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Have You Ever Heard of Japan's Helen Keller?

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Vaughan | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 28 April 2006

Japan is about to see its first movie about a deafblind person. The film, the title of which translates as Have You Ever Heard of Japan's Helen Keller?, recounts the eventful life of a 74-year-old deafblind woman and her battle to achieve equal rights for people with visual and hearing impairments.

It's based on the story of an unnamed woman - her identity has been kept secret to preserve her privacy - who lost her sight and hearing in accidents in her early 20s. In 1964, she formed the first national group seeking to improve conditions for people with visual and hearing impairments, but after her mother died in 1975 she had to give up her job and her social life because she had relied on her mother for assistance. Since then, she has lived alone in a secluded house provided by volunteers, after local people pressured her to move from the home where she grew up because the building had fallen into a state of disrepair and the neighbours were worried that she might start a fire. (I've heard of being a 'fire risk', but that's ridiculous.) As the film's director, Setsuo Nakayama, says: "Local residents ... isolated her under the pretext of providing her with a better life. But actually it was to protect their normal daily lives".

The film's distributor, Sumio Yamamoto, was determined to get the movie made after meeting the woman at the centre of the story: "I thought her story should be made into a film at any cost ... I felt anger growing inside me. Why does a person like her, who is competent and passionate, have to be marginalized in society?".

Although due to be shown only in Japan at present, the distributors are hoping to take the film overseas in the future, so keep a look-out for it.


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