Kyoke Miyake: sweet sounds of the lullabies of Hackney mothers

Photo: Ema Globyte

Kyoko Miyake, a Tower Hamlets based film maker, is one of the creative people earning east London its artistic reputation. Just a month ago, Kyoko, 34, from Japan, won the prestigious Berlin Today 2011 Award for her short documentary Hackney Lullabies, which shows immigrant mothers bringing their mother tongue into their children’s lives through singing lullabies.

Hackney Lullabies is set in Hackney and has been described in Berlin International Film Festival guide as a “sensitive, funny, warm-hearted, and interesting contribution to the immigration debate in times of globalisation.”

Kyoko grew up in Chiba, a quiet suburb of Tokyo, and moved to England 10 years ago. A postgraduate in English History and Witchcraft, she took a completely different path. How has she, after dedicating years to exploring the past, turned into a filmmaker capturing the present?

“Eventually it occurred to me. I’d much rather do something with and about people who are alive – not dead,” Kyoko laughs.

Kyoko was always interested in the subject of immigration and all her movies have something to do with exploring the feelings and issues relating to it.

“I am a migrant myself, so it is really a relevant issue,” she says.

“I often wonder – what does it take for a foreigner to become British? It is partially what I wished to address in Hackney Lullabies. Do the lullabies bring the mothers and the children together or accentuate the difference between them?”

The film posed challenges, Kyoko says. The mothers were extremely protective and reluctant to let Kyoko near their personal lives. She tried everything – from approaching them in nurseries and child centres, pitching the idea about the film to the Hackney Gazette and even handing out leaflets in streets.

“The most fascinating was the contrast in mothers’ behaviour when they thought I had children of my own, and when they were told I was a film-maker. I immediately became an outsider – someone who wanted to intervene in their private life.”

Kyoko received help from Hackney Council film officer Rebecca Staffolani, who helped her get in touch with some local people. After a long search, mothers from Ukraine, Japan, Israel and beyond let Kyoko into their homes and Hackney Lullabies was filmed.

The result  fascinated the judges of Berlinale, and has left them “crying and singing lullabies,” the festival press release said.

Kyoko says the movie allowed her explore the feeling of being a foreigner in London.

“There is still that barrier that all immigrants, including myself, feel. It is human nature to classify people into the ones who belong here, and the ones who are outsiders. It’s a national distinction, a cultural line that divides people. And I belong to the other side of it.”

Kyoko chose Hackney, she says, as east London had something Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and West London all lacked.

“There’s sophistication everywhere and it’s nothing new to me. But east London has this diversity and I am amazed by the variety of people that live here. Just in a few minutes sitting on a bus you can see people from all over the world.”

The filmmaker says documentaries will not be her limit, and her future projects will largely involve fiction. Kyoko is ready to experiment with her future productions and already has a few ideas in mind: a short fiction about a brief encounter between two commuting strangers, and a Japanese ghost story.

However, she still has one important non-fiction movie to make. Kyoko wants to create a documentary about the recent events in Japan, in order to show the real aftermath to English-speakers.

“I feel that even if it’s in the headlines every day in the British media, there are certain limits to getting the real story out of Japanese. Particularly, language limits. Reporters can only speak to those who speak English and only get a filtered view. Many English speakers are also foreigners and are not bound to Japan, therefore they won’t face the consequences the recent events will leave.”

Kyoko will focus on her mother’s home town – Fukushima, where the power plant is. Her relatives have been evacuated and will only get back to their homes in few months.

“The rest of Japan has either been affected by the earthquake, or the tsunami, but Fukushima had to go through this as well as the danger caused by the power plant. That’s why I wish to film in this particular area.”

The residents’ lives will never go back to normal, she says, as most of them are farmers and it is almost certain their products will not be bought as a result of radiation damage.

“I want to capture how the community rebuilds itself,” Kyoko says.

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