With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ACF 1309: DRIVE ME TO THE SEA

© 2009 “Boku wa umi ga mitaku narimashita” seisaku jikko iinkai
 Drive Me to the Sea / Boku wa umi ga mitakunarimashita
Directed by Yoshihisa Fukuda
With Chihiro Otsuka, Yuki Ito, Taisaku Akino, Akemi Omor
Japan, 2009, 103 minutes
When: Friday, January 20, 2012, 7:00 pm
Where: Japan Society
333 East 47th Street,  NY
In Japanese with English subtitles
Ticket information here

Based on personal experiences with autism by screenwriter, author and activist Kuniaki Yamashita, Drive Me to the Sea lands on New York shores for the first time after playing more than 200 venues worldwide since its 2009 debut. The January 20, one-night-only screening features an introduction and Q&A with Yamashita, who is joined by communication therapist Hisako Cunningham and HappyDoll founder Nozomi Terao. The screening will be followed by a reception.

A road movie like no other, Drive Me to the Sea is the story of a life-changing chance encounter between nursing student Asumi (Chihiro Otsuka) and Junichi (Yuki Ito). A twist of fate drives them together on a sentimental journey to the sea. Soon, she notices something odd about the way he walks and talks, eventually coming to the realization that the young man is autistic. Asumi’s trip changes her outlook on life in the most unexpected ways.

The film, based on a novel of the same title that Kuniaki Yamashita published in 2002, is inspired by his personal experiences with disabilities.  After his eldest son Hiroki, born in 1991, was diagnosed with severe autism, Yamashita quit his job as a screenwriter and launched an afterschool facility for autistic children called Free Space Tsukushinbo -- an incorporated nonprofit organization for which he serves as President.

In 2006, immediately after Yamashita started to work on the production of the film, his son passed away after a train accident.  Continuing work on the film, Yamashita completed it in 2009 after collecting donations from more than 1000 individuals. Drive Me to the Sea was released in August of the same year and has been shown at over 200 venues through independently-organized screenings. It was also screened for members of Japan’s Diet.

Samuel Jamier, Senior Film Program Officer at Japan Society says, “The film’s unique quality lies in its empathy and insight into the plight of people with disabilities in the context of a society that perceives itself as one consisting of a homogenous population. Even in today’s Japan, people’s attitudes toward disabled people can be fraught with prejudices and stigma: children with disabilities still tend to be bullied. They face a lack of nursing, schooling and service facilities. The film reminds us of the need to build a society free from discrimination against the disabled.”

Born in Tokyo in 1960, Kuniaki Yamashita began his career after graduating from Nihon University, College of Art as a scriptwriter for a wide range of entertainment programs and dramas for television, theatrically-released films, direct-to-video movies and comics. A Tezuka Productions contract led to work on Jungle Emperor Leo, Black Jack, The Three Eyed One and many Tezuka animations. After going back to freelance scriptwriting, he wrote children’s animations including Go! Anpanman! He is a co-author of A Father Who Could Say “My Kid has Disabilities”, written by fathers of children with disabilities. His essay “You Can Take a Walk” looks at the 15 years with his son Hiroki. Yamashita is a member of the Japan Writers Guild.

Hisako Cunningham, M.S., is a communication therapist with more than 40 years of experience in working with developmentally disabled children. She was the supervisor of Clinical Service Programs for the Aurally and Visually Handicapped at the Westchester Institute for Human Development for 23 years. To raise awareness about issues related to mental health, special education and communication therapy, Cunningham has been giving lectures both in the U.S. and Japan. She is a recipient of many awards, including the Foreign Minister’s Award of the Japanese Government for her contribution in promoting special education related understanding between Japan and the U.S. She is the author of Soshite Chosen no Hibi (My Challenging Days) and Kaigai Shijo Kyoiku (Japanese Children Overseas). She also translated the books on autism Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Thinking in Colors by bestselling author Dr. Temple Grandin.

Nozomi Terao is the Founder and Executive Director of HappyDoll, Inc., a nonprofit organization connecting children through the making and exchanging of unique and fun dolls. To date, over 500 children in New York, North Carolina, Haiti and Japan have collaborated through the project. She is also the Founder and Director of MSTERIO, enriching the lives of young Japanese and their communities through shared experiences. Since 2001, MSTERIO has hosted annual summer camps, spring teen events and a winter gatherings in Japan. In March 2011, Nozomi produced and directed “Stand with Japan” in New York City, raising over $36,000 to help the survivors of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. She is also a team member of Keio University Hospital’s “Kokoro no Care” project in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, which is responding to the mental health needs of survivors of the March 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Nozomi was an Executive Director at Morgan Stanley, having worked there in various capacities for 18 years. She has also worked at the American Embassy in Tokyo, Fuji Television's morning show and Itochu International.

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