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 July 24, 2014
Q&A guest: Director Shingo Ota

Shingo Ota
Shingo Ota

July’s second screening about youth in imperiled situations, The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed is perhaps the first-ever film made by a young director about a friend’s suicide, completed as he continued to grapple with his own imagined role in it.

But the story hadn’t begun that way.

Shingo Ota was a high school friend of Sota Masuda, a talented young singer-songwriter who dropped out when he won a major competition and headed off to Tokyo to become famous. When his major-label debut falls through, Masuda gradually turns to drugs to blunt the pain of his loneliness and despair. After a brush with death by overdose, he returns, defeated, to his Nagano hometown. There, his friends rally round him, and some of his youthful confidence and energy returns. Ota —who had studied film at Waseda — is recruited to make the documentary about Masuda’s comeback.

Ota and interpreter Mihoko Imai listen to the reminder
of the film's theatrical opening in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, Masuda’s optimism dims and he kills himself in the midst of the project, leaving a note for Ota: “Be sure to finish the film,” it says. “And try to give it a happy ending.”

Ota was devastated and angry, a feeling that he translates into fictional bookending scenes which drew some criticism from FCCJ’s audience for their violence.  But Masuda’s note definitely proved helpful: “I was determined to finish the film,” Ota said during the Q&A, “so I think I would’ve finished it whether Sota left the note or not. But it helped his family understand what he wanted, and they agreed that I should continue.”

SO at bar
Ota and producer Yutaka Tsuchiya (in hat) join audience members
in the Main Bar after the screening.

As for the fictional violence, Ota explained that he wanted to draw a stark comparison between the type of suicide that occurs when someone is suddenly overwhelmed by hopelessness, and Masuda’s choice of death, “which was planned, carefully and deliberately. I wanted to use [the bullying scene of a suicide victim] to find a way of portraying this difference. The [female character] who killed herself did so without thinking. This type of suicide we can prevent. We need to give them the opportunity to rethink their choices." 

With so many Japanese youth making the same choice, The End of the Special Time We Were Allowed opens a much-needed crack into their world. More than just a record of a life cut tragically short, is a tremendously personal, poignant and finally, revelatory inquiry into the increasingly low expectations of today’s youth.

— Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

watayuru B2 poster
©Midnight Call Productions


Media Coverage




 July 15, 2014
Q&A guest: Director Haryun Kim

Haryun 3
Haryun Kim

Growing up in Seoul, Haryun Kim always felt a kinship with outsiders, and after working for an NGO post-college, completed her first film, Voice of Migrant Workers (2002). It wasn’t until she’d moved to London to study Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies that she understood: she herself was a “person on the move,” in a world that is increasingly filled with “migrants.” The plight of the growing underclass became her subject. “I want to tell sincere human stories,” she says, “that champion the voices of those who would otherwise never be heard.”

After studying documentary at the National Film and TV School, Kim relocated with her family to Guanzhou, China in 2008 and was immediately struck by the contrast between the lives of the city’s many migrant workers and the gleaming metropolis they were building.  She soon discovered that the children of these workers were excluded from free public education without a local hukou household registration, forcing them to attend pricey informal private schools called minban — unregulated enterprises that fill the gap in the market. There are no guidelines governing the teaching standards or facilities at these schools.

The nation’s economic boom has created a constant stream of job-seekers to its cities, bringing with them more than 20 million children — worse, Beijing recently started shutting down minban over safety concerns, leaving migrant children with no schooling and no alternatives.

Haryun 2
Haryun Kim

Kim spent a year befriending and earning the trust of the children and teachers in one minban, creating a breathtakingly intimate portrait of their lives for A Class of Their Own. “I was like a piece of furniture in the room,” she told FCCJ’s audience during the Q&A. She spent several months getting to school earlier and leaving it later than anyone, and gradually selected her three main subjects. For different reasons, each of them leaves school by the end of the film.

A short version of Kim’s film debuted in an “impossible time slot” at the Asian Side of the Doc Festival in Chengdu last year, after unknown forces attempted to bar it from being shown at all. “There were Chinese people in the audience,” says Kim, “and they were shocked that migrant workers are such second-class citizens. They were also surprised that a foreigner was able to gain such access to their lives.”

Look for A Class of Their Own on the international festival circuit later this year.

— Photos by FCCJ.

a class of their own
©Summer Lotus Films

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