Some would say the struggle to find one’s identity is just as important as our basic need for food, clothing, and shelter. With racial tensions at an all-time high, the struggle for identity is felt deepest by immigrants, and in Yusuke Kitaguchi’s web series, Torinaoshi, the issue is not uniquely American.
Torinaoshi is the story of Koko (Megan Murayama), who immigrated to New York City with her mother from Osaka when she was a baby. In episode one, Koko is preparing to leave her New York roots for good to live with her mother in Hawaii and attend college there. During a late-night “exit interview” with a Japanese gentleman, she is criticized for her second-hand knowledge of her Japanese heritage.
Add this criticism to what little she knows about her family history, Koko takes a detour on her way to Hawaii by way of her hometown Osaka, which kicks off episode two. After finding letters from her uncle, she decides to research her family origins in Osaka. Living next door to her uncle is Shunya (Bix), an African-Japanese, who is the same age as Koko.
He proceeds to help her find her uncle, which brings us to the final episode. Koko discovers why her mother and brother are currently estranged. Shunya’s mother (Aki Kikuchi) becomes interested in her son’s new friend. I love the dynamic between Shunya and his mother.
“After finding letters from her uncle, [Koko] decides to research her family origins in Osaka.”
Racial identity and nationalism are the themes running behind Torinaoshi. As a child of an immigrant family myself, I’ve felt these yearning over the past few decades to know more about how I got here. Some stories are easy to tell, and others aren’t. Koko has questions, and finding answers is not going to be easy.
Torinaoshi also takes on the subject of immigration and nationalism as Koko’s uncle Yuuta (Osamu Hirara) is involved in an underground Japanese nationalist movement. He’s outraged by the increasing influx of immigrants and how Osaka has become a landing point for Koreans, Chinese, and everyone else. It doesn’t help that the problem is staring him in the face with his niece and neighbor.
The reality is racism is not unique to the States—it’s everywhere. What’s interesting about Torinaoshi is that it’s not that much different abroad. What the series shows that as different cultures spread and intermingle across the globe, the struggle to find one’s identity on foreign soil becomes increasingly complicated. What do I hold on to from my heritage and what do I embrace in my new homeland.
As much as I liked the overall story of Torinaoshi and its characters, the overall weakness is the acting. It’s a matter of how the lines are delivered. It’s a common problem in indie films with inexperienced actors. It’s the difference between reciting lines off the script and internalizing the dialogue and making them sound natural to the character. In other words, it should sound like how people talk in real life.
Torinaoshi documents this struggle through the eyes of Koko and tells an exciting story at the same time. The series is only three episodes long and Koko’s story and the interesting characters created for the series, it could easily grow into a longer series.
"…the struggle to find one’s identity on foreign soil becomes increasingly complicated."