The topic of minorities is a hot topic in recent Japanese cinema. Being confronted with faster aging and a shrinking society, politics is challenged by new questions. One of these challenges is personified by Ozan. When Ozan was 6 years old, his father decided that his whole family will move to Japan in order to escape the discrimination in their homeland, Turkey.

Tokyo Kurds” is screening at
Festival International des Cinémas d’Asie de Vesoul

They became part of the Kurdish community in Tokyo, 1500 people in total. Today, Ozan is 18 years old and has the status of an illegal immigrant. Unlike the status of a refugee, an illegal immigrant is not allowed to work and the person has to report to the Regional Immigration Bureau every month. Living for 12 years in Japan, Ozan speaks fluent Japanese and is dreaming of a career in the entertainment industry. He wants to be on television.

The documentary shows him during his daily routine as an illegal construction worker, on his way to the Immigration Bureau, with his family and when he is applying at a talent agency. All these sequences are overshadowed by the uncertainty of his legal status. “In Turkey, we are treated like terrorists. I guess, it’s the same in Japan”, says Ozan during the opening scene, showing him at a bowling center with his friend. No Kurd ever got granted asylum as a refugee.

Director Fumiari Hyuga, who did social and medical programs for the state television station NHK, has a flair for thrilling stories and creates awareness for this special group of people, suffering under one of the toughest immigration laws in the world. Ozan himself is totally honest and really opens up to the camera. He does not know where he belongs and is often fighting with his dad about the future. Living under the pressure of the illegal immigrant status leads to family drama. But since he is facing war in his country, he has no other choice than to keep surviving in Japan.

“Tokyo Kurds” is a short, but intriguing documentary. The loose cinematography by Toshiyuki Matsumura and Yuji Kanazawa always keeps a close eye on the protagonist, while, at the same time, leaves him space to speak his mind. This creates a close relationship between Ozan and the camera, which ultimately generates compassion for his situation.

A situation, which is possibly going to change in the near future. Since local governments are calling for more and more workers in the low-wage sector, there comes a demand to change the immigration law to accept more foreign labor. Films like “Tokyo Kurds” are picking up on this and giving an important input to the debate. Because unfortunately, Japanese media reporting is often dominated by negative reporting about Kurds and immigrants in general.