Don’t be fooled: this ain’t no kids movie. A Jewish Girl in Shanghai has gleaned largely positive acclaim in both China and internationally, noted as the first home-grown Chinese film to take on the Holocaust. This could be the first of many art forms that offers a glimpse of what Holocaust survivors and victims of Japanese occupation have in common, helping to build future ties between Jewish and Chinese communities. The graphic novel by Wu Lin on which the film is based is set to be translated into Hebrew, no doubt generating a further learning opportunity for students of all ages.
This beautifully animated 2010 feature, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Wu Lin, spans the kind of historical breadth and emotional depth most period films aspire to include. Apparently the ideal audience bracket for Wang Genfa’s film is ages 8-14, but with some questionable subtitle translations from the Mandarin (the use of “badass” being a favourite), there’s a level of cultural inquiry that parents accompanying their kids will appreciate. There are numerous moments of Lion King-esque animal humour – always an endearing child-pleaser – but in 80 minutes the film still packs a mature punch. In fact, it may just frame or reframe your outlook on what it means to be a refugee.
Our central champions in a growing friendship are Rina, an Austrian Jewish girl sent by her parents to the relatively safe haven of Shanghai with her small brother Michali, and Ah Gen, a poor young Chinese boy waiting for his Uncle to return from the frontlines. For characters drawn into the scene as opposed to being depicted by humans, their emotional range is bewildering; we detect hidden secrets, multiple loyalties, anxiety and fear. The vibrant imagery allows us to imagine the 1930′s and 40′s in full light and colour, a rare thing in the Holocaust films of Hollywood. The expression of life still forged amidst adversity is inspiring, and a great lesson to actualise the main message of these kinds of movies; to ensure that future generations do not forget what their people experienced.
A Jewish Girl in Shanghai offers a fresh dimension to this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival, possibly under-rated within a programme heavy on realism. While it is a clear-eyed goodies vs. baddies storyline, you’ll be uplifted by the magic of illustration and perhaps, like me, be ever more curious about this fascinating pocket of 20th century history.
Thursday, May 12th at 2.00 p.m. at the Al Green Theatre
Sunday, May 15th at 1:00 p.m. at the Sheppard Grande
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival runs until May 15. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit tjff.com.
Top image: A scene from A Jewish Girl in Shanghai. Courtesy TJFF.