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Mizuko Yamaoka takes a different approach in documentary about people with disabilities

by

Special To The Japan Times

Disability presents different challenges for everyone but wheelchair users share a common dilemma: Their mode of locomotion stands out, while they often struggle with social isolation. That was my takeaway from “The Lost Coin,” a 2016 short by Mizuko Yamaoka, a filmmaker who has been using a wheelchair since a 2002 bicycle accident in Brooklyn left her paralyzed from the waist down.

In contrast to Japanese documentaries that try to win viewer sympathy by portraying people with disabilities as lovable victims — if not candidates for sainthood — this 30-minute film begins with extended point-of-view sequences of the director wheeling through the night streets of Barcelona and attending a party.

Her night out isn’t different from that of anyone else’s except for one crucial difference: She experiences it sitting down. People treat her with courtesy, but she can’t jump into conversations as easily as the other guests because she can’t stand. This, she shows us clearly, if minus the usual explanations, is what life for her is like — including a semi-invisibility those who don’t use wheelchairs may find hard to imagine.

The remainder of the film is devoted to a revealing one-on-one interview with Jelena, a French woman who began using a wheelchair after a fall during a hike with her then-boyfriend. Under Yamaoka’s gentle but pointed questioning she opens up about her break-up with her lover, her sex life and her decision to leave Paris for relatively barrier-free Barcelona.

“People with disabilities, like her, are not victims who need protecting,” Yamaoka tells The Japan Times. “They are the same as everybody else and that includes me. I’m just an ordinary person.”

Yamaoka, who has made other shorts about people with disabilities, believes she has a responsibility to inform and educate as both a filmmaker and an activist.

“I want to reach as many people as possible,” she says. “Japanese TV is full of what I call ‘inspiration porn.’ This film is the opposite of that.”

She is an active member of Japan’s Independent Cinema Guild (Dokuritsu Eiga Nabe), an organization of professionals dedicated to raising the profile of indie films in the industry, but for her filmmaking is more about “making a difference in society.”

“It would also be nice to make money, I’m not denying it,” she says with a smile, “but with this film I’m not expecting to.”

“The Lost Coin” will begin at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 at Couzt Cafe and Shop (2-1-11 Yanaka, Taito Ward, doors open at 6:30 p.m.). Mizuko Yamaoka will be on hand to discuss the film with University of Tokyo assistant professor Daisuke Son. Admission with a drink is ¥1,300. For more details about the screening and talk event, visit “The Lost Coin” Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1990261357918340/?ti=icl.