In Leila’s Room (2016)

*This ethnographic video can accompany my book Jesus Loves Japan in classroom teaching to show the research site (Homi Danchi in Toyota, Japan) and the Brazilian migrants who live there.

Selected for screening at the Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA) Film & Media Festival in Minneapolis, MN, in 2016. 20 minutes. Portuguese and Japanese with English subtitle. Shot and edited by Suma Ikeuchi.


A young Brazilian migrant woman, Leila, runs a small make-up salon in her apartment in Homi Housing Project, Toyota City, Japan. Most of her clients are, like herself, Brazilians of Japanese descent who have return migrated to the land of their ancestors. Because of her strong Christian faith, her small salon is also a social hub of evangelical women in the local Brazilian migrant community who come in for good make-up and conversations. In this intimate space, Leila, her fellow migrants, and the filmmaker speak about and act out their complex identities.

Background for Teaching Purposes:

I shot this video toward to end of my yearlong fieldwork in 2014, when I had established good rapport with many Brazilian migrants in Toyota. In the first part of the video, Leila – the main protagonist – recounts her life stories while applying makeup to my face. This was actually her idea. When I asked for an interview with her, she insisted that she could have a “conversation” with me but not an “interview.” So we decided to talk while I sat as if I were one of her beauty salon clients. So the video can show the dynamics of ethnographic fieldwork through the recorded interactions between the Brazilian migrants and myself in this intimate space.

The second half of the video, shot on a different day, Leila looks after an actual client in her salon. The client is a third-generation Japanese Brazilian (or sansei) who is about to have a wedding at one of the Brazilian migrant churches in Toyota. Her mother (who is on the cell phone at the very beginning) and her grandmother (who emigrated to Brazil from Japan at age 7) are in the same room, waiting for the bride to get ready. If you look closely, you can see the kaleidoscopic diversity of identities at work in such a tiny space: generational identities (issei, nisei, sansei), racial identities (“Japanese,” mixed, “Brazilian”), and religious identities (in this case Christian).

While the book based on the same fieldwork, Jesus Loves Japan, presents their complex identities in a coherent manner for the purpose of textual storytelling, this ethnographic video edited in an observational style refrains from explicitly telling the migrants’ background information (there is no voice-over). Rather it just shows such complexity through organic interactions, daily objects, and nonchalant comments. It trusts the audience to appreciate the implicit and the manifest, even though they may have to work a bit harder to catch those details.

Sample Discussion Questions:

  • What did you notice about the code-switching between Portuguese and Japanese? What can it tell us about the people’s identities?

  • Looking at the interactions between the three generations of women (the bride, her mother, and her grandmother), what can you tell about generational identities and family dynamics?

  • The video also shows the researcher (Suma) in action, conducting her ethnographic fieldwork. What are your impressions of the methods shown here: interview and participant-observation? Any pros and cons you can think of?