Japan’s recent rush to accept people fleeing Ukraine has stood in contrast with the government’s attitude toward asylum seekers from other parts of the world. In 2020, the country accepted just 47 refugees, but it’s home to thousands more displaced people, many of whom spend years living in straitened circumstances as they try to convince the authorities to let them stay.
This situation is brought into relief by director Emma Kawawada’s striking debut, “My Small Land,” a coming-of-age tale with an unusual protagonist. Seventeen-year-old Sarya (played by model and first-time actress Lina Arashi) is a Kurdish high school student living near Tokyo with her father and two younger siblings.
In many respects, she’s just an ordinary teenager, thinking about boys and working part-time at a convenience store to raise money for college. But then her world suddenly starts to contract: First the family’s application for refugee status is rejected, then her father is detained by the immigration authorities for working illegally.