Tokyo curry shop owner Kuku Minami is more used to dishing out his spicy creations than being behind the camera of a serious documentary film.
But Minami felt he wanted to show the plight of Tibetan refugees, so he set about making a film, which will be opening in two Tokyo theaters starting June 30.
The movie, titled "Olo," is about a Tibetan boy fled from his home country to India at age 6 and is now in his early teens and living in a refugee facility in northern India.
“I hope the audience members will get a sense of hope from the protagonist who is searching for a way to live,” said Minami, 61, the owner of Mamekura, a curry restaurant in Tokyo’s Musashino.
Minami is the man behind the making of "Olo," from the planning and casting, to shooting in overseas locales.
Organizing a charity event with his friends for Tibetans in the summer of 2008, Minami felt compelled to show the difficult life that many Tibetan refugees are facing.
Minami talked to a new friend, screenwriter Hisaya Iwasa, who told him, “Why don’t you make a movie focusing on a child, for example?”
Minami met Olo in the winter 2009 in India, when he was visiting refugee facilities operated by the Tibetan government with Iwasa and others.
He was touched by the boy with the clear eyes and innocent expression, despite his sad and eventful past of having to leave his family and flee his country.
Minami talked to him in broken English. “Are you interested in appearing in a movie?” he asked the boy.
Iwasa, who directed the film, appears in the documentary as he travels along with Olo, which was Minami’s idea.
“Olo was overwhelmed, suddenly being selected to play the main role,” Minami recalled. “I wanted to help him open his mind and bring his natural self out.”
Although Minami was a total stranger to filmmaking, he filmed his movie on location in India and Nepal in 2010 and 2011.
He slept with Olo in the same room, and volunteered to play the role of his father during the location shooting.
Three years since Minami conceptualized the film, his movie was completed, thanks partly to funds raised from more than 400 people.
The movie revolves around Olo’s nostalgia for his homeland, but includes scenes of the young teen mingling with Tibetan refugee women, who appeared in another of Iwasa’s movies, and some animation.
“Many people in the world are forced to live like Olo and his friends,” Minami said. “I want as many people as possible to understand the reality.”
“Olo” will be shown at Eurospace in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward from June 30 and at Baus Theater in Tokyo’s Kichijoji district from July 7, and followed by screenings in other venues in Japan.
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