Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Big Hapa Family A Large Animated Bunch

One Big Hapa Family

The question of identity is one that everyone encounters in some form or another in their lifetime. Depending on your ethnicity, this may be a topic that you have to confront on a daily basis. Even in a multicultural country like Canada, the question of “what are you?” is one that pops up more often than people are willing to admit. The inherent need to associate people with categories is a topic explored in Jeff Chiba Stearns wonderful documentary, One Big Hapa Family.

Jeff Chiba Stearns, the product of an interracial marriage between his Japanese mother and white Canadian father, noticed at a fairly recent family reunion that everyone in his large family was of mixed race. Having had problems answering the question “what are you?” for most of his life, Jeff decided to explore why such a high percentage of Japanese Canadians marry outside of their race.

What starts out as a search to understand his own identity leads to the discovery of some startling facts that date back to the Second World War. Streans looks back to a time when Canada was not so accepting of other cultures as it appears to be now. The war brought out the worst in Canada in regards to racism toward people of Japanese ancestry. It even created a divide between the “hometown Japanese”, who were barely accepted by the communities they lived in for years, and the “coastal Japanese” who were seen as the villains of the war.

Stearns research shows that the need to assimilate with the white Canadians opened up the door to interracial marriages. Part of the appeal had to do with the offspring of these unions, the future generations would look whiter and would not have to deal with the same level of racism that their parents endured. Stearns’ documentary examines how these views have shifted over the years. He also looks at how the younger generations now, more than ever, want to identify with their Japanese roots.

While a well researched and constructed film, the element that really makes this film special is its use of animation. Stearns, an animator by profession, enlisted a slew of animators to give the film its unique look. Every artist received a different segment of the film to work on and designed it in the style they preferred. The film is really a visual treat to watch. One of the highlights is the chalkboard sequence that Stearns himself creates. It serves as a great way to digest all the historical information is woven into the film.

Uplifting without being preachy, One Big Hapa Family reaffirms it is the ones we love who truly define us and not our individual ethnicities. 


  1. Identity is always a strong theme in cinema - who are we and how do we present ourselves - which, in turn, is itself presented in some altered formt herough the lens of a camera.

    I think its great to see so many cultural films explore this topic too!

  2. @simoncolumb - It is always interesting to see how different cultures explore this topic. Especially when you look at how the views evolve over the generations.


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