Blind World Magazine

First film on life of deaf-blind person to hit screens soon.

Antara News, Indonesia.
Thursday, April 20, 2006.

Shimonoseki (ANTARA News) - Sumio Yamamoto, a 52-year-old independent movie distributor in Shimonoseki on the southwestern tip of Japan's main island, has long been irritated by the excessive concentration of the film industry in Tokyo.

So he finally decided to take a chance on making his own film, based on the turbulent life of a 74-year-old deaf and blind woman in Yamaguchi Prefecture who has struggled to achieve equal rights for people with visual and hearing disabilities, Kyodo news reported.

"The main motivation for producing this film sprang from my long-held conviction that there should not be a cultural desert in the Japanese countryside," Yamamoto said. "I believe there are all kinds of important stories to be told also outside Tokyo."

"Have you ever heard of Japan's Helen Keller?" -- the country's first film on the life of a deaf and blind person, directed by Setsuo Nakayama, 68 -- was completed recently after months of planning by independent creators and fund-raising by citizens of the harbor city.

The film, starring Ayako Kobayashi, who played the eponymous heroine in the popular Japanese TV drama "Oshin," will be first screened in Yamaguchi Prefecture in June and later in other regions including Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Okinawa, Hiroshima and Kyoto prefectures.

The woman, who lost her sight in both eyes and her hearing in accidents in her early 20s, mastered Braille and formed the country's first nationwide group aimed at improving conditions for people with such disabilities in 1964.

But her otherwise placid life took a sudden turn when her mother died in 1975.

The woman, whose name is now required to be withheld for privacy reasons, had to cease her profession of giving therapeutic massages at her home, as well as all her social activities, as her mother was virtually the only one who had been looking after her.

Since then, the woman, once known as Japan's Helen Keller, has been living alone without social interactions. She now lives in a small house, provided by her supporters, in an out-of-the way place.

She had to leave the place where she grew up as her house was falling apart as a result of not being able to get proper maintenance, as well as due to pressure from her neighbors who were afraid that she might inadvertently trigger a fire.

"The moment I met her two years ago, I thought her story should be made into a film at all costs," Yamamoto said. "I felt anger growing inside me. Why does a person like her, who is competent and passionate, have to be marginalized in society?"

Nakayama, who has a long career in dealing with discrimination against leprosy suffers in Japan, felt the same way about the woman's unfortunate circumstances.

"The segregation policy for Hansen's disease patients was a national project, while in her case it was local residents who isolated her under the pretext of providing her with a better life, but actually it was to protect their normal daily lives," Nakayama said.

In making the film, Nakayama said he tried to suggest that the opinions and actions of the mass of ordinary people can easily be swayed in one direction, and that they can be hypocritical.

"So, I especially want people who think themselves wise, decent and democratic to watch this film," said Nakayama, whose work also includes Farda, the first Japanese-Iranian film, produced in cooperation with Iranian film maestro Abbas Kiarostami.

In Nakayama's latest work, a 15-year-old boy who refuses to go to school plays an important role in keeping the story moving forward.

The boy, Yusuke Yamaguchi, who is treated as an outcast in his school, meets the deaf and blind Kinuko Kitazaki, played by Kobayashi, by chance after running into the woods where he planned to cut his wrist with a knife.

"My classmates have called me an invisible man," the boy tells the woman by writing letters in her palm in one scene.

"You know what? Everyone is an invisible man in front of me. Well, why don't we have tea together?" Kitazaki, in her 70s, responds to him with a laugh before they start to establish a close rapport.

The woman was sent away from her original home against her own wishes, whereas the boy, played by Hiromitsu Tosaka, 18, was building a wall around himself.

"I imagined what would happen if the two met in the film," the director said.

"I was sure he had an important point of contact with her."

"Through films, I want to speak for people who have no channels to express their feelings. That's my hope," Nakayama said.

Kobayashi, 33, said the role of Kitazaki was challenging but it was a privilege for her to have a part in this film, noting she had to act from when the main character is 15 years old up until she is 78, in addition to finding ways to portray a person with a double handicap.

"I tried my best as it is very important to let society know about people with such disabilities," given that only a few of the 20,000 or so deaf-blind people in Japan are able to have real interactions with society, she said.

"But first and foremost, I want people to see this for the sheer joy of watching a film," she said. "The theme may be serious, yet we made it in a spirit of optimism and hope for the audience."

Yamamoto and Nakayama are now trying hard to have the film, partly sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Agency, shown in Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities.

They are also hoping to take it overseas, given that Oshin, depicting its eponymous heroine's challenging life from prewar Japan to modern times played by Kobayashi in the 1980s, has been aired to date in 62 countries, including recently in Iraq and Bhutan.

"I know that one film has no power to solve all the problems," Yamamoto said.

"But still I believe it is necessary to build a better social framework to protect the rights of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups."

End of article.

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