My Small Land


My Small Land

Japan, 2022, 114’, Japanese
Directed by: Kawawada Emma
Screenplay: Kawawada Emma
Photography (color): Shinomiya Hidetoshi 
Editing: Fushima Shinichi
Art Direction: Hyeonsun Seo
Music: Roth Bart Barton
Producers: Morishige Hiromi, Bansei Megumi
Executive Producers: Kono Satoshi, Kobayashi Eitaro, Ushioda Hajime, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Tom Yoda, Matsumoto Satoru
Cast: Arashi Lina, Okudaira Daiken

Date of First Release in Territory: May 6th, 2022 

Japan is not a welcoming country for refugees: In 2019, only 44 of the 10,375 people who applied for refugee status were accepted. Also, the refugee application process is long, taking an average of four years, and complex, with many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome and legal rules to observe. Applicants may receive social welfare payments and be allowed to work, but the amounts they receive and earn are barely enough to survive. And those who are found to be illegal for overstaying visas and other reasons are confined in 17 detention centers around the country, where their treatment is notoriously harsh and, too often, fatal. 
This grim reality is reflected in Fujimoto Akio’s 2018 Passage of Life, a true-story film about a Myanmarese family in Japan, and Thomas Ash’s 2021 Ushiku, a hard-hitting documentary about conditions in the title detention center near Tokyo. Now Kawawada Emma, who has worked as assistant director for Kore-eda Hirokazu and belongs to his Bun-Buku production company, has made a Kurdish refugee family in Japan the focus of her first feature, My Small Land.
Based on her own script, the film is less a crusading docudrama than an intimate, unsparing portrayal of how the family copes with its difficult situation, beginning with the eldest daughter, the seventeen-year-old Sarya (Arashi Lina). Like her younger sister and brother, she grew up in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese, even to her rough-edged-but-good-natured father, since her knowledge of Kurdish is negligible. (Her mother is missing, for reasons unexplained.) Meanwhile, he tries to make Sarya and her siblings aware of their Kurdish heritage, though her memories of her pre-Japanese life are dim. 
As the story begins, Sarya, a senior in high school, is popular with her circle of friends, while assisting non-Japanese-speaking members of the local Kurdish community and working part-time at a convenience store to help with the family finances. She is also romantically, if shyly, involved with Sota (Okudaira Daiken), a co-worker at the store, and is thinking of attending college in Tokyo.   
Then her father is denied his refugee application and, quite suddenly, everything begins to unravel. No longer allowed to work legally, but in desperate need of money, he keeps his building demolition job and, when discovered, is sent to a detention center. Now the de facto head of the family, Sarya feels her youthful dreams ending and her responsibilities weighing. The Japanese around her, including her father’s elderly lawyer, are kind and well-meaning, but can do little to concretely solve her problems, legal and personal. 
Under unbearable pressure, she starts to break down – and rebel. 
Arashi Lina, a mixed-race actor whose father was Iranian before taking Japanese citizenship, sensitively portrays Sayra’s dilemma of being caught between two cultures, while properly belonging to neither. Though speaking and acting like a typical Japanese teen in her early scenes, she shows Sarya as living with a shadow of anxiety and fear that only grows – and that her high school pals are blissfully ignorant of. Sota comes closest to understanding her, but finally her future is chillingly uncertain.
My Small Land offers no easy answers, only the hard truth that, for refugees like Sarya and her family, Japan’s much-trumped omotenashi (hospitality) becomes a bitter irony, as their choices narrow to detention or deportation to a “homeland” of poverty and oppression or, in the case of the stateless Kurds, the specter of arrest, torture and death. 


Kawawada Emma

Born in 1991 in Chiba Prefecture to a Japanese mother and British father, Kawawada Emma studied film and theatre at Waseda University in Tokyo. Her 2013 student film Circle won second prize at the Tokyo Student Film Festival. In 2014, Kawawada began working for Bun-Buku, the film production company of Kore-eda Hirokazu. She served as assistant director to Kore-eda on his 2017 film The Third Murder and to Hirose Nanako, another Kore-eda protegee, on her 2019 directorial debut His Lost Name. Kawawada was awarded the ARTE International Prize at the Asian Project Market in Korea in 2018 for her script for her own first feature, My Small Land. The film will be released in Japan in May.


2013 – Circle
2022 – My Small Land

Mark Schilling
Film director: KAWAWADA Emma
Year: 2022
Running time: 114'
Country: Japan
25/04 - 11:20 AM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
25-04-2022 11:20 25-04-2022 13:14Europe/Rome My Small Land Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine