When Japanese documentarian Ryuji Otsuka moved to China in 2005, the country was in the throes of establishing itself as an economic powerhouse as Beijing prepared to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. Otsuka’s aim was to learn narrative filmmaking and capture the nation’s transformation through his lens. Eighteen years later, he and his Chinese wife, Huang Ji, have solidified their position in the independent filmmaking world as important storytellers about young Chinese women, having won numerous prizes and accolades for their thoughtful takes on China.

The couple’s most recent collaboration, “Stonewalling,” centers on a young Chinese woman struggling with an unwanted pregnancy. It has won three awards, including best film in the Chinese-language section of the Firebird Young Cinema competition at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) in April.

Otsuka, who spoke to The Japan Times in Mandarin via video chat, says he was surprised and heartened by HKIFF’s recognition “because three of the festival judges (Hsu Hsiao-Ming, Zhang Lu and Mary Stephen) were already making indie films when I first arrived in China.” An admirer of their work, he says when “Stonewalling” won it felt like “the biggest endorsement from them, a confirmation that what I’ve been pursuing all these years has not been in vain.”