Fence at The Monte-Carlo TV Festival #MCTVF
BY Yako Molhov
Japanese drama Fence, a Wowow Inc & NHK Enterprises production, was part of the Official Selection at the 62nd Monte-Carlo Television Festival this year where it also had its international premiere on June 17. The screenwriter of the series Akiko Nogi and producers Hiraku Kitano and Yoshiki Takaesu talked to the journalists revealing details about the story behind Fence, the main issues that the drama explores as well as the symbolism of the title.
Japan's Okinawa Prefecture was under American occupation from the end of the Second World War until its return to Japan in 1972. 50 years on, large American military bases still exist there. Kie Komatsu (Mayu Matsuoka) is a magazine writer from Tokyo who visits Okinawa to interview Sakura Ohmine (Ariana Miyamoto), a black mix woman who claims to be a victim of a sexual assault by an American soldier. They visit and meet many people in Okinawa and eventually arrive at a certain "truth" that leads to a complicated circumstance with various issues involving Okinawa and its US military bases, the sufferings of the women, and the struggles as a mix.

Did the assault really happen, or is this a lie to rally the cause against military bases? As Kie pursues the truth, she confronts the complicated circumstances unique to Okinawa. This is not a tragedy. It is a story of two women striking back at their sadness, tackling hard subjects—race, gender, generational differences, Okinawa and Japan, Japan and the USA—and tearing down the fences.

Kitano commented that Okinawa used to be, after WWII, occupied by the US army. He was working as a journalist there and encountered several incidents related to the US army. The people in Okinawa have been having some difficulties at that time, and he always wanted to create some stories about that, this is how the story of Fence started. “The issues in Okinawa are also at the same time issues in the US, issues in the rest of the world. Therefore, I wanted to create some stories which can be related to another country.”

Akiko Nogi commented that “I've been offered this concept and as a screenwriter, I wanted to write some stories based in Okinawa. How we deliver the stories? - we thought about the weak, some people who are weak or vulnerable, which is the core concept of the series. And this is why we created the characters of two women fighting against the issues”.

Nogi added that “Japan is yet to become more open when it comes to sexual assault incidents. Quite often the victims are the one that are being bashed or being victims of other people. Perhaps it is because of the clothes they are wearing or you may have something to do suggesting something, especially in Okinawa, particularly teenage girls. They are very vulnerable in this kind of situation. So how we end up creating this story is how to react in this kind of situation. This is how it's created, the stories: by using the mixed race women to help support the teenage girl who had some issues, and then the other one was the one to support and then help the investigation”.

The producer of the show noted that Fence is the first time viewers are seeing a mixed-race actress playing in a TV show in Japan. They also added that Okinawa itself is the symbol in the series. Mixed race people, especially Black mixed people, are not found often in Japanese society. However, in Okinawa Island, there are quite many in this instance.

In terms of the title of the series, the creators commented that Fence could be anything. It's not just a wall between the US and Japan, but also in the female -male barriers as well, and also about race discrimination. There is also a fence between the generations. Generations of the seniors, who know the Second World War and the younger generation don't know much about it. There are also some fences between mainland Japan and Okinawa. “But how do we overcome it? How do we break the fence? This is why we created this title,”

Nogi added that the story is actually focusing on two women fighting the situations, but also for instance, when we pick up the sexual assault incident, this is not just caused by the US military, but also it could be happening in Japan as well. And also there are environmental issues as well that are caused by the military camp, the construction of the military camps, and that could be shared in other countries. The two women are the two characters who are fighting these situations. “This is how we live, how we overcome the situation, how they are going forward in the future, in terms of not just the women, but also the men who are fighting for some issues. It could be political issues - again fighting against the higher ranking officers or could be politicians who don't want to take responsibility in the issues. So this is what's happening right now. And some of the issues could be relatable for the audience in other countries. So this is how we thought, how we created the stories and with the touch of mysteries, and this is how I wrote it deliberately.”

When it comes to casting, the creators commented that in Japan sometimes the project is being written first and then the cast is being decided upon later and sometimes it is the other way around – it is a 50/50 situation. For Fence they had the plot originally at the time when they talked to Mayu Matsuoka and when Nogi started writing the script, the cast was already determined. “So this is why I wrote the script and I know what Mayu was doing. So this is how I wrote the script”

As far as the reaction of Okinawa residents to the series is concerned: “the final reaction was that even though it was a situation that was very complex, it was very well received. The people from Okinawa gave us very good remarks. So we are really so pleased about it.”

The creators also wanted to point out that this drama is not to criticize and break the relationship between Japan and the US. “You have only seen the first episode, but the story continues. It's not just of US officers, but also the Japanese people as well and the US. And we are not here to disagree with the agreements and the issues in Japan and the government in Japan or the US may realize it, but they don't want to see it or talk about it. This is what's happening and as a result, the people who are more vulnerable get the consequences. And perhaps we would like to raise that kind of issues, to discuss the issues rather than creating any conflicts. So the plot going forward, after the second episode, there will be, of course, the two women fighting the situations and then trying to investigate the sexual assault incident. But there will also be the Japanese police collaborating with the US and NCIS to tackle the issues together.”
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