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Lasalle teacher gets his ‘biggest break’ at Busan Film Fest 2017

SINGAPORE — Film-makers from Singapore have made it to the renowned Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) again this year. And among them, is a lesser-known name who will be making his “biggest break” at the largest film festival in Asia.

SINGAPORE — Film-makers from Singapore have made it to the renowned Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) again this year. And among them, is a lesser-known name who will be making his “biggest break” at the largest film festival in Asia.

Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s first full-length documentary, I Want To Go Home, will make its world premiere at the prestigious film festival and is one of 10 entries shortlisted to compete in BIFF’s Wide Angle Documentary Competition. The winner will be announced at the festival’s closing ceremony on Oct 21.

Aroozoo, 33, who teaches scriptwriting and documentary film-making at Lasalle College of the Arts, described his nomination as “very intimidating, but a huge honour”. “It’s truly a dream come true to have a film competing in BIFF,” he said.

While he has made other short films previously, he said: “I would definitely not consider myself as accomplished or making the headlines… I Want To Go Home is very different from my usual works.”

The film, which had a budget of about S$20,000 — a combination of his own savings, a donation and support from a Tokyo film programme — is not Wesley’s first film submission to BIFF. Having repeatedly submitted films to the festival and getting rejected, he initially thought the news of its selection was a prank and “too unreal to be true”.

“Since I made my first short film when I was 19, I would always submit my short films to the Busan International Film Festival and be rejected. After nine to ten short film submissions over the period of 14 years, it feels dreamy to finally be selected,” he said.

The documentary follows the story of a 58-year-old Japanese man whose wife was lost in the 2011 tsunami and has been diving every week around the small coastal town of Onagawa in search of her.

(Photo: Jon Chan)
(Photo: Jon Chan)

Aroozoo first chanced upon Yasuo Takamatsu’s story in the Daily Telegraph in March 2014 and was struck by it. Three years after the tsunami hit their hometown, Takamatsu relentlessly continued — even till today — searching for his wife Yuko’s body. Yuko’s last text message to her husband — and the title of the documentary — was: “I want to go home.”

“I was very moved, inspired and emotionally affected. It’s hard to explain in words but I felt like I needed to meet him... I was hoping that meeting him would explain to me why I felt so emotionally connected to his story,” he explained.

(Yuko in a Japanese wedding kimono. Photo: Jon Chan)

He then got in touch with the reporter, Harumi Ozawa, who linked him up with Takamatsu, “a reserved man” who thankfully had no objections to being filmed.

In June 2015, Aroozoo, and a lean crew consisting of a translator and cinematographer, made their way to Onagawa. They spent a week trailing Takamatsu.

I Want To Go Home has also been submitted for this year’s Singapore International Film Festival and to festivals in Japan.

(From left to right: Miki Hawkinson (translator), Yasuo Takamatsu, Wesley Leon Aroozoo, Jonathan Chan (cinematographer). Photo: Jon Chan)

The production is also one of three films by Singapore film-makers that will be shown at the annual event, including Pop Aye by Kirsten Tan (A Window on Asian Cinema) and dialect omnibus film 667 (Wide Angle Short Film Showcase) produced by Royston Tan, which is a collection of five stories directed by Kirsten Tan, Eva Tang, He Shuming, Liao Jiekai and Jun Chong. Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of the Month (Wide Angle Short Film Showcase), shot only in the Philippines, had two Singaporeans involved: Lim Teck Siang, director of photography, and Ling Tiong, producer under AAND Films.

In addition to the documentary, Aroozoo has also penned a novel, of the same name, based on Takamatsu’s life and his own journey to meet the Japanese man.

(Takamatsu at a memorial shrine for the bank employees of the Onagawa branch of Shichijushichi (77) swept away by the the tsunami. Yuko was one of them. Photo: Jon Chan)

Published by Math Paper Press, the dual-language novel will be available in both English and Japanese languages come early-October to coincide with its premiere in BIFF. Having the novel in Japanese, apart from reaching native readers, is mainly for “Takamatsu and his loved ones” to be able to read and understand it, he added.

Apart from sharing Takamatsu’s inspiring story, he hopes both mediums will be able to “have a bigger and longer lasting platform to reach out to more people”.

Aroozoo also hopes the story will inspire others to do what they believe in, even when faced with scepticism. To this day, Takamatsu still continues to search for his wife every week.

“I asked Mr Takamatsu why does he still dive in the sea and his reply touched me greatly. He (said it is) because that is the only way he can feel close to his wife,” he said.

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