Vancouver Asian Film Festival Preview: We Heart Canada + Japan 90 Premiere Presentation Spotlight

Some 8,000 km separate Canada and Japan. In 1930, that trip would have been the equivalent of an 8 day, 6 hour and 27 minute voyage between Yokohama and Vancouver on the RMS Empress of Japan. Today, it is the equivalent of an 8 hour and 40 minute flight from Narita International Airport to Vancouver International Airport. Despite an ocean of separation between these two countries, both Canada and Japan have a deep-rooted relationship, which began in 1928 when Japan established its first diplomatic mission in Ottawa. Fast forward to 2018 and both Canada and Japan are celebrating the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

Building awareness of this landmark year in Canada-Japan relations, the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in collaboration with the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver and the Japan Foundation, Toronto hosted in July 2018 the We Heart Canada + Japan 90 short film project. The campaign paired local non-profit organizations and independent filmmakers together through a Tinder-style “swipe right” matchmaking session to produce four short films highlighting the rich and vibrant history of the bilateral relationship. 

The results of this collaboration are set to premiere at the 22nd annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF), one of the oldest film festivals in Canada to celebrate Asian diaspora and diversity in film. Building on the VAFF 2018 theme of INFUSIAN, which shines a spotlight on contemporary Canadians and the array of influences that inform their work, both the festival and the We Heart Canada + Japan 90 Premiere Presentation will shine a spotlight on the stories of individuals and communities in Canada and help bridge both Eastern and Western cultures .

In particular, moviegoers will experience four stories filmed within Vancouver’s diverse local communities engaged with Japan, ranging from youth, working professionals and senior citizens.

In the short film Cosmos, director Louisa Phung highlights the work of the Cosmos Seminar, a non-profit organization created by Ms. Naoko Ohkohchi. Through the dedicated work of members in strengthening knowledge on Canada and Japan, the Cosmos Seminar organizes lectures that bring together Japanese women living in Canada, fostering a positive and healthy lifestyle. In doing so, audiences will appreciate the stories of language and culture shared by participants that highlight the strong roots of the Japanese community here in Vancouver.

Cosmos, courtesy Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Meanwhile, Harmony, directed by Alejandro Yoshizawa, discusses the struggles of a daughter who has to make the choice to continue in the family’s fishing business, or to forge a new career path that breaks from family tradition. The film centres upon the Japanese concept of wa (harmony) in the workplace, highlighting the importance of community over personal interest. These themes of work and tradition were inspired by a collaboration with the Canada-Japan Council of British Columbia, which promotes information exchange and solves issues facing the local Japanese business community.

Harmony, courtesy Vancouver Asian Film Festival

In an emotional flashback to earlier Japanese-Canadian history, the short film Shoji by director Jonathan Chiang narrates the story of one Japanese Canadian family. In partnership with the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society, the story centres around the identity of Shoji Nishihata, a resident of the senior’s home and a Nikkei – a person of Japanese ancestry living outside of Japan. Afraid of losing touch with his family’s history, he finds hope in his volunteer work, which helps him preserve the memories he fears will be lost.

Shoji, courtesy Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Finally, in Way of the Bow, director Mayumi Yoshida highlights the activities of the Kyudo Association of Canada in Vancouver. Through Kyūdō – the Japanese martial art of archery – moviegoers are asked to identify with the heartfelt story of Japanese-Canadians re-connecting with their heritage though both a physical and spiritual alignment with the sport and its emphasized practices of respect and composure.

Way of the Bow, courtesy Vancouver Asian Film Festival

Like the 90th year of diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan, the short films featured in the We Heart Canada + Japan 90 Premiere Presentation will also take moviegoers on a trip through time as they recollect some of the precious memories that have formed part of the local cultural fabric here in Vancouver. For younger moviegoers, these short yet skillfully narrated stories will reflect an inspirational nostalgia that will likely inspire generations to come.

The We Heart Canada + Japan 90 Premiere Presentation screens on November 4, 2018 at 2:00pm at the Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas. For more information and the VAFF 2018 festival guide, visit the Vancouver Asian Film Festival website at

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.