Director claims censorship, pulls film set in slum from Osaka festival

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:17am


Japan's biggest slum is visible just blocks from bustling restaurants and shops in Osaka, the country's second-largest city. But it cannot be found on official maps.

Nor did it appear in the recent Osaka Asian Film Festival, after the director of a new movie that is set in the area pulled it, accusing city organisers of censorship.

Osaka officials asked Shingo Ota to remove scenes and slang that identify the slum, on the grounds that it was insensitive to residents. "To me, what they were asking was a cover-up attempt to make this place non-existent," he said.

This place is Kamagasaki, home to day labourers, the jobless and homeless, where one in three is on welfare. About 25,000 people live there, mostly single men who stay in free shelters or cheap dorms.

At the welfare-employment centre, hundreds of people line up for manual work, mostly with subcontractors of Japan's construction giants. Those not picked stroll the back streets aimlessly, queue for free meals or resort to cheap alcohol. In the evening, the homeless line up to get tickets for the shelters.

"I'm jobless, for months," said a 52-year-old who came to Kamagasaki after losing his home in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. He gambled away his monthly welfare money of 70,000 yen. "Now I'm doomed."

Ota's movie, Fragile, tells the story of a TV assistant director who takes off from his job one day after conflicts with his girlfriend and his colleague. He heads to Kamagasaki to make a film about a teenager, and whether success and wealth are necessary for happiness. But he quickly falls into trouble, and his plan unravels.

The full-length feature shows recognisable landmarks of the slum, such as a park known for both squatters and illegal rubbish dumping and the centre where men line up for jobs. It also shows the protagonist receiving an amphetamine injection from a drug dealer operating in the slum.

Ota says Osaka officials wanted those scenes and others deleted, as well as the slang words doya (cheap accommodations) and shabu (stimulants).

Osaka official Kazumitsu Oue said the film-festival organisers wanted to protect the area and its people from exposure to prejudice. "We felt that the film lacked consideration to the area and its people," he said.

Ota says that while living there to shoot the film for several weeks, his impression of the slum as a poor, dangerous place changed and he began to regard the community - also known by the nickname Airin, or "loving neighbourhood" - and its inhabitants with more compassion.

The scenes officials objected to are needed to portray the different faces of the town, he said.

The city provided Ota a 600,000 yen grant on condition the film premieres at the Osaka festival. He says he offered to return the grant, but the city wanted him to keep it and not tell the media details of the dispute.