 21st. Co-director Lucy Craft will be in attendance.
The Japan ICU Foundation thanks Megumi for sharing her news with us on this very significant examination of cultural identity. We welcome news and updates from our ICU alumni here in North America, and are happy to share similar stories from our readers. If you have a story to share, please feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org