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Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan

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Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan

Elizabeth Oyler reviews Hafu: The Mixed Race Experience in Japan, directed by Megumi Nishikura and Lara Perez Takagi (2013, 87 minutes)

Hafu: the Mixed Race Experience in Japan is an intelligent and insightful exploration of five stories of “hafus” living in Japan. “Hafu,” the Japanese rendering of the English word “half,” is a long-standing but debated identity category in Japan, referring to children born to one Japanese parent and one of a different origin. The term “hafu” gained currency in the waning decades of the twentieth century as the number of mixed-race children growing up in Japan began to skyrocket, and has been used ever since to segregate or to empower the mixed-race individuals it describes. As the film’s concluding image suggests, the number of “hafus” in Japan continues to rise precipitously today, a trend that, as this film illuminates, suggests the importance for better understanding of mixed-race people and families in Japan.

Filmed in the early years of this decade, Hafu provides, through interviews and footage of their everyday lives, nuanced portraits of people representing the breadth of “hafu” identity and experience. David, the son of a Japanese father and Ghanaian mother, was raised primarily in an orphanage in Japan, where he continues to make his home as he raises money to support the building of schools near his mother’s home in Ghana. Sophia, the daughter of a Japanese father and an Australian mother, was raised in Australia with a number of visits to her paternal relatives in Japan during early childhood. She decides as a young woman to move to Tokyo to study Japanese and get in touch with her Japanese roots. Gabriela, from Mexico, met her husband Tetsuya Oi in the US when both were students; they now are raising their children, Alex and Sara, in Nagoya. Alex struggles between cultures and languages as the family tries to find a school where he can be himself. Edward is Venezuelan-Japanese raised by his Japanese mother and maternal grandmother in Nishinomiya. Educated in the US and having spent significant time abroad, he has chosen to return to the Kansai region, close to his aging mother. As a driving force of “Mixed Roots Kansai,” he creates opportunities for the issue of mixed-race identity to be considered, debated, and celebrated. Fusae is the daughter of a Korean father and Japanese mother. She lives in her native Kobe with her husband, a transplant from Camaroon. “Mixed Roots Kansai” has played an important role in providing a community in which she can embrace her own, less physically obvious “halves.”

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