BY Willard Manus
One of the strongest--and best-liked--films screened at the recent Los Angeles Greek Film Festival was SAYOME, a documentary written and directed by Nikos Dayandas. It centered on the life of a Japanese woman, the eponymous Sayome, who met Manolis, a handsome Greek sailor, in a Tokyo karaoke bar and fell in love with him (and vice versa).
In the face of family opposition and disapproval, they decided to marry and commence a life together in Manolis' hometown of Heraklion, Crete. This unlikely union lasted for the next thirty-five years, during which time Sayome not only learned Greek and gave birth to two sons but endeared herself to everyone around her, thanks to her warm, giving nature.
Manolis also proved to be a remarkable human being, tolerant of the differences between them, proud of his wife in a steadfast way. Together they appeared to be a rare, happy couple.
Then came news of the death of Sayome's mother, back in Japan. That touched a nerve in her and made her decide to visit her mother's grave. Accompanied by Nikos, one of her sons, she went back home for the first time in three decades. The Japan she encountered was nothing like the one she remembered from her childhood, of course. The culture shock affected her greatly, also the meeting with her estranged family.
In a series of increasingly powerful scenes, Sayome learns from her sister and brother that, on orders from her father, she was taken from home at a young age and handed over to her grandparents for raising. This traumatic act was triggered by a household accident which, the father charged, proved that his wife was an unfit mother.
Now, after all this time, Sayome comes face to face with her father--and discovers that this once cold, puritannical man has changed as much as she has, and wishes to make amends.
To go with all the drama, Dayandas has managed to find a considerable amount of humor in Sayome's return to her roots. Much of it is provided by one of Sayome's childhood friends, an impish, sharp-tongued pixie known as "the queen of karaoke." She breaks everyone up with her caustic remarks about the six-foot-tall Nikos: "Look, his thighs are bigger than I am!"
SAYOME deals with the things that separate people from each other--identity, nationality, language--and reminds us that these differences are surmountable. We can get along, Dayandas wants us to know. His film proves it, in a heartfelt, loving and unsentimental way.
The 2012 L.A. Greek Film Festival also offered such features as A GREEN STORY, based on the life of Earth Friendly's CEO, Van Vlahakis; TUNGSTEN, a thriller by Giorgos Georgopoulos; and AN APARTMENT IN ATHENS, a WW II story dealing with the Nazi occupation of Greece. For information about the 2013 Festival go to www.lagff.org