Hot Docs 2017: About My Liberty Review

Made in Japan 

Takashi Nishihara serves as director, editor, cinematographer and producer for this documentary about the Japanese student protests led by SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy). This film’s runtime of 165 minutes may intimidate audiences from seeing it, and the film can certainly feel like a long haul when Nishihara records protest after protest.

The students of SEALDs, some of which were part of another group (Students Against Secret Protection Law), are against the proposed (and then passed) Security Bill, which would allow the Japanese military to become engaged in international conflicts. This bill jeopardizes a long-standing peace of 70 years in Japan, and many students speak about not wanting to be involved in the killing of others in overseas locations like Afghanistan and Iraq, especially when reflecting on tragedies such as the Holocaust and Hiroshima/Nagasaki. SEALDs also takes the opportunity to protest against nuclear power, especially after some of its proponents speak with victims of the Fukushima disaster.

Despite SEALDs’ members stating that there are no leaders within its ad-hoc group, the documentary does single out a few; Aki Okuda, Yoshimasa Ushida, and Mana Shibata, for instance. Okuda is the soft-spoken orator who is invited to hearings to discuss SEALDs’ opposition to the bill. He also comes up with a number of protestors he wants to organize: 300,000. There’s historical precedent to this number – 300,000 protestors caused current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi to resign as leader in 1960. SEALDs makes no secret of their desire to have Abe resign for going against the Japanese constitution and the long-standing peace. Ushida is a standout – you can see how he uses his body and voice to powerful effect as he delivers chant after chant.


This film could serve as the answer to anyone who asks “What is democracy?”  Students engaging in political advocacy is certainly worthy of documentation. The trouble is that this documentary lacks adequate context and refinement. The countless protest scenes go on for too long, and I would rather have information given in chronological order about members of SEALDs, how they formed, how they prepare for (peaceful) protests, and why they decided to disband in July of 2016. I’d daresay that a proper trimming could make this into a lean 30 minute documentary that would resonate better with audiences. Still images of the growing crowds at each protest would do the work of showing each one – the protests start small at around 500 members, but then increase to 100,000 around the Japanese legislature. That in itself is a fact worth dwelling on.

We definitely could use organizations like SEALDs in other parts of the world today; hence, the packaging should be leaner and meaner for our social media times and our 140 character limits.

Accessibility Note: The few small English-speaking portions are not subtitled, and there are mistakes and absences with the subtitles that are present.



Sun, Apr 30, 6:30 PM Innis Town Hall

Tue, May 2, 2:30 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3