Film weakened by force-fed poignancy

Shiawase no taiko o hibikasete: Inclusion
Directed by Ken’ichi Oguri
Canadian premiere, Eric Martin Theatre
May 29, 2013

Reviewed by Joshua Zapf.

The Canadian premiere of  Ken’ichi Oguri’s Shiawase no taiko o hibikasete: Inclusion was hosted by Friends of Music Society, an organization that offers “partnership-based music programs to build relationships between people with mental illness and those without.” Inclusion follows a Japanese drum troupe (Zuiho Taiko) composed of players with mental disabilities who find “creative independence” through music.

Before any preconceived notions of inability can be summoned, the opening to Inclusion informs the viewer that this troop plays 130 concerts a year–a glorious achievement, but one that leaves no room for the viewer to settle into the movie before Ken’ichi fills scenes with poignant and bittersweet displays of kindness and achievement. This style of force-fed moments of warmth, affection, and modesty mostly resolve the movie’s conclusion without even having made it 45 minutes in.

That is not to say that there isn’t a power to Ken’ichi Oguri’s decision to display compassion; the film exudes genuine emotion all the way from the small Nagasaki prefecture in Unzen City, to the troupe being discovered and coached by a famous Taiko performer to competing in the Tokyo International Taiko Contest.

Despite the temporal transitions, Inclusion never skips a motivational beat. Most members of Zuhio Taiko were ostracised, institutionalized, and perceived as people who could not achieve something worthwhile. It is clearly Ken’ichi Ogrui’s desire to show that those with mental disabilities can lead normal family lives, as the film enters the drummers’ homes at every opportunity. These moments when the camera entered the homes always felt heavy handed with shots that linger and probe as though waiting to find something specific rather than just tell the story as it happened.

Without ruining the film, there are moments that evoke paternal instincts to protect those that seem to need defending. While this is effective in reaffirming that people with disabilities should not be approached as “functioning disabled people, but seen as a member of society,” the movie fails in its zealous attempt to cast the members of Zuiho Taiko in any role other than brow-beaten drummer. Even though time is spent with the family of the Zuiho Taiko’s leader, the documentary devotes most of its time to reproducing scenes of social stigma.

Still, much of Inclusion is bursting with humor and sincerity. There is a beautiful story hidden within: a vocational rehabilitation centre full of people institutionalized for their mental disabilities. A director who asked residents if they were happy received a resounding “Yes.” That same director who shut the facility down after hearing that the only thing in the world the residents wanted was to leave.

This juxtaposition of honest storytelling to directed moments of tension is counterintuitive to the crux of the film: “The world is more beautiful when the world is in harmony.” It muddles the achievements of the Zuiho Taiko drum troupe. I’m left wondering, are we to feel sad for these people who lead mostly ordinary lives or bask in how they’ve mastered something that others would only dream of?

Despite its weaknesses, the movie is a success. If you’ve watched and enjoyed small documentary films before then Inclusion will leave you feeling hopeful. Moreover, those with a penchant for documentaries that fall outside the “norm,” will be smitten by the warm sentiment and strong narration.

However, if you’re used to the types of documentaries that spring up around Oscar season with vivid production value and a distinctly unabridged story, then Ken’ichi Oguri’s Inclusion is not for you.