Burmese-language major Ishikawa Wataru had his heart set on studying in Myanmar this year. February's military coup left his plan in tatters, but it also inspired him to take action from within Japan.
In October, Ishikawa and two other university students held a screening of the movie "Mohingar Tapwe!!" in Tokyo. The comedy was coproduced by people from Japan and Myanmar four years ago in Yangon. The plot centers on a young chef who uses a homemade recipe for mohingar, a traditional noodle dish, to avenge his father's death and battle an evil secret society.
The events following the coup are no laughing matter, but Ishikawa says he and his two friends felt that the comedy would help people to better understand the culture in Myanmar. "Hopefully, they'll be able to shorten their psychological distance and think about the dire situation there."
Screening draws 150 people
The screening drew about 150 people both in person and online. Kitazumi Yuki, the movie's director, also attended. He points out that the story of a young man confronting a dictatorship has taken on new meaning. He says miracles can happen when citizens refuse to give up.
Kitazumi also reveals that he and his team plan to create more films and make them available online. It's their way of encouraging the people of Myanmar.
Kitazumi recalls the passion of the young locals he worked with. "They wanted to create films. They had dreams, which all came crashing down on February 1. To get them back, the coup must end," he said.
The director had also been working as a freelance journalist in Myanmar. After the coup, he was arrested by the military and detained for about a month. At the screening, he presented a traditional garment and T-shirt given to him by a fellow inmate. He points out that the kindness of the locals has not faltered during the crisis, and that some people went out of their way to protect him.
"They told me they wanted democracy, and they asked me to tell the world what is happening in Myanmar. I will do everything I can, until they are able to once again pursue their dreams freely," he says.
More young Japanese get involved
University student Sato Haru says the screening had a profound effect on his views. "I would only see brutal violence in Myanmar on the news, but now I know that it's a place with kind people, whose lives are being threatened right now. I don't know how yet, but I want to do something to support the country while I'm still a student."
As it stands, Myanmar's military has killed more than 1,200 people since the coup – including children who weren't even protesting. Ishikawa says it is important for people to be aware that the country's younger generations are risking their lives to fight for their futures. "We can learn many things from their activities, such as their passion for political issues and the way they help one another in times of crisis."
He says it's time for people outside Myanmar to get involved. "I hope as many as possible – even if that means just one – help to spread the word and make a difference."