Hafu / ハーフ

written by Thomas Belfer (東京都)
photo by Rochelle Zheng (千葉県)

Hafu is a film portraying the lives a a few mixed race individuals in Japan. Their walks of life and experiences vary, but they all share being part Japanese. Rather than showing a unified experience of being hafu, the director interweaves themes of identity, belonging, language, and the idea of home to show the diversity of the characters. The audience of viewers that showed up for the screening were just as varied as the characters portrayed. There were mixed race people, interracial parents with hafu kids, and others that were just interested.

The film has a lot offer to anyone regardless of their racial makeup. There is an innate desire to understand and be understood by those who surround us. Many of us in the JET community can identify with feelings of being bicultural and how this changes when living in Japan. We experience the importance of language and how speaking ability can correlate to acceptance. We know how looks and mannerisms can lead to us being “othered.” The longer you spend abroad, the more home becomes something internal instead of attached to a physical place. Through looking at the lives of the people in the documentary, one reflects on one’s own identity and culture.

I personally identify as someone of mixed race, Asian American, and a third culture kid. I went to this film curious about whether I’d be able to relate. While some of the character’s experiences remain foreign to me, other parts succeeded in making me empathize with them. Some of the most poignant scenes were the Japanese-Korean woman feeling like she had to keep her Korean heritage a secret, the Japanese-Mexican kid being teased in school for being gaijin, and the Japanese-Venezuelan man dealing with having to give up one passport. I don’t think the documentary tries to provide any definitive answers on what it means to be hafu and merely states that Japan is changing. As the faces and people that make up Japan change, so too will the national mindset have to change on what being authentically Japanese is. ◆


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