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American director documents cross-culture in Japan

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-06-11

Executive Producer and Director Reggie Life recently completed a documentary about the experiences and cultural adjustments Japanese and also Americans must make when returning from abroad back to their native countries.

Life, who has made numerous documentaries during his career, spent four years doing research to prepare for the project. His film crew focused on the trials and tribulations of a young Japanese man, who has spent nine years living in the U.S. and is preparing his family to move back to Japan. The story follows the Japanese individual after his return home, and brings out the many challenges he faces, as well as his personal feelings towards his "new life" in the country which he had been so familiar with.

This latest documentary by Life, titled "After America After Japan," also relates the story of an American going back to the United States with his Japanese wife and daughter. Life manages to capture the problems, conflicts, and also the joys the individual and his family face as they try and settle back into life in America.

Other opinions and stories through many interviews with Japanese who have experienced the "reverse-culture-shock" syndrome appear throughout the film, and the unique experiences of Okinawans who have faced similar situations is also documented.

"After returning home these people have found that ultimately their personalities have become a blend of both cultures," said Life about the individuals he interviewed. "They also return with the full knowledge that they will never be the same person as when they had left."

"After America After Japan" brings attention to the effects of internationalism on individuals and the many ways which they are influencing the societies to which they were raised in. The situation is especially growing here in Japan, where tens of thousands of students leave for study abroad every year. Those same students often become employees at international corporations after graduation, using their bilingual abilities to gain positions in foreign countries. For many of these people, returning to Japan can be a difficult adjustment. They are faced with the dilemma of expecting to think and act like a "Japanese," but their experiences abroad have altered both their way of thinking and their personalities.

Children returning to Japan from abroad face even more challenges - both educationally and socially. They are often teased at school, and sometimes find it difficult to learn under the Japanese education system. Many of these kids even loose their foreign language skills.

Recently, an increase in international schools is helping to nurture the international abilities of these children, providing them with an opportunity to retain foreign language skills and achieve a multi-cultural education.

Life commented that his work in Japan has broken many stereotypes he had about Japanese society, as well as providing him with insights into multi-cultural issues. Although Life recognizes cultural identity to be an important part of personal development, he also mentioned that in situations such as in Kosovo, it can have dangerous impacts. "Sometimes we need to remember our identity as human beings," said Life. "Because of how small the world has become, these antiquated notions of identity need to be re-evaluated."

Born in New York in 1951, Life began his career filming documentaries after graduating from New York University. He began in the early 1970's with a series based on African culture and how it became transplanted in the U.S. and South America. Later in his career, Life started making documentaries that featured aspects of Japanese society and culture. He was able to use his nine years of experiences coming back and forth to Japan to document the struggles and success of African Americans living in Japan. His documentary film "Doubles," which was based on children born to international marriages with one parent of Japanese descent, has been viewed by many people here in Japan. Life's documentaries have been featured on PBS, the Discovery Channel, and NHK.

"After America After Japan" is expected to be aired on Japanese television sometime during this year. You can also view some of Life's Documentaries at selected showings across Japan.

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