Japanese filmaker Kyoko Miyake made her first film in 2007 on her parents video camera around the suburb of Chiba — (the Essex of Tokyo). She then worked as a journalist in Japan before moving to England to study at Oxford.
In 2011 her documentary film Hackney Lullabies gained her international recognition with victory at the prestigious Berlinale Talent Campus awards in Berlin.
“Every night under Hackney skies, mothers from faraway lands create a familiar space for their children by singing them lullabies, the same ones they heard as children.
“The film explores the mother’s dilemma in sharing her sense of home with a child who is rooted in another culture. Do the lullabies bring them closer together, or accentuate the difference between them?”
The young mothers are from Japan, Israel, Jamaica, Ukraine, and beyond, and we hear them recall the nursery rhymes that they learnt as kids. We hear how they try convey the songs to their children in their native languages while living in the U.K. The film is set in a bright and Summery Hackney landscape.
One mother voices she can’t truly communicate to her daughter in English, but finds solace in singing lullabies.
Another mother from Italy can only remember one song from her father, and we see a bittersweet juxtaposition of a baby being soothed by the lyrics to an ancient fighting song.
Here is the montage sequence from Hackney Lullabies where a sound collage was built, based on the different lullabies that were recorded with the mothers on location. It’s a great montage with a nicely mixed soothing sound.
Since Hackney Lullabies, Miyake has been busy making more films. In 2013 she made a documentary film called Surviving the Tsunami – My Atomic Aunt. In this film, Miyake looks back at the Fukushima nuclear disaster that happened in 2011 and focuses on her hometown, her Aunt, and the people from the town that were affected. The film turns into a personal reflection on how the disaster affects the world, the filmmaker herself, and the family she once knew.
A more recent TV documentary Miyake made is called Brakeless, which won a Peabody Award in 2014. Brakeless is a cautionary tale of what happens when punctuality, protocol, and efficiency are taken to the extreme as it looks at a 2005 commuter train accident that ran into an apartment building and killed 107 people.
With stories like this and her personal, observational eye, Kyoko Miyake is a documentary filmmaker I’ll be watching out for.