History, current events, and music are woven together in “Omoiyari: A Song Film by Kishi Bashi,” a beautiful documentary film about composer and songwriter Kishi Bashi (who co-directed with Justin Taylor Smith) and the work he’s doing on a new album.
Bashi embarks on a personal journey to explore the past and learn more about himself as an inspiration to write new songs. Along the way, he uncovers much about America’s history of cruelty and compassion, starting conversations with people from all walks of life. He takes the time to really listen, and it offers a stirring foundation for his new music.
It’s an uplifting history lesson that features gorgeous music and equally impressive visuals. The film follows Kishi Bashi around the United States as he travels to locations that were relevant to the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, including camps where 120,000 citizens were forcibly relocated. Here, the man creates music with a powerful, personal meaning. In the process, he he gains a deeper understanding about himself and his cultural identity, and begins to question what it means to be American.
The film includes never-before-seen archival footage from the camps, and they are heartbreaking. The story ties in the more recent Muslim ban and immigration issues at the USA / Mexico border, and it’s chilling how the stories all share a similar thread. The storytelling is effective, and the directors let their camera do a lot of the work.
Seeing Kishi Bashi pick up his violin and play music in places that bring so many people a massive amount of emotional anguish hits deeply, every time. This is a very moving film.
Omoiyari is a Japanese word that means to have sympathy and compassion towards another person, and this film is an uplifting celebration of the diversity that makes America such a great country. This is a documentary about a musician, but also about basic humanity. If we can all take the time to really hear each other, be it through conversation or art or music, perhaps we can prevent the darkest parts of our history from repeating.