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JAPAN: Drama therapy in the film"The Burden of the Past"

A scene from "The Burden of the Past" (photo credit: Japan Times)

"In Japan, former prisoners face high barriers to normal lives, with the “ex-con” stigma following them wherever they go. Not surprisingly, 50% of former prisoners re-offend within five years. By comparison, in Europe, the recidivism rate ranges from about 30% to as low as 20% in Norway.

Atsushi Funahashi’s “The Burden of the Past,” a docudrama grounded in the director’s own research, addresses this problem with informed, unvarnished realism [...] the film focuses on the editorial team of a magazine that supports former prisoners in finding jobs and reentering society.


Among their hardest cases is Taku Tanaka (Taku Tsujii), who spent 10 years in prison for killing a teenage boy in a hit-and-run accident. Prone to angry outbursts, he has a stormy relationship with everyone from his big-hearted boss, who runs a small Chinese restaurant that employs former prisoners, to Jun Fujimura (Jun Kubodera), a psychologist trying to understand his rage, even as he directs it at her.

The various story threads come together in the rehearsal and performance of a play featuring Taku and other former prisoners acting out their lives, with Jun serving as director. She hopes that this “drama therapy,” developed in the United States but little-known in Japan, will help her cast move on from their criminal pasts. Instead, in a long, turbulent Q&A session after the performance, they confront the deep-seated prejudices of the many in the audience who see them as forever-tainted outcasts.

Though the former prisoners and magazine staffers are played by actors, they are based on real people, while the magazine itself is modeled on a real publication. Also, instead of reciting dialogue from a script, cast members improvised their lines based on discussions with Funahashi about their characters.

This process creates a film that blurs and, at times, erases the line between drama and documentary. The emotions unleashed by the Q&A and other highly charged scenes feel raw and real, which is exactly what Funahashi intended.

While living in New York from 1997 to 2007, he studied not only directing but also acting based on the famed Stanislavski method. From that experience, he developed his own docudrama approach."

Read the full article by Mark Schilling for the Japan Times here.


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