CinemAsia Film Festival Q & A: Akio Fujimoto’s Passage of Life (2017).

Akio Fujimoto

CinemAsia Film Festival is from the 6th till the 11th of March 2018.

Interview by: Feargal Agard | Film director: Akio Fujimoto | Translator: Maggie Lee.

Film: Passage of Life (2017) | Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family | Languages: Japanese, Burmese.

Passage of Life.

Passage of Life (2017) shows a Burmese family living in Tokyo that immigrated to Japan without a visa. They spend their days waiting to get a visa and when they are rejected they begin to doubt staying in Japan and wondering when it is time to return home. Later on in the film we experience the family separated by two countries. The inner struggles of a 7 year-old boy become ever present who has two national identities and he’s struggling with a great change in his environment.

A word by Maggie Lee.

“Akio Fujimoto’s wife is from Myanmar and she is here with us in the Cinema theater. Passage of Life is a fiction film and it isn’t based on a personal story of Akio and his wife. It is based on people who know about these life experiences, but its not a documentary about these people.”

“The reason why he wanted to shoot this film is that many countries deal with refugees and immigrants in a negative way, but the refugees and immigrants face many difficulties. Because of this a lot of them are sent back or decide to go back to their home countries. Akio Fujimoto feels that the governments don’t care too much about what happens to these people when they go back to their home countries. That is why he wants to show these difficult experiences, but also the strength of the children despite the situations that they live in.”

“In Japan there is still quite a bit racial discrimination and racism. Even when Akio has a drink with his wife in a bar he can hear people whispering, saying, “who is this foreigner with him?” So the situation in Japan is not very progressive at the moment. He hopes that with this film more people in Japan will understand the situation of immigrant, migrants and refugees and develop more sympathy.”

Q: In the beginning you said that it took your team five or six years to make the film. Could you elaborate on why your filmmaking process took so long? What happened in that period?

“Initially the producer and the director wanted to go to Myanmar to make a film about what happened during the 8888 Uprising. They were thinking of going to Myanmar make a film there and hire actors within the country, but they realized that there were a lot of problems and censorship. Also, the government is not so keen on foreigners going there and shooting about the country where ever they want. Secondly the filming conditions in Japan and they way things go in Myanmar are very different. It did not work so they decided to change the story and develop it in a new way.”

“Luckily, his wife knew some people from Myanmar in Japan and they asked them to be the actors (Issace, Htet Myat Naing, Kuromiya Niina, Kaung Myat Thu). They speak both Japanese as well as Burmese, the language of Myanmar, which made communication very easy. Because the Burmese people they asked to act in their film were living in Japan they thought that it might be better to shoot part of the script in Japan and develop the story towards a different direction.”

“Working with these people took a long time. Next to that the editing took about three years. It had already taken a long time to assemble the entire cast, about a year. Especially finding the kids was hard. Besides that filming took a long time as well. filming one shot took more than an hour, because they were avid on finding the right footage material that would make the story work. For example, if they wanted to take a shot of the lady showering, drying herself and then her hair and then get out of the bathroom. They would rehearse it and film all of it, the entire process, multiple times, because they weren’t sure how much they were going to use. It caused them to have so much footage that they can choose from, but it also made it hard making decisions during editing. That is when they would go through the footage and cut out what they need.”

“Even though it looks like a very natural documentary film, they had to put a lot of effort in making the story as good as possible. It is also interesting to know that it is his first time doing a fiction film and also working with non-actors. Meaning that they all weren’t professional actors.”

Q: “Was it filmed on purpose in a documentary style? Because it seems like they had been following them naturally.”

“Personally as a director he prefers writing a script where he can make use of stationary camerawork and long takes. The problem with this film was that when he started shooting while working with children. He found out that it is hard to control them. So he adjusted the script again to a more mobile shooting style. This way he could follow all of them around in a more natural way. In essence the children determined the way of the camerawork and style.

“Just in between. Akio wanted to add the following. The mother in the film tried to take the children to a Japanese school in Myanmar to try and study there. The headmaster that you see in that film is real and he is a super nice person who really wanted to help out, but the Japanese mothers at that school protested, because they don’t want to accept non-Japanese kids in that school. It is really sad.”

Q: “Just a compliment to you. Even though the children aren’t professional actors, they seemed so professional in a natural way. My question is that in the beginning of the film you see a sad atmosphere and later it’s colorful. So I guess you purposely adjusted the color grading with (de-)saturation? To make the atmosphere of the story stronger?”

“Good Question! Part of the reason why the first half of the film has more de-saturation is because in Japan people wear gray clothes. Next to that, the buildings are made of concrete, wood and steel. The place itself did not look bright so they had to adjust the color grading to that kind of environment to make it colder, fray and monochromatic. It’s a representation of the local atmosphere, but once they want to Myanmar the sunlight is brighter and the people wear more colorful clothing. So naturally he adjusted the color grading to suit that particular kind of environment.”

“Another thing he did with the color in the first half of the film was that he wanted to show the point of view that the characters have of Japanese society. As cold as a society, but also when it comes to the weather. When they are together though with their friend Burmese friends in Japan you can notice that the scenes are more warm. Basically a darker tone when there are Japanese present and a warmer tone when he shot the family on their own.”

Q: “I appreciate the film because I used to be in the shoes of these kids. I lived in Japan for a while, but we had to go back to Indonesia. I went through the same thing as the kids so I understand their perspective of wanting to stay in Japan. I also know how Japan thinks of immigration, but I was wondering how the film was accepted by the Japanese audience.”

“Even though the film is about Japan and Myanmar. Of course he wants to reach Japanese people, but also people outside of Japan, Myanmar and outside of Asia. So that they know of the experiences of these people. Akio also is aware of other racist things happening in Japan towards for example Indonesians, Africans and many other people from different countries. With this film he wishes to create sympathy for these people, because he believes that people need to know of their conditions. They are all going through a lot of problems and he wants to highlight what the impact is on children who have to go through these situations, but at the same time showing how strong they can be.”

“People are only interested in the problems that immigrants, refugees and migrants supposedly bring to their country, but they don’t know the difficulties that they have to face when they have to return to their own countries. He is trying to say that there are problems created due to what the governments do to these people.”

“When it was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival it won two awards. Best film of the Asian Future. That’s where all different Asian countries compete. The second award is the Spirit of Asia award from the Japan foundation. The film will publicly be released in October in Japan. Lastly, it was his first time outside of Japan and they paid their own tickets to come all the way to CinemAsia Film Festival.”

Photo and interview by Feargal Agard.

Questions from me and a variety of other participants.

Check for all information about CinemAsia Film Festival 2018.


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