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Q&A: Curator Natalie Murao discusses vision behind おやすみ (Oyasumi): A collection of Japanese Canadian short films

Natalie Murao
Filmmaker and educator Natalie Murao is curating おやすみ (Oyasumi) at The Cinematheque.

A dozen short films directed by Japanese Canadian will be screened at 7 p.m. on Thursday (May 25) at The Cinematheque (1131 Howe Street). Yongsei (fourth-generation) Japanese Canadian filmmaker and educator Natalie Murao is curating this series, entitled おやすみ (Oyasumi). The Powell Street Festival will co-present the films. They include English and Japanese dialogue, with Japanese presented in English subtitles.

In advance of the event, Murao responded to some questions from Pancouver.

Pancouver: How did you come up with the idea for おやすみ (Oyasumi)?

Murao: In September 2022, I met Emiko [Morita] (PSFS Executive Director) at the NAJC Gei Art Symposium (the first multi-day national artist symposium for Japanese Canadians). She proposed the idea of collaborating to organize a film screening that would help bring the community together in-person. We approached The Cinematheque who were on board immediately. The last time PSFS and Cinematheque collaborated was in 2015, so it’s great for the two organizations to come back together!

I began reaching out to the Japanese Canadian film community, asking for films or if anyone had any filmmakers to recommend to me. After a couple months, I had accumulated a list of films from JC filmmakers—both local and national. As I watched all of these films, I noticed some recurring themes and topics (i.e., memories, unspoken histories, loss/absence, addressing ancestors or the older generation), as well as similar visuals and motifs (i.e., dreams, darkness, nighttime, exploring, and playing with time).

All of these elements evoked the feeling of listening to a bedtime story, which is how the title “おやすみ (Oyasumi)” came about. おやすみ means “goodnight” in Japanese and stems from the verb 休む (yasumu), which means “to take a break” or “to be absent”. These multiple definitions resonated with me further and it felt like the phrase really encompassed the depth of this collection of films.

Pancouver: What are you trying to convey with this selection of films?

Murao: I’d like to show the breadth and talent of the JC film community while also highlighting the history of it. I see the selection to be illustrative of the diversity of JC filmmakers. Some filmmakers started their careers during the Redress Movement of 1988. Some are sansei or yonsei (third or fourth generation) whose families have been impacted by the internment. Some are shin-ijusha (post-war/new immigrants) who came to Canada more recently. All these different backgrounds and perspectives creates a collection of films that show the many nuances of the JC community and the stories we have to offer.

Pancouver: How important are films in conveying the experiences, perspectives, and diversity of Japanese Canadians?

Murao: I think films hold so much power in that they allow us to share our stories that may otherwise remain silent. For example, Michael Fukushima’s film “Minoru: Memory of Exile” from 1992. Fukushima retold his family’s history from pre to post internment through interviewing his father and reimagining archival images of the war. At that time, even mentioning the internment was a rarity. Which makes this film so pivotal not only for JC arts but for the overall community.

Pancouver: Can you provide a list of the films in this program of shorts, along with the names of the directors?

Murao: Films are listed with directors here. [Below are descriptions by the Powell Street Festival.}

Sol by Meredith Hama-Brown
Meredith Hama-Brown’s short film “Sol” is among those being shown at The Cinematheque.

Sol (2023)

Meredith Hama-Brown

6 min.

A woman grieving the recent loss of her partner has a mysterious alien encounter in her backyard.

Tongue 舌 (2022)

Kaho Yoshida

2 min.

Tired of being talked at by men, a woman takes a sensual trip with unusual friends.

頂 Itadaku (2022)

Sophia Wolfe

8 min.

頂 Itadaku, meaning to receive, accept, or take, is a meditative ritual and an attempt to connect with the ancestors.

Amabie (2020)

Cindy Mochizuki

2 min.

Artist Cindy Mochizuki asks her mother about the three-legged mermaid-like creature known as amabie.

In the Shadow of the Pines (2020)

Anne Koizumi

8 min.

A filmmaker reflects on the childhood shame she felt about her immigrant father and how it shaped her identity.

RICECAKE (2019)

Yuko Fedrau

8 min.

Local drag artist and mother of House of Rice, Shay Dior, introduces us to RICECAKE: Vancouver’s queer Asian dance party.

Akashi あかし(2017)

Mayumi Yoshida

10 min.

When a struggling artist returns to Japan for her grandmother’s funeral, a staggering family secret upends everything she’s ever wanted out of life and love.

Late Night (2017)

Kodai Yanagawa

5 min.

Lush plants mysteriously grow through the walls and a man is transported into the forest of his memory.

Fish in Barrel (2009)

Randall Okita

8 min.
The struggles of a young man facing his demons erupts into visions that question what lies below the surface.

CW: Implied suicide

Yellow Sticky Notes (2007)

Jeff Chiba Stearns

6 min.

A visual self-reflection using the same yellow sticky notes that consumed a filmmaker’s life and blinded him to major world events.

CW: Gun violence

Sayonara Super 8 (2006)

Pia Yona Massie

6 min.

Personal archival footage is used to ask questions about the fragile nature of memory, human relationships, and the foibles of the medium itself.

Minoru: Memory of Exile (1992)

Michael Fukushima

19 min.

In a blend of hand-drawn animation and archival materials, Minoru and his son, director Michael Fukushima, narrate their family’s internment, deportation and eventual return to Canada.

CW: Racism and internment

The Cinematheque and the Powell Street Festival present おやすみ (Oyasumi) at 7 p.m. on Thursday (May 25) at The Cinematheque. Filmmakers will be available after the screenings to answer questions from audience members. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.