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When the global pandemic hit Japan, the nation’s residents were asked to #stayhome to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. And a lot of us were at risk of going stir-crazy.

To deal with the so-called aratana nichijō (new normal) we were encouraged to take up new hobbies (or revisit old ones) and that, in turn, helped many of us bring out the creative aspects of our personalities.

Darryl Wharton-Rigby, 52, didn’t need a pandemic to help him get creative. A native of Baltimore, this writer and filmmaker first came to Japan in 2003 and currently lives in the Kanto region with his family, where they’ve been hunkering down through the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“I’ve been pretty much isolated in my home,” he says. “It’s been a bit rough, but only in the sense that there’s not a lot of work. Luckily, the government has helped out as much as they have, but we just have to work hard to make informed decisions and keep things moving.”

The filmmaker’s first break came with the 1998 film “Detention,” which won him two awards at film festivals in the United States. His 2018 film “Stay” will see a release on Amazon Prime Japan on Nov. 17. But like most creatives who relocate to Japan, he keeps busy with a variety of jobs that involve teaching, promoting and appearing as a foreign tarento (personality) on television.

“Yeah, I do a bit of everything. In a way, I think you have to,” Wharton-Rigby says, adding that his drive to stay creative during the pandemic led to his most recent project, a music video showcasing the entrepreneurial Black community here in Japan. “Entrepreneur Japan Edition” was inspired by a similar music video by U.S. singer Pharrell Williams.

“The reception and feedback has been really cool,” Wharton-Rigby says. “Pharrell and the original director even gave us props!”

Even without the praise, Wharton-Rigby says the mere opportunity to connect with other Black creatives in Japan and lift them and their stories into the spotlight, has been extremely rewarding.

In addition to preparing for the release of “Stay” in Japan, Wharton-Rigby has been working on a slew of other film projects, including a documentary intended for release in 2021.

“I’m looking to raise money to finish my documentary, ‘Don Doko Don,’ which is about a taiko (drum) group in Fukushima that was displaced after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011,” he says. “I also need to find a bilingual editor who does both Japanese and English to work with me, because my Japanese sucks!”

Wharton-Rigby says he also has another feature in the works.

“I have a film that I’d like to do in both Japan and the U.S., another love story. But it’s also a period piece where the male lead is an African American chef,” he says, adding that the film will be taking place in the 1940s.

He also mentions that the main character would be “‘white passing,’ but Black.”

“Having this character speak has been a very interesting process … depending on the scene he’s in and who he’s talking to, he actually code switches,” says Wharton-Rigby, referring to the linguistic concept that sees an individual change the way they speak depending on context or surroundings.

“You have to listen to the characters. I can’t force my thing on the characters … they force things on me,” he adds. “I want to tell good stories and it’s all about telling stories that connect and show people as people, showing the shared humanity we all have.”

Connection, collaboration and a shared humanity — they’re all key components in our own experiences in Japan, and in life more broadly. As Wharton-Rigby points out, if we can learn to lift each other up and inspire as a community, then neither politics nor a pandemic can keep us down.

For more information on the work of Darryl Wharton-Rigby, check out filmsnoirfilms.com.

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