Friday, September 20, 2019

The Ashes

When I learned my new documentary “Sending Off” had been selected to screen in the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, I was excited: screening my film “A2-B-C” there in 2013 (STORY) was a wonderful experience, and I was honoured to hold the North American Premier of “Sending Off” there this year.

While making travel plans, I decided to try to plan a layover in the DC area to see family either before or after Newburyport, which is outside of Boston. I asked my sister, Amanda, if she would be around during those dates, but she said she would be away to attend a religious conference. Disappointed, I asked where she would be.

“Boston,” she replied, asking “Where is the festival?”

“Boston,” I said laughing.  

I then clarified that although I had said Boston, in fact, it was about 40 minutes outside Boston. Amanda said that the conference center where she was going was also about 40 minutes outside Boston, and asked in what town the film festival was taking place.  Imagining it might be 40 minutes outside Boston in the other direction, I replied "Newburyport".  My sister was traveling to Adelynrood, the retreat center for The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross in Byfield, Massachusetts, and she thought she had heard of Newburyport.  Pulling up a map on her phone, she started laughing.  Newburyport was just 6 miles from Byfield, where she would be at the exact time of the film festival.

"Are we going to bury mom?" I asked.

Our mother had been a member of the The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross for nearly 30 years until she died in 2008, and she had wanted half of her ashes to be buried at Adelynrood in the Pine Grove (the other half of her ashes I had interred in Wales in 2009, the year after she died).  Since 2008, my sister had kept the remaining half of her ashes in the teapot in which our mother had made tea every morning for decades, the delicate pattern on the handle worn from years of loving use but with a hairline crack that rendered it no longer suitable for making tea.

The reason we had not interred our mother's ashes for so long was because Adelynrood was far away (8 hours by car from my sister's home) and also perhaps because my sister had not yet been ready.  In the years since our mother died, Amanda had herself become a Companion, and this visit to the retreat center would be her first.  Things had come full circle and the timing seemed right, and so my sister began the process for arranging the internement.  The Companion in Charge decided it would be best to hold the burial on Thursday, September 12, and by coincidence, the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival, where the North American Premier of my film "Sending Off"ー about death and dyingー would begin the next day (INFO).

After arriving in Maryland, I asked Amanda if I could film our conversations about interring our mother's ashes and the preparations we were undertaking to do so.  I had filmed something with my father last year (READ), that while not exactly similar, I thought might be complimentary.  My sister and I had two days together to prepare everything, including answering an important question we both had had independently about our mother's ashes.  But I will wait to reveal what that was for the film...

We then packed up the car, including the teapot with our mother's ashes inside, and set off for Massachusetts.  Our last epic road trip with our mother had begun.

After arriving at Adelynrood, the retreat center for The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross, we checked into our cottage, and my sister and I placed the teapot with our mother’s ashes inside on the fireplace mantel.


We attended chapel services three times a dayー Morning Prayer,  Noon Intercessions & Thanksgivings, and Evening Prayer.  The afternoon of the internment, Joy, from the chapel committee, came to the cottage to collect our mother’s ashes.

In the chapel, our mother’s ashes were transferred from the teapot where they have rested for the past eleven years into a lovely Shaker box. To my eyes, the box somehow looked somehow so Japanese.

As the service began, I carried my mother’s ashes in the Shaker box covered with a white cloth as we processed from the chapel to the Pine Grove where the attending Companions had gathered for the internment. During the service, I placed the ashes from the box directly into the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

After the service, I filled the now empty teapot with water and poured it into a bed of purple flowers in the Garden of Forgiveness just outside the chapel, ensuring any ash remaining in the teapot was returned to the earth.

The day after the internment, my sister drove me the six miles to Newburyport to attend the film festival.  The timing was indeed poignant.

w/ Michele Noble (Reclamation: The Rise at Standing Rock), Harry Zernike (Thursday Fields) & Dianne Steimel (Peace Out)

I was humbled by the wonderful audience and amazing Q&A following the screening of “Sending Off” and so grateful that my sister could be in attendance with 15 of her Companion friends, many of whom had been at the internment several days earlier.

My sister, Amanda, with her Companion friends
After the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival ended, I spent one last night at Adelynrood with Amanda. We attended Morning Prayer and Noon Intercessions & Thanksgivings, and then packed up the car, including our mother’s now empty teapot, setting off on the 8-hour drive back to Maryland.
the chapel at Adelynrood
"Sending Off" will be screening next week in Holland (INFO) and Austria (INFO), so while I have just returned home to Japan from the US, this will be a quick turn around: I have just under two days to prepare before leaving for Europe.

And meanwhile, the Guam Premier of "Sending Off" in the Guam International Film Festival has also just been announced (INFO)! 

Thank you all so very much for your support and encouragement!

(This blog is expanding on THIS Twitter thread I posted last week). 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

"Sending Off" premiers in Japan

国立映画アーカイブで行われるぴあフィルムフェスティバルにて「おみおくり〜Sending Off〜」の日本初上映無事に終了。

患者様、そのご家族、今田先生とそのチームの方 にかんしゃしています 特に昨夜いらっしゃていただいたみなさま:
映画には登場していませんが、畑様のごしそく、とうご たから様

I am so grateful to have held the Japan Premier of “Sending Off” in front of a full house of 300 people on the opening day of the Pia Film Festival at the National Film Archive of Japan on Saturday afternoon!

And I am thrilled that during the post-screening Q&A the audience could hear directly from Dr. Kaoru Konta and Mr. and Mrs. Endo. 

The son of Mr. Hata, Takara Togo also joined me on stage to share another part of Mr. Hata’s powerful story: when I helped reunite them after 30 years just a few weeks before Mr. Hata’s death  (READ). As we talked about that powerful weekend, I shared excerpts from my photo documentary about their reunion on the screen behind us. 


The evening ended with 35 of us- documentary subjects, film crew and a few special supporters- sharing a meal and drinks together. I am just so very grateful to all of the families who allowed me to document their stories during some of the most difficult times in their lives and to all of those who came out to share in that story and support us.

I am now in the US where "Sending Off" will hold the North American Premier outside in the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival on Sunday, September 15 (INFO).

Meanwhile, the Guam Premier of "Sending Off" in the Guam International Film Festival has also just been announced! Taking place at the Guam Museum, the screening will be Saturday, October 12 at 7:30PM and will be followed by a full 60 minute Q&A (INFO)!  I also have been invited to take part in a Filmmaker Forum to discuss culture and media which will be recorded for broadcast on PBS Guam (KTGF Channel 12).

This is the second time I have had the honour of attending the 2013 edition of GIFF where I had the extreme honour of receiving the Grand Jury Award "Best of Festival" award for my documentary “A2-B-C” (STORY).

Thank you all so very much for your support and encouragement.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

ショッキング、扇情的、または過度に暴力的 Shocking, sensational, or excessively violent content

Facebook has banned the trailer of “Sending Off” from being used in advertising. Of course, only after taking my money for a couple of weeks of running the ad...
Facebookにおいて「おみおくり~Sending Off~」の予告編が広告利用禁止にされました。

I am no stranger to controversy when it comes to my films: long-time readers of this blog may remember when all domestic screenings of my documentary "A2-B-C", about children living in Fukushima, were abruptly canceled by the distributor in 2015.  But unlike the less than measured response I took then (STORY), this time I decided to try to use this as an opportunity to start a positive discussion.  After all, they say "there is no such thing as bad publicity".

So I decided to replace the video with a "Facebook-friendly" version of the trailer (below) and resubmit it for ad approval.  I am still waiting a reply to the appeal, with the Japanese Premier that I am trying to promote just 10 days away...

広告利用禁止にされた予告編ビデオを入れ替えました。おみおくり~Sending Off~」の日本初上映が9月7日ですが、Facebookから広告の復活許可を早く貰えると良いですが...

Message from the director:

"The trailer to this documentary, depicting images of the elderly passing away, has been disapproved by Facebook for advertising. Death is hard to talk about, let alone watch, but thinking about how we want to die has the potential to change the way we live."


The Japan Premier of “Sending Off” will take place on September 7 at 14:30 during the Pia Film Festival at the National Film Archive of Japan.  Screening with English subtitles (INFO).

「おみおくり~Sending Off~」9月7日14時30分より、国立アーカイブにて行われる 
ぴあフィルムフェスティバル において、英語字幕付き日本初上映。詳細はこちら。  

And for those would have not seen the original trailer but would like to, the link is below.

Monday, August 26, 2019

North American and Dutch Premiers of "Sending Off" announced

「おみおくり~Sending Off~」が北アメリカ初上映とオランダ初上映となることを、皆さんにお伝えでき、とても嬉しいです。どちらの映画祭にも出席しますので、みなさんとそちらでお会いできるといいな。

I am thrilled to announce the North American premier of “Sending Off” (film website HERE) in the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival in Massachusetts, USA, on Sunday, September 14 (INFO), and the Dutch Premier in Camera Japan in Rotterdam, Holland, on Saturday, September 28 (INFO). 

And I am honoured to be able to be in attendance at both.
I first had the honour to screen at and attend the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival in 2013 with my film "A2-B-C" (2013) STORY, and I am thrilled to screen there again this year.

at the 2013 edition of the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
Camera Japan (CJ) in Holland is the only festival to have have screened four (and with "Sending Off, now five) of my films (list below, which includes "Boys for Sale" on which I served as Executive Producer).  I attended the festival for the first time in 2017 where I had a wonderful time (STORY).

"In the Grey Zone" (CJ 2012)
"A2-B-C" (CJ 2013)
"-1287" (CJ 2015)
"Boys for Sale" (dir: ITAKO) (CJ 2017)
"Sending Off" (2019)

Monday, August 12, 2019

"Sending Off" to be featured on NHK WORLD TV program "J-FLICKS"

Ahead of the Japan Premier of my new feature documentary「おみおくり〜Sending Off〜」(WEBSITE) at the National Film Archive of Japan on the opening day of the Pia Film Festival on September 7 (STORY), I have some exciting news: the film (and I!) will be featured on TOMORROW'S (Aug 13) episode of the NHK World Japan program "J-FLICKS"!

It is a huge honour to have my work featured on a television program with the tagline:
Japanese cinema in-depth! The latest info on the best of Japanese cinema, from blockbuster to indie, stars, film festivals, interviews and insights!
This month's episode is called "Focus on Nippon Connection 2019", which is about the film festival in Germany where 「おみおくり〜Sending Off〜」held the World Premier and received the Nippon Docs Award (Audience Award for Best Documentary) (Story HERE).  This is the synopsis of the episode:  
Taking place every early summer in Frankfurt is the world's largest festival dedicated to Japanese cinema, Nippon Connection, which was held for the 19th year this June. On this episode of J-FLICKS, we present a film that received a Special Mention by the Nippon Visions Jury at the festival, "BLUE HOUR," directed by Yuko Hakota. We also look at Kensei Takahashi's "Sea," winner of the Nippon Visions Jury Award. And joining us in the studio as a special guest is Mr. Ian Thomas Ash, director of "Sending Off," a documentary that won the festival's Nippon Docs Award.
For exact broadcast times, please see the J-FLICKS website, which displays the air times for the zone in which it is accessed (WEBSITE).

Outside of Japan, the program can be viewed on the NHK World Japan channel, app (this one HERE) and website (watch LIVE HERE); inside Japan, it can be viewed on the website and app. After the August 13 air date, the episode will be available to watch for free On Demand (watch On Demand HERE), and it will also be rebroadcast on September 9.

Back on June 21, the day of the studio recording, this is what I posted on social media:
Huge honour to have my documentary work featured during today’s taping of NHK WORLD-JAPAN program dedicated to Japanese film J-Flicks for their special episode “Focus on Nippon Connection - Japanese Film Festival“ with presenter Sarah Macdonald and studio guest Rob Schwartz, who is Asia Bureau Chief for Billboard magazine. While discussing my film “Sending Off”, which is about end-of-life care in Japan, Rob revealed that his father was Morrie Schwartz of “Tuesdays With Morrie” and presented me with a copy of the book. I have chills- my mother had given me a copy before she died but I had never been been able to bring myself to read it. It must be more than a coincidence that Rob had already been booked as a guest when they decided to feature my documentary. I am so grateful. Episode airs August 13 and September 10.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Japan Premier of "Sending Off" announced!

「おみおくり〜Sending Off〜」日本初上映9月7日 in ぴあフィルムフェスティバル! さっすがに「カッコいい女編」Dr. 今田かおる! 

Following the successful World Premier of my new feature-length documentary "Sending Off" in Germany in May where I had the honour of receiving the Audience Award for Best Documentary (STORY), I am happy to be able announce the Japan Premier today as the press embargo has just been lifted.

Taking place on Saturday, September 7, on the opening day of the Pia Film Festival (PFF) which will be held at the National Film Archive of Japan (INFO and TICKETS HERE), "Sending Off" will be screening in a specially curated section of films that all feature "Cool Women", which is so fitting for the amazing Dr. Kaoru Konta and her team of nurses whose work I had the honour of documenting.

Six years ago, the Japan premier of my documentary "A2-B-C" was also held on the opening day of PFF (STORY).  I am extremely grateful to the festival and its director, Araki Keiko, whose support for "A2-B-C" helped to jump-start my filmmaking career in Japan... which then literally changed my life.
with PFF director Araki Keiko in 2013

〜 〜 〜 〜 〜 ADDED August 11〜 〜 〜 〜 〜 

We have made a flyer to go with the cute programmes that just arrived from the festival.  We will do our best to get the word out and to have a great turn out at the screening.  Thank you for your support!