Ushiku (Thomas Ash) Japan

Thomas Ash
Japan. 2021. 87 min

Ushiku takes viewers deep into the psychological and physical environment inhabited by foreign detainees in one of the largest immigration centres in Japan. On the eve of Japan’s recent – and highly contentious – immigration reform efforts, the director bypasses the media blackout the government has imposed on its immigration centres, bringing viewers into immediate contact with the detainees, many of whom are refugees seeking asylum. Detainees are held indefinitely and subject to violent deportation attempts by Japanese authorities against a background of the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic and with the spectacle of the Tokyo Olympics looming on the immediate horizon.


In his films, Thomas Ash broadly focuses on issues surrounding health and medicine, including two feature documentaries about children living in areas of Fukushima contaminated by the 2011 nuclear meltdown, ‘In the Grey Zone‘ (2012) and ‘A2-B-C‘ (2013). His recent work has focused on death and dying and includes ‘-1287‘ (2014) and ‘Sending Off’ (2019). Thomas served as Executive Producer of ‘Boys for Sale’ (2017, dir: Itako), a documentary about male sex workers in Tokyo.


I first began visiting the immigration facility in Ushiku as a volunteer and was deeply affected by hearing the stories of some of the people being detained. It was only then that I began to think about how to use the power of film to bring this story to the attention of the Japanese public and the world. My motivation was not to make a film, but rather as a witness to human rights violations, I felt morally compelled to document evidence in the form of filming the detainees’ testimonies; to document their truth.
The death of Wishma Sandamali Rathnayake in March 2021, who had been detained for 7 months at an immigration centre in Nagoya, and the deaths of 16 others over the past 15 years, demonstrates why so many supporters are concerned about the health and wellbeing of people suffering in indefinite detention Japan.
Most of the family names and nationalities of the participants in the film are not revealed, nor is the reason why they applied for refugee status in Japan. This is to protect them as much as possible.