Queer Japan, a documentary by Graham Kolbeins, premiered at the Rainbow Reel Tokyo Film Festival and is about make its US debut at Outfest Los Angeles. In the documentary, which is a feast for the eyes thanks to some gorgeous cinematography, Kolbeins interviews members of Japan’s LGBTQ community, from queer artists to entrepreneurs to politicians.
In Tokyo’s largest gay neighborhood, Ni-chome, we’re introduced to Bar Gold Finger, a gathering place for queer women created by Chiga Owgawa. Since 1991, Chiga has been hosting a women-only party, which is still going strong. (You may have also seen the bar on Gaycation with Ellen Page) Where gay neighborhoods and especially spaces from queer women are struggling around the world, Ni-chome offers a safe and solid space for Tokyo’s lesbian, bi and queer community.
The film also explores the experience of trans men, and a club dedicated to them in Ni-chome, called Grammy Tokyo. Grammy and Goldfinger teamed up a few years ago to host a party together. In Japan, just like many other places around the world, businesses that have always catered more to the binary are now trying to figure out how to make room for our ever expanding community.
Despite this openness and acceptance, the film also tackles the struggles that the LGBTQ community still faces in terms of discrimination and bullying from peers and politicians. Part of the positive change happening are people like Aya Kamikawa, an openly trans assemblywoman in Tokyo. Aya, who had not been out before, stood in the streets of her district and openly spoke about being trans, and despite some negative attention, she won her election.
While you meet lots of interesting folks in Queer Japan, there are some stand outs like Fuyumi Yamamoto. Fuyumi and her husband Makoto are part of LGBTQ community and helped create sign language to more accurately describe and relay issues for deaf and hard of hearing LGBTQ individuals, whether in daily life or in legal situations.
As we become a more global community, it’s vital to learn and understand the struggles and triumphs that our LGBTQ siblings experience in places beyond our own communities, and Queer Japan does a wonderful job at opening that door for viewers.