On this episode of the podcast, we discuss Emma Kawawada’s first feature film, My Small Land, about a teenage Kurdish immigrant in Tokyo. The film is now in Canadian cinemas, and will soon be on VOD.
This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney and Executive Editor Orla Smith.
About the film My Small Land
Kore-eda protegée Emma Kawawada’s first feature film, My Small Land, is the story of a Kurdish teenage girl, Sarya (Lina Arashi) who is an immigrant in Japan. She grew up just outside of Tokyo and has no memories of her home, which was colonised Kurdish territory in Turkey. My Small Land follows in the tradition of social realism, and the style of filmmaking owes much to Kore-eda’s small scale character dramas.
The film My Small Land is the story of her feelings of displacement — not having a land to really call her own, not feeling fully accepted in what is now her home — and her struggles in an immigrant family. Early in the film, Sarya and her family find out that their work visas are no long valid. If they work to survive, they could be deported. Kawawada sensitively tells a character drama about good people put in impossible situations by impersonal immigration systems.
In My Small Land, Kawawada gives an uncommon amount of time to let Arashi’s performance play out so we can understand Sarya’s agency and the decisions she makes within the very limited choices she has available. There are only bad choices, but we get to see her making choices. The film also grapples with the complex identity of being a Kurd, and especially, a refugee outside of traditional Kurdish territory.
My Small Land had its world premiere at the Berlinale in the Generation program, which is a program for young adults. We loved it at the festival and worried it would disappear. The new Canadian distribution company, Momo films, just released the film in Canadian cinemas.
My Small Land will be screening at TIFF from November 9 to 16. It will also be available on VOD soon.
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In order to get exclusive access to all of our episodes, including all of our in-between season episodes:
- Ep. 125: Berlinale 2022: Bonus 31 is an excerpt from this earlier episode on the Berlinale. We discuss My Small Land, as well as other films in the Generation section at the festival.
- Ep. 84: Berlinale 2021, Part 2: The Competition: Discover some of our favourite films from last year’s Berlinale.
- Women at Cannes Ep. 5: Discover more exciting first features by women that screened at Cannes 2022, which is another omnibus episode on film festival favorites.
- Become a member for access to all of our upcoming episodes, as well as our entire archive of episodes.
- Listen to our Berlinale 2022 episode in which we discuss My Small Land and other highlights of the festival’s Generation section
- Listen to our previous podcast season on Women at Cannes
- Read Alex Heeney on Canadian immigration stories at TIFF 2022.
- Read Alex Heeney’s review of Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister
The transcript for this episode is AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Orla Smith 0:16
Hello and welcome to the seventh row podcast. I am Orla Smith and I'll be introducing this very short bonus episode to you. This episode is a short review of the Japanese film my small land directed by Emma Kawada. And it's actually an excerpt from an episode that we did earlier in the year about the 2022 Berlin Film Festival where this was one of our absolute favorite films, we really fell for it. And since then, we've kind of been worried that it would get completely lost and not find distribution. And so we were really delighted to hear about the new distribution company, Momo films which distributes Japanese films to Canada. And they picked up this film and they have been screening it across Canada, and that run is set to end soon. Or more accurately, it's only just beginning, but it won't last very long to in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox it will be playing on November 9 and the 16th in Vancouver at the cinema tech will be playing on November 4 to the seventh. And in Charlottetown Pei will be playing November 7 and eighth. And in Montreal Cinemathque. It will be playing from the 21st to the 27th. So if you can see it, do you see my small land? If you can't see it, this is still a spoiler free review. And hopefully it will convince you that this is a film worth waiting for. What you're going to hear in this episode is my voice or the Smith, executive editor of Seventh Row and my co host, Alex Heeney, the editor in chief of Seventh Row. Enjoy.
Alex Heeney 2:04
My small land, which is directed by Emma Kawada, who is a protege of Kore-eda. And you can definitely see that in the film, that she is influenced by him. But it's it's a very interesting story, because it is set in Japan, but it's the story of a Kurdish refugee Sarya, who is 17. And who has been in Japan, most of her life, she speaks Japanese fluently, and as occurred, she doesn't really have a homeland, like she was born in Turkey, but she doesn't remember it and, and, you know, the Kurds were colonized. And basically, you know, the land where they live was divided up into other countries. And so, like there is no Kurdish territory, per se. And she also doesn't really have a connection to Turkey, because she doesn't remember it.
She's you know, she's starting to think about college, she wants to be a teacher. And she is saving up money to do this, she's secretly got a part time job where she meets a boy that she falls in love with, but very close to the beginning of the film, they get informed that their application for refugee status has been denied. And that means that their visas I don't know if they're, like cancelled, or they're on hold.
But basically, it means that, like they can stay in Japan, were they in the sort of suburb of Tokyo where they are, but they're not allowed to leave the city. And they're not allowed to work and earn money. And which makes it impossible to say, well, of course, yes. Because you do actually need to earn money to do things like pay rent and eat. And sorry, I her her job is in Tokyo, not in the town where she lives. And so to go there would be to break the rules twice. And of course, her father is going to have to do something to earn money, which is breaking the rules, and they get informed by their lawyer at the beginning that they should, you know, follow the rules don't break them because the consequences of breaking them could be dire, but they're in this impossible situation. If they don't break them, basically, you know, all of the things that you think might happen would happen, I guess.
And suddenly all of the responsibility is on her shoulders. And she is a 17 year old and she has two younger siblings that suddenly are her job to take care of. She's in school, she doesn't have an income. How is she going to keep paying rent, take care of these children and will she have a future and her father kind of abandons her?
Orla Smith 4:41
I mean, it's just a really sort of sensitively told character drama and so good at like what you said like the impossible situation there and it's so good at showing the impossibility of a situation that like so many refugees are put in. Her father is in a situation where if he were to be deployed or did he will be arrested as soon as he got back to Turkey?
Alex Heeney 5:04
Yeah. And that would mean he would get killed. Right.
Orla Smith 5:07
So what? What better option do they have? You know, it's the kind of story that I haven't. Like I've seen refugee stories, although not in this particular locale.
Alex Heeney 5:18
Yeah. I mean, it's it's a little bit of a shaggy film at two hours. But I think purposefully so because what it does is it gives us a lot of time to watch. The protagonist thinking and making decisions, like, as she says, at the beginning, that they're trying to remember her their lives or restrict are very restricted, is how she describes it when she tells her boyfriend what's, what's going on with their visa situation.
And what the film does really well is it lets us see the agency she does have within the very limited and bad choices that are available to her, you get to see her making choices. And I think that's pretty rare. Generally, like even in a story, especially in a story about somebody whose life is already restricted, it's usually the story is just about the restrictions, not about the choices within it. Even if they're all crappy choices, and it's especially rare, I think, for a story about a young person where you get to see them, making lots of choices instead of just looking at, you know what a horrible situation she's in.
What happens to her is unfair. But she's not just sitting there, having horrible things happen to her, she's doing her best. And the ways in which she tries and is not able to try are, are sort of what define her and give her agency. And also about her sort of assimilation process and how it's impossible for her to assimilate if she wants to in Japan, like even though, she speaks the language, she probably identifies with the culture more than she does with like being occurred to a degree by virtue of her skin tone and her hair like she, everybody immediately sees her as a foreigner.
Orla Smith 7:07
But she also tells him that she's German, right? Because she doesn't want
Alex Heeney 7:11
to be perceived as Turkish or Kurdish, which has some negative—
Orla Smith 7:16
well, to explain her. Her identity, as occurred is also so complicated. Yeah, something that she doesn't want to like. Because I mean, like you explained that it's like an extra placeless to that than if you were to just be a refugee from one country to another or to move from one country to another.
She she does explain it to her her boyfriend later in the film. But he hasn't even like heard of Kurds, and she wants sort of the simplicity of just being like German, rather than having this really complicated identity that like, makes her feel rootless, like in any place. That was the end of our episode, our small bonus episode and my small land.
Once again, if you're in a few major cities in Canada, you can check out this film in cinemas, up until at the latest the 16th of November, depending on where you are in the country. We will have details in the show notes about where to watch the film and when we've got plenty more more long form podcast content coming to you very soon.
So if you want to access all of that, because some of it will be members only, please become a member at seventh-row.com/join We've got a lot coming up that will make that really worthwhile. And it's a way to support us as well. And if you liked this episode or any other episodes, please rate and review us on Apple podcasts. It is very, very helpful and always lovely to read. Thank you so much. And we'll see you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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