My Small Land (2022) is an emotionally affecting film by writer and director Emma Kawawada that, despite its name, left a big impact on me. Sarya (Lina Arashi) is a Kurdish refugee girl who has grown up in Japan. Life seems to be looking up; her grades at school are good enough to pursue college, she’s surrounded by friends, and her relationship with Sota (Daiken Okudaira) is becoming special. However, Sarya’s world becomes unstable when her family’s refugee status is turned down, restricting her family from working and traveling across the city.
Arashi is phenomenal in her debut performance. While this film doesn’t require her to have many big blow-ups or melodramatic moments, the quiet subtly of her struggles requires nuance that many young actors would struggle with. She is able to give exactly what each scene requires to truly make you care for Sarya, her dreams, and her situation. It reminded me of a film I saw at Tribeca back in 2018 called “Jellyfish” that had a teenage girl (Liv Hill) having to take over as the head of her family as well. There is quiet tension as these young girls are walking a tightrope with no net to catch them if they fall.
I also love a movie that allows me to see a world that I know very little about. Sarya is a person without a true home. She feels at home in Japan, but her father insists that they’re not home – and, of course, losing the refugee status makes that statement true. The Kurds are a people without a country, and I knew very little about this. Watching the film has made me want to know more about their struggle. Then, there is the family dynamic, and how Sarya has to step up in a multitude of ways within this dynamic. She loves her father, but she has her own ambitions that she keeps from him. All of this only becomes more complicated by the instability that losing their refugee status puts on them all.
My Small Land is one of those films that achieve so much connection with very little spectacle or melodrama. There is conflict and tension, but it is grounded and relatable. In fact, it is so relatable that you’ll care so much for these characters who find themselves in many worst-case scenarios for things that are mostly out of their control. Without making all of the political ramifications the center of the story, the ideas of immigration laws are at the forefront, and you will likely find yourself wondering what the right process should be. My Small Land earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.