Detainees in Japanese immigration centre speak out in secretly recorded documentary

Detainees in Japanese immigration centre speak out in secretly recorded documentary

DFA member Daniel Ndevu is the Impact Campaign Producer for this exciting film which will have its world premiere from Tuesday, 1 June to  Sunday, 6 June, online with German film festival, Nippon Connection. There is a free, online and worldwide preview screening followed by a Q&A with the director, Thomas Ash happening on Thursday 27 May at 14:00 SA time, which you can access here: Be sure to watch this alongside Sihle Hlophe‘s SAFTA award winning Lindela Under Lockdown which was a DFA COVID-19 Short Film Grantee in 2020.

Amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 and with the death of Wishma Sandamali in a Nagoya detention facility, Japan grapples with immigration policy ahead of the Olympics. The World Premiere of Ushiku, a hard-hitting Japanese documentary about the long-term detention of refugees and asylum seekers to Japan, is to take place in Germany on June 1st, less than two months before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.


Consisting of uncompromising interviews filmed with a hidden camera in an attempt to bypass the media blackout the government has imposed on its immigration centres, Ushiku takes viewers deep into the psychological and physical environment inhabited by foreign detainees in one of the largest immigration centres in Japan.


Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this is the second year the Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany, will be held online, offering viewers across the world an opportunity to view its selection of films. This global access comes as the world’s eyes are on Japan ahead of the postponed Tokyo Olympics and while the country grapples with strong domestic and international criticism, including significant public opposition to hosting the Games; proposed immigration reform in conflict with United Nations recommendations; and accusations of abuse surrounding the death of 33-year-old Wishma Sandamali Rathnayake in an immigraiton detention facility in Nagoya, central Japan, on March 6th of this year. Wishma’s death while in the custody of immigration authorities was the 17th over the past 20 years.


To coincide with the film’s premiere, an impact campaign will be launched on the film’s website. The campaign will provide useful resources to the public on topics such as the history of immigration in Japan, Japanese immigration law, and links to learn more. Defined by the vision of an immigration system where all refugees are recognised through a just, timely, and transparent process, the campaign will foster meaningful engagement with audiences, seek to uplift marginalised voices, while dedicating its mission towards systemic change. The impact campaign is being headed by South African Impact Producer, Daniel Ndevu.


At a press conference on May 20th at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, following the release of the trailer, Ushiku Film Director, Thomas Ash, spoke to the courageousness of the participants in the film, stating that “they are taking a massive risk in speaking out,” and adding, that “when victims of human rights abuses wish to speak out, our role as supporters is to support them.” Appearing alongside Ash, were two of the film’s participants, Mr. Deniz and Mr. Louis Christian, who both shared their experiences of being detained at the Ushiku immigration centre in north-east Japan. Louis Christian, speaking to the necessary reforms that would alleviate the injustice of long-term detentions, noted that “even if we change the law, but they [immigration authorities] don’t change the way they see foreigners, it’s not going to work, they’re going to keep doing the same things.”

On Friday, May 28th, a closed screening of the film is set to take place at a study session within the House of Councillors, a part of the Japanese parliament –– Japan’s National Diet –– where senators and their staff are invited to be in attendance to discuss issues relating to long-term detention and immigration policy. Mr. Louis Christian and Mr. Deniz, along with Thomas Ash will be appearing before the senators as guest speakers. Members of the National Diet’s two press clubs will also be in attendance.

Thomas Ash, best known for his work surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its health effects on children, which includes the feature documentary A2-B-C (2013), has lived in Japan since 2000, and holds an MA in Film and Television Production from the University of Bristol (UK). Ushiku is Ash’s sixth Japanese-language feature documentary.

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Film Twitter Handle: @ushikufilm 

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