Thu, Oct 06, 2016 - Page 13 News List

Movie Review: After Spring, the Tamaki Family… 海的彼端

Through a family reunion, a trip back to Taiwan and extensive interviews, this heart-warming documentary explores the history and identity struggles of the Tamaki family, the largest Taiwanese clan on Japan’s Ishigaki Island

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Tamaki Shingo carries his grandmother, Tamaki Tamayo, on his back.

Photos courtesy of Fisfisa Media

After Spring, the Tamaki Family... unexpectedly opens with a heavy metal concert in Tokyo. You first wonder what it has to do with such a seemingly gentle movie, until the bass player yells between songs, “My name is Shingo, I’m from Ishigaki and I’m half Taiwanese!”

Shingo is the grandson of Tamaki Tamayo, who emigrated to Ishigaki, a tiny Okinawan island closer to Taiwan than mainland Japan, in the 1940s and became the matriarch of the largest Taiwanese immigrant family on the island.

The film’s subject matter is somewhat of a counterpoint to last year’s Wansei Back Home (灣生回家), which told the story of Taiwan-born or raised Japanese nationals who were forced to leave what they saw as their home after World War II. While the wanseis never forgot about Taiwan, the Tamakis, besides Tamayo, knew almost nothing of their ancestral land.

Tamayo’s husband originally traveled to Ishigaki with many other Taiwanese pineapple farmers during Japanese colonial rule. He was sent back to Taiwan as the US launched its offensive on Okinawa, but after being persecuted by the Nationalists due to the 228 Incident, he fled with Tamayo to Ishigaki and settled there permanently despite the later decline of the pineapple industry.

Due to racial discrimination, the Tamaki family’s descendants eschewed their Taiwanese identity and have mostly become fully Japanized, as in one scene a son of Tamayo discusses how he tried hard to be more Japanese than a Japanese. Even so, due to the family’s illegal arrival and the subsequent 30 years of US occupation, it took decades for them to obtain Japanese citizenship, upon which they officially changed their surname from Wang (王) to Tamaki.

Film Note

After Spring, the Tamaki Family… 海的彼端

DIRECTED BY:Huang Yin-yu (黃胤毓)

Language: Japanese and Taiwanese with Chinese and English subtitles



The story focuses on the many members of the Tamaki family as they return to Ishigaki from around Japan to celebrate Tamayo’s 88th birthday, where they decide to bring her back to Taiwan for one last visit.

It’s one of those films that benefits from a strong central character: Tamayo is strong-willed, sarcastic and pretty hilarious, delivering many chuckle or laughter-inducing one liners throughout the film. But the main narrator of the film is Shingo, who explains the complex history of Taiwanese immigration to Ishigaki and travels for the first time to Taiwan in the second half of the film, where he feels all kinds of emotions and experiences a closeness to his ancestral land.

In addition to the main storyline, the film makes use of extensive interviews with the various family members to explore how they have dealt with their identity. It also includes scenes that show the last traces of keeping their heritage such as learning how to make Tamayo’s signature zongzi (粽子, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) during Dragon Boat Festival.

Director Huang Yin-yu (黃胤毓), who resides in Japan, knew about the subject matter but didn’t become interested in making the film until reading the 2012 book Taiwanese in Yaeyama Islands, which includes Ishigaki, by Matsuda Yoshitaka — which Shingo also reads to learn about his family. While the Tamaki family has the most members and Tamayo is a great character, having a compelling storyline in a documentary still takes a bit of luck — it just happened that they were about to have their reunion and visit Taiwan.

There are a few scenes that drag on for a bit, such as when the family members were making preparations for Tamayo’s birthday, and other moments where they chatter on about trivial subjects that don’t seem to have much to do with the story. But overall the film is well-paced and the plotline is clear. At times, it feels like the characters are talking for too long during the interviews, or even that the director featured too many people at the expense of featuring more of Tamayo. In the end, however, it does help to give a better sense of who they are and how each member has struggled in their own way.

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