2001, 94 minutes, color, super-16mm with 35 mm blow-up, the National Film Board of Canada. Roles: producer, director, writer, editor, narrator. Starring: Natsuko Ohama, Nelson Mashita, Caitlin Ohama-Darcus, Donna Yamamoto, July Ono, Hiro Kanegawa, and Warren Takeuchi. DOP: Kirk Tougas, Editor and Story Supervisor: Manfred Becker, Music Composer and Sound Editor: Dennis Burke.
In 1923, Asayo Murakami left Hiroshima and settled in a fishing village in Steveston, BC. Her family remembers a happy woman who sang, danced and nurtured a colorful flower garden, but underneath, the memory of what she left in Japan haunted her deeply.
Delicately peeling back the layers of her grandmother's life, filmmaker Linda Ohama discovers a painful, buried past. In poignant interviews, Asayo, now 103 years old, recalls life in Japan, her arrival in Canada as a "picture bride", her determination to marry a man of her choice, the bombing of Hiroshima and the forced relocation of her family during World War II.
Beautifully rendered dramatic sequences are merged with an exquisite collection of memories, feelings, images, and voices. Culminating in an emotional reunion with a long-lost daughter, this film is an intensely personal reflection of Japanese-Canadian history and a testament to one woman's incredible endurance and spirit.
"It is the purely organic nature of "Obaachan's Garden" that sets it apart from other documentaries." Cynthia Amsden, Take One Magazine
"I regard this as one of the most beautiful movies that man can make in this world...and it was born in Onomichi." Japanese Film Director,Nobuhiko Obayashi, Sanyo Daily Newspaper
"This heartfelt family saga breaks new emotional ground in its docu approach to personal history. Sincere, probing and smart, "Obaachan's Garden" delves deeply into one Japanese Canadian's century-old story---involving displacement, atomic annihilation and remarkable rebirth." Ken Eisner, Variety Magazine, Los Angeles
"This film is lyrical, tragic and hopeful, showing Ohama`s painterly eye..." Glen Schaeffer, The Province, Vancouver
"This Genie nominated documentary unlocks a grandmother`s secret." Sue Ferguson, Maclean's Magazine
The stories behind the making of this film are too numerous and too amazing to put into this small space.
As a child on the farm, I grew up with my grandmother living not far away. Oftentimes, I stayed with her, learned to understand Japanese from her, went to the temple with her, cooked food with her, and soaked in the furo (bath) together. So, I grew up assuming that I knew most things about my grandmother. This was the same for my cousin who is a professional actor based in LA and NYC, Natsuko Ohama, who plays the role of young obaachan and grew up on the farm in Rainier, too.
Collaborating with Natsuko in telling our grandmother's story was a unique and exciting opportunity and creative process.
It was not until she was nearly 100 years old that I began to develop "Obaachan's Garden" to tell the story of 100 years of life, through her eyes.
During the process of making this film, there were many disappointments and surprises, challenges and inspirations. Producing a complicated film of this scope in two different cultures; with a drama and doc mix, was a daunting task.
I was able to independently produce enough funds to shoot for several years: her 100th birthday party, the re-construction of the historic site, the replanting of the garden, the interviews, and some dramatic scenes. But as time passed and her story evolved, she got older and well over 102. Time was running out. My dream was to finish this film while my grandma was still living and able to see it, so it became necessary for me to seek the help of other producers in order to finish as quickly as possible. This is how it finally became a National Film Board of Canada production.
At this particular time, the NFB was only offering full production (taking full copyright), and my grandmother continued to age. With the help of the NFB, the film was successfully completed and she was able to see and enjoy her story, and I realized that under certain circumstances, ownership of a work must remain secondary.
The research and filming also took me to Japan and my beloved Onomichi for the first time. Strangely, that town has always felt so familiar to my soul, something that I cannot ever explain even today. I can only personally experience this feeling and be inspired to create.
It was while filming "Obaachan's Garden" on location in Onomichi, that I accidentally met with Osamu Otani and Nobuhiko Obayashi. Today, years later, we can laugh at our first meeting: 'an argument over a parking space'.
Otani san owns a very nice crepe restaurant (with quite a large parking lot compared to most places in this small town) called The Common, at the foot of the mountain of temples. It was very hot and humid out. My crew was tired. I wanted to shoot footage at a certain temple on the mountain, and this particular parking lot was closest to that location. Therefore, I ventured into The Common restaurant and asked if we could park the camera/crew van in one of their empty spots while we filmed at the temple. Their answer was no, and their explanation was, that these spaces were for their customers only!
At this point, it became a challenge for me. Find a space to park the van and keep the trek as short as possible for my crew. So, I made our Japanese driver, Akira, into a customer and told him to go inside the restaurant and drink coffee until we returned. That was several hours later and many cups of coffee. Poor Akira! But, lucky me!
The long story made short is that once I got home to Canada with all my footage and began more research, I put out a 'wish list' search via emails, for "archival footage from Onomichi as close to my grandmother's time there as possible". Many people thought my request was too specific as Onomichi is a very small town. People suggested that I become more realistic, and broaden the request to southern Japan, or the whole of Japan, during that period of history.
One day, I received a beautiful letter from Osamu Otani, the owner of the Common restaurant. He explained that he was also in the film business and worked with Japanese director, Nobuhiko Obayashi. Otani san explained to me that they would help me find this archival footage (from Onomichi) if I would forgive the rudeness of his staff for turning me away re: parking space.
This is how we have all the wonderful archival footage in "Obaachan's Garden" that helps to tell the story of Obaachan with another level of real mystery. It was only luck that brought me to Osamu Otani and Nobuhiko Obayashi. And since that time, we continue our friendship and share our passion for film making.
This is one story of many, in the making of "Obaachan's Garden", which taught me again that it is in the magic in the process that makes film making so rewarding and exciting for me.
2001 Audience Choice Award, Vancouver Intl F.F.
2002 Audience Choice Award, Newport Beach I.F.F.
2002 Audience Choice Award, Turin I.F.F., Italy
2002 Genie nomination for Best Feature length Documentary
2002 Five Leo Awards for: Best Director of Documentary, Best Scriptwriter, Best Sound, Best Ciematography, and Best Sound Edit
2003 Richmond City Heritage Award
Festival and screenings include:
Montreal World Film Festival 2001
Calgary Intl Film Festival 2001
Vancouver Intl Film Festival 2001
Laemmle Theatre, for consideration of Academy of Motion Pictures, Pasadena , California
Harmony Gold Theatre, Oscar consideration screening, Hollywood,California
Nikkei Week 2002, Tinsetown Cinemas, Vancouver
2002 Moving Pictures Tour of British Columbia
2002 Palm Springs Intl Film Festival, USA
Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa-Hull, 2002
San Francisco Intl Asia American F.F. 2002
Chicago Intl Asia American F.F. 2002
Los Angeles Intl Asia American F.F. 2002
New York Intl Asia American F.F., 2003
Creteil France Intl Womens F.F., 2002, France
Hot Doc Intl Documentary F.F., Toronto, 2002
Asia Heritage Month, Calgary and Vancouver, 2002, 2003
Hawaii Intl Film Festival, 2002, Honolulu
UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), 2003, Saratoga, Florida
17 city Japan Tour screenings: 2002, opening at the Canadian Embassy Theatre, Tokyo
First window national broadcast licence: History Television