Tuesday, 4 October 2011
VIFF 2011 - Our Future
I watched this film alone, and in a lot of ways, I wish I hadn't. I really wanted to talk about it with someone. And I wanted more people there to witness what I felt was a pretty extraordinary experience.
Our Future is a 75-minute film made by an entirely self-taught Japanese filmmaker. Iizuka Kashou was only 19 years old when he wrote, directed, shot, edited and independently-produced the film. While noticeably homemade, the raw quality of the footage and camerawork lends itself well to the unmitigated honesty of the emotions the film expresses. Iizuka cast his friends and people he knew in all the acting roles. As with many films starring non-actors, the unrehearsed quality of the performances is refreshing.
The film tells the deceptively simple tale of Yu, a teen who identifies as male and loathes the required school uniform skirt. Yu keeps his trans status a secret from his parents and all but a few close friends. He attends summer cram school, is teased mercilessly by fellow students, befriends two kind but equally vulnerable other kids, and writes love letters to a younger classmate, Masumi. It is a coming-of-age tale with a number of surprises, including the ambiguous ending.
I found the film extraordinary on a number of levels. Firstly, it's one of only a very few Japanese films that sympathetically portrays transgender experiences. These experiences are presented with a great deal of compassion and hope. Secondly, it's an autobiographical film made by a trans teenager, about a young trans person, and starring several young trans actors.
Both the director and the lead actor, Hyuga Riku, came all the way to Vancouver for the screening. Through a translator, they both answered questions from the audience. Hyuga Riku described how he was so excited to hear that the film was being made that he agreed to star in it without even having read the script. It was nothing short of incredible to see these talented young people talking about their film, and about their experiences growing up trans in Japan. In a country with only two surgeons who perform gender reassignment surgeries, and with limited access to counseling services, it was clear that these young people had in many ways charted their own paths to self-awareness and self-realization. That they had immortalized their journey in a work of art seemed to me to be a very impressive accomplishment indeed.
I felt a great deal of admiration for both of them, and wished I had more Japanese to express to them how I felt. All I could manage was a few words of hope that more people would see their film. As we bowed goodbye, I could say only "arigato."
Please go see this film! It is not a polished product by an experienced filmmaker, but in many ways it's an amazing achievement.