Landscapes of Home Review: A Tale of Two Canadas

2024 Toronto Japanese Film Festival

6 mins read

Landscapes of Home
(Canada, 55 min.)
Dir. Alice Shin


In the opening frames of Landscapes of Home, we watch two men prepare a cup of tea before sitting down under the light of a single lamp. One man, Dr. Stuart Robinson, sits with a traditional Japanese tea set in front of him. The other, Dr. Henry Shibata, pours his tea into a delicate English tea cup.

Born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Shibata explains how Vancouver always felt like home for his family until World War II, as his family eventually moved to Japan after the war. Conversely, Robinson (who passed away in 2011 and is played by Michael Kramer in the film) describes his family’s three-generation heritage in Nagoya, Japan, where he was born and raised.

The two men describe their childhoods with a general nostalgic warmth indicative of a happy home life and family. Both grew up with ambitions to become doctors (a goal they would both achieve) and a love of sports. However, as the years pass by and WWII comes to Canada and across the Pacific, the Shibata and Robinson families have to adjust to a new norm. No longer seen simply as a foreigner, Robinson hears accusations of being a traitor instead. Eventually, Robinson’s family moves to Canada, a place with which Robinson is familiar, but has never called home.

Meanwhile, on the West coast, Shibata recalls his family’s eviction from Vancouver to Lemon Creek, a small mining community that would become the site of the largest internment camp for Japanese Canadians. Director Alice Shin gives space for Shibata to share his memories of the camp and his feelings towards the abhorrent treatment, but with a tight runtime, the film doesn’t dwell on the details. Rather, Shin directs her attention to Shibata’s experience contrasted with Robinson’s in Ontario.

In Geraldton, ON, Robinson officially began his wartime service standing guard outside a gold mine. He reveals a little known fact that in addition to the internment camps in B.C., Canada also placed Japanese Canadians in labour camps in Ontario. The limited scope of the film, however, means that Robinson’s time in the camps at Geraldton is similarly glossed over without too much information beyond a cursory glance at the camp’s existence.

Shin’s focus on Robinson and Shibata in Landscapes of Home creates a truncated look at what life had been like in Canada during WWII. However, in using the space this brief look renders, Shin paints a portrait of humanity in one of Canada’s darkest hours.

Where Robinson grew up in Japanese culture, understanding the customs and speaking the language, Shibata grew up distinctly Canadian and would only learn Japanese after moving to Japan. The connection drawn between these two men goes beyond a quirky coincidence. By playing upon our own prejudices and expectations towards who Robinson and Shibata are given their outward ethnic makeup, Shin, without judgment, confronts her audience to understand how war effected people across ethnicity and geography, and to varying degrees.

There’s a moment in the film when Shibata discusses how he felt when news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor made it to Canada, which exemplifies the complex relationship many immigrants and immigrant children have with their homelands. Shibata says he felt proud that Japan — a country who had often been in the shadows of larger, more dominant nations — was finally standing up for itself and showing itself to be a force to be reckoned with. While it’d be easy to point at such a statement to explain the distrust that some Canadians and Americans felt towards Japanese at the time, and more generally speaking immigrants in foreign countries, Shibata’s statement highlights the nuanced mental gymnastics many of us make — proud of our homelands but with our ancestral motherlands never far from mind.

Landscapes of Home seeks to look past the facts and figures and hone in on the complicated humanity that exists between the lines of history. Whether it’s a white family living in Japan forced to leave their summer home or an Asian family displaced and forced into internment camps, Shin extricates the feelings of belonging and compassion that unifies us as a people and as a country. In a time where Canada continues to reckon with its past, Landscapes of Home offers a unique and creative path to understanding it.

Landscapes of Home has its world premiere at the 2024 Toronto Japanese Film Festival on June 18.

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