The Story behind 'MICHIKO: a child born of war'
Article by Kanako Kuramitsu
Kanako Kuramitsu's doctoral study focuses on Sino-Japanese children born of war (Sino-Japanese CBOW) who were born of Japanese fathers and Chinese mothers in China during and in the aftermath of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). More specifically, Sino-Japanese CBOW in this study are born of consensual relationships and migrated to Japan after the normalization of the Sino-Japanese relations in 1972.
This research project is the first investigation into children born of consensual relationships during the Second Sino-Japanese War. At the start of the project some people held the conception that these children did not exist, and that the project would be fruitless. It is therefore particularly important that the research gives voice to forgotten Sino-Japanese CBOW.
Kanako made a six-minute animation film, ‘Michiko: A child born of war’, in collaboration with story artist Vivian Zhou from Sheridan College, Canada. The film explores the untold story of Michiko, one of the research participants, who was born of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father during the Second Sino-Japanese War in China. The story is based on an interview with Michiko and is narrated by Michiko herself.
Conducting oral history raises a number of ethical questions and prompts consideration of the production of historical knowledge and who controls the research process. For instance, as part of the production process, there were some scenes that had to be cut from the film, in order to condense it. In an attempt to show transparency in the process, Kanako felt it was important that she explained what was removed and explored why. For this reason, a website that clarifies the film’s purpose and making process is currently being developed by Rose Parkinson, an MA Global History student working on the project as part of the University of Birmingham’s Postgraduate Research Placement Scheme. A fuller script developed from an interview with Michiko will be made available online in order to allow the audience to ascertain what information from her history had to be removed from the animation.
Similarly, as the film was being developed, some changes had to be made to make it more historically accurate. For example, a change was made to the repatriation camp, which was initially depicted as a prison, whereas in reality, the camp was less strict and formal than a prison.
Further, the creative journeys of the story artist and the researcher will be introduced on the website. Details down to the rain and the colour of the sky were considered in the process, and often used as a metaphor to represent what was going on in the broader historical context - namely the ongoing war. The film itself does not focus on the war, despite it being a project about children born of war, however I did not want to change Michiko's narrative, and she did not experience the frontline violence of war herself. A final and very important consideration was to not make the visual depiction of Michiko too accurate, as this could have risked revealing her identity.
On 27 June 2018, the film was premiered to the audience at the Children Born of War Final Conference in Leipzig, Germany. Feedback was collected at the premier, and the film gathered some positive and constructive comments, including:
‘A dramatic and complicated story, presented in a sensitive and understanding way.’
‘Powerful and humanising!’
‘Short, animated, colourful…it is perfect to get attention, to learn about such stories and topics. And I think it is understandable for the public and not only academic people.’
On 21 August 2018, the film was screened at the Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Turku, Finland, thanks to the cooperation of university teacher on Japanese Studies, Annamari Konttinen. After a short presentation and the screening of the film, discussion between the audience and the researcher took place. Sensitivity of the research and Michiko’s story turned out to be one of the central topics during the discussion. Though the film was positively evaluated for challenging dominant narratives about the war and war-affected people, it was pointed out that there is a risk that, due to the current political tensions in East Asia, it is possible that some viewers suspect the research focusing on Sino-Japanese consensual relationships to have an intention to undermine the ongoing debate over ‘comfort women’. While this historical research and the film ‘Michiko’ do not have such intention, such valuable feedback helped Kanako to be more aware of different perspectives as well as of importance of making constant effort in building trust and a bridge of understanding between the audience and the researcher.
Last but not least, we are pleased to announce that the animation film has been officially selected to be screened at Linoleum International Animation and Media Art Festival (Ukraine), Ottawa International Animation Festival (Canada) and ReAnima International Animated Film Festival (Norway) in September 2018. I hope that the film ‘Michiko’ continues to reach out to a wider audience and that the issues of Sino-Japanese CBOW and other children born of war will be brought to light through dissemination activities.