The Harimaya Bridge: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 29, 2011 by  

A heartwarming, emotional, painful independent film written and directed by Aaron Woolfolk.  I am so grateful to see this film as it mirrors the experiences that many of us who have embraced Japanese culture, despite being from another country.  “The Harimaya Bridge” is highly recommended!

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Images courtesy of © 2009 Harimaya Bridge, LLP. Licensed by FUNimation Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Harimaya Bridge: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack


DURATION: 120 minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION:  1080p High Definition, Dolby TrueHD Japanese and English 5.1, Subtitles: English


COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: October 18, 2011

Written and Directed by Aaron Woolfolk

Produced by Aaron Woolfolk

Executive Produced by Danny Glover, John Kim, Naoshi Yoda

Co-Produced: Muneyuki Kii, Tatsuya Kimura

Line Producer: Chikako Nakabayashi

Associate Producer: Lee Rudnicki

Music by Kazunori Maruyama

Cinematography by Masao Nakabori

Edited by John Coniglio

Art Direction by Takahisa Taguchi

Set Decoration by Nao Nishimori, Yukiyo Sato


Bennet Guillory as Daniel Holder

Saki Takaoka as Noriko Kubo

Misa Shimizu as Yuiko Hara

Danny Glover as Joseph Holder

Victor Grant as Mickey Holder

Sakura Thomas as Mariya

Misono as Saita Nakayama

Hajime Yamazaki as Kunji Inoue

Miho Shiraishi as Kayo Takeuchi

Honoka as Emi Osaki

Daniel Holder is a grieving father struggling to come to terms with the sudden loss of his estranged son Mickey. Driven by a desperate desire to hold on to what little remains of his son, Daniel travels into the heart of a culture he does not understand on a mission to collect a series of paintings left behind by Mickey.

His journey – fueled by bitterness and regret – quickly uncovers shocking truths that bring an already-broken man to his knees. Will Daniel succumb to the hatred that has poisoned his heart, or will he embrace the spirit of Mickey’s existence and forgive the unforgivable?

Featuring a collaboration from the East and the West, “The Harimaya Bridge” is a film written and directed by African-American filmmaker Aaron Woolfolk.

Woolfolk, a former JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) participant who lived in Japan for many years and taught in Kochi Prefecture  is known for his short film “Rage!” which won a Director’s Guild of America Award.  He won an award for his screenplay “The Harimaya Bridge” in which he received a Walt Disney Studios/ABC Entertainment Talent Development Grant and in 2008, production began on “The Bridge of Harimaya”.  Woolfolk would become the first African-American to shoot a feature film in Japan and the film would receive rave reviews.

Now, “The Harimaya Bridge” would be released on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack courtesy of FUNimation Entertainment in Oct. 2011.

“The Harimaya Bridge” begins JET participant Mickey Holder, also a talented painter, working on his latest piece.

But something has happened in the future as we see his father Daniel Holder (played by Ben Guillory, “The Color Purple”, “America’s Dream”), his brother Joseph Holder (played by Daniel Glover, “Lethal Weapon” films, “The Color Purple”, “Saw”) with family and friends attending the funeral of Mickey.  As a Japanese woman comes up to the casket, she kisses him and takes a glance at Daniel and leaves.

We learn that Daniel and his son Mickey are estranged.  Partly because Mickey chose to move to Japan and for Daniel, this is a disgrace to the family because his father was killed by the Japanese in World War II.  The last time the two had talked, they got into a heated argument in which Daniel was so angered, he started pushing his son around.

Daniel also finds out that the woman that attended his funeral and kissed him is his wife Noriko Kubo (played by Saki Takaoka, “Pure”, “The River with No Bridge”, “Kyoko”).

One day, while attending a concert event held by a father who’s daughter has died (and is keeping her dream alive), Daniel wants to do the same.  Go to Japan and round up all his artwork and celebrate the life of his son.

The problem is, he still has hatred towards the Japanese but he will do what he can to get his son’s artwork back.

So, off to Japan Daniel goes and he is greeted by the Educational Department which has worked with Mickey.  Greeting him is the English translator Yuiko Hara (played by Misa Shimizu, “The Sea is Watching”, “The Eel”, “Okoge”), the boss of the local educational department Kunji Inoue (“Touch”, “Swallowtail Butterfly”) and employee Saita Nakamaya (played by Japanese pop star, Misono).

As the three extend their warmest greetings to Daniel, he doesn’t smile and is quite rude to them.  When they meet up with Daniel the following day, Daniel drops the bomb on them that he wants Daniel’s art, including the one’s that he gave to them as gifts.

Yuiko is shocked by Daniel’s attitude and even moreso, that he wants the paintings that he gave to his widow Noriko.  But she and the others have not seen Noriko much since Mickey was killed in an accident.  But when they try to contact Noriko, her parents say that they do not know where she is living and have not had any contact with her.

Yuiko tries to show Daniel how Mickey has touched the life of people in Japan.   She takes him to a school where he taught painting to children and shows him how the children had painted a picture in dedication of Mickey.  Also, displaying a painting that Mickey made.  But immediately, Daniel takes the painting and tells them that he is bringing it back home.  When a teacher Ms. Takeuchi (played by Miho Shiraishi) introduces Daniel to Mickey’s favorite student, Emi (played by Honoka)… Emi gives a gift to Daniel with paintings that she made and was inspired by Mickey to create.

Mickey doesn’t even look at it and continues to act rude.  Upset with his attitude, Yuiko drives him towards a shrine and cemetery for many Japanese soldiers of World War II which includes her Uncle.  Daniel can’t believe that Japan would honor people who murdered innocent Americans.  But she tells him that how Japanese soldiers murdered, raped many people during the war.  But she uses his logic back on him how Americans have done the same to people in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq.   But pretty much war hurts no matter what side you are on.

But as Daniel still wants to get the paintings back, especially from Noriko Kubo.  He comes up with an idea to use employee Saita Nakayama to drive him by Noriko’s parents place.  And when she does, Daniel tricks her and ends up going to the place of her parents.  Saita tries to stop him but Daniel goes to the home and immediately we learn why Noriko is also estranged to her parents.  Her parents are ashamed that their daughter married a Black man.  Daniel doesn’t understand what is going on but he is screamed at by Noriko’s father and when Saita tries to apologize, he tells her that he will call the authorities about what she has done.

The following day, a big meeting is held at the Educational Department and the group is in trouble for what took place at the Kubo residence.  Saita is fired and for Daniel, he knows his actions were wrong but he starts to realize what he had done to Saita.

As Daniel one day looks at the paintings that Emi has given him.  He sees paintings of Mickey, Mickey and Noriko but also a picture of Noriko holding a Black baby.  Did Mickey have a child?

So, when Mickey with the help of Yuiko find Noriko, they learn that she has had a difficult life since Mickey’s death.  And because she is unable to give her child a good life, she is thinking of putting her up for adoption.

For Daniel, this is his granddaughter and because she looks Black in appearance, he tells Noriko that he will raise her in America because she will face less racism there and that he has money.  But Noriko tells him no… She is Japanese and Mickey also told her that when he lived in America, he also faced racism.

Frustrated with his meeting with Noriko, he talks with Yuiko and starts to learn about Noriko being estranged by her parents because she married a Black man.  But yet, the two have much in common…and they fell in love.  And they had a daughter that Mickey never had a chance to meet.

But will Daniel, a man who came to Japan with so much hatred towards the Japanese start to feel compassion because he has a Japanese granddaughter?


“The Harimaya Bridge” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  For the most part, the film looks very good as skin tones are natural.   But once you get to the filming in Japan, I found the scenery to be breathtaking.  On Blu-ray, the details on the shrine and the areas that Noriko visited, to see the detail on the wood and also just the overall vibrance of the red Harimaya Bridge, it looked beautiful in HD.

And I have to say that where many films are shot in Kanto and Kansai region, it was great to watch a film by an American filmmaker going to an area like Kochi, smaller villages that have been around for over a thousand years and capturing it on camera.  Granted, its thanks to Woolfolk having taught in the area but with so many films shot in the concrete jungle of Japan, it was refreshing to see one shot in the countryside and capturing the overall scenery and ambiance.  I’m a sucker for beautiful scenery and on Blu-ray, the film looked fantastic!


“The Harimaya Bridge” is presented in Japanese and English Dolby TrueHD 5.1.  The film is primarily a dialogue and music driven film.  Both are crystal clear coming from the center and front channels.  The music from Kazunori Maruyama is absolutely beautiful to listen to.

But as far as the lossless soundtrack goes, the ambiance of the area can be heard through the surround channels.  From birds chirping to even the engine of a vehicle, you can hear it through the surround channels.  Not an immersive soundtrack but for a film of this nature, the lossless soundtrack was appropriate.

The subtitles are in English.


“The Harimaya Bridge” comes with the following special features:

  • Making Of – (21:09) The making of “The Harimaya Bridge”.   A Japanese featurette (with English subtitles) on the making of “The Harimaya Bridge”.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an in-depth commentary by Aaron Woolfolk on the talent, shooting on location and also the production of the film.
  • Cast Interviews – (12:20) Featuring interviews with Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu and Danny Glover.  Featuring an interview of how the American talent felt working in Japan and the differences of the Japanese talent working with an American director compared to a Japanese director and filming outside of Tokyo.
  • Staff Interviews – (7:28) Featuring an interview with writer/director Aaron Woolfolk.


“The Harimaya Bridge” comes with a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film.

Heartwarming, emotional and a wonderful co-production between America and Japan!

After watching “The Harimaya Bridge”, this film definitely had a strong, holding effect on me.  Because what you see in this film are experiences that I had in my life.

Through this film, Aaron Woolfolk is able to communicate a message of needing to understand each other.  To communicate with each other and its because for a lot of people, traditionally through one’s perspective, everything is based in your own country.  Unless you are able to travel to another country or to embrace other cultures which is much more easier thanks to the Internet, people can start to learn from each other.

I watched as Ben Guillory played the role of Daniel Holder, a character who still feels the pain of losing a father in World War II and his attitude towards Japan.  I know there are many war veterans who still exhibit this feeling of hatred towards an opposing country due to war, but those who are able to find understanding that war brings out the ugliness of countries and its people.

In my case, I grew up in an area with not many Asian people and during the ’80s of Japanese business purchasing American companies, our family was put in position of fear as we were stereotyped as a Japanese family and our home was vandalized with “Go Home Japs!” spray-painted all over our house.  I have had an interest in Japanese culture as a child, thanks to my father who was stationed in Japan at one time, but more so because of this incident.  And through college, the majority of my friends were Japanese, I was studying Japanese and dating Japanese.  Also, my brother at time began dating Japanese.

But I was worried because growing up, my grandfather would tell us stories of how he was part of a group of Filipino soldiers who’s job was to fight against the Japanese (and eventually were given a chance to become Americans and serve for the American military).  Needless to say, his stories of what they had to do to survive and fight the Japanese were quite horrific but when we would bring our Japanese friends home and he would meet with them, I would worry that it would set him off.  But he accepted them.  And he told me that what happened back then was because of war and that Japan was now our ally.

So, I can understand Daniel’s anger but I have to admit, the belligerence in the attitude of the character was insulting.  But that was the part that Guillory was to play.  A man who had to go to Japan, in his case, the last place he wanted to go to and get his son’s paintings.

The other side of the equation is Noriko Kubo’s situation and her family’s honor.  Dishonoring her family because she married a Kokujin (a Black foreigner).  For me, I have known many women who have married men that were not Japanese and I have known friends who have had difficult situations because their father would not support a marriage to a non-Japanese.  And yes, even I had the same situation where a Japanese girl I was dating was forbidden to see me by her father because my ethnicity (I am Filipino American) was deemed not good enough for his daughter.  But because I studied and understood Japanese culture, I know the importance of family honor and unlike Mickey and Noriko who defied their parents and sought out after their own personal happiness together… unlike them, I was unable too because of my respect of her father’s honor.

So, “The Harimaya Bridge” was a film that I felt was heartwarming, emotional but also a film that was very much needed today.  And I’m glad to see an African-American filmmaker, Aaron Woolfolk, doing just that.  I know a lot of friends who are Black and taught in Japan and how many get stereotyped as being someone like a basketball player or movie actor and it was interesting to see something like that in the film.  There were a lot of small things that I experienced or saw for myself, that I couldn’t help but smile in the fact that Woolfolk incorporated those things into the film.

Woolfolk talked about his influences in his audio commentary.  Of how Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu were influences of his and how he wanted to create a hybrid film that would be easily accessible to Japanese and non-Japanese and in many ways, I do feel that he accomplished it with this film.

But at the same time, I feel those who may have never went to Japan or understand Japanese culture may not understand those small little things that I found important.  But if you had a familiarity with the culture, especially if you had an understand of Japanese cinema, may you be a fan of a Kurosawa, Ozu, Naruse or Shimizu film, the storyline of family honor to the differences between modern vs. traditional family thinking applies to this film.

And I felt that Woolfolk did a good job of incorporating that to the film.

While Guillory did a fine job as the father of Mickey Holder, I also applaud the casting of Saki Takaoka who plays Noriko Kubo and also Misa Shimizu as Yuiko Hara.  Both of their performances were wonderful and also it was great to see other Japanese talent that I am familiar with in this film.  Especially pop star Misono getting her big break on this film as well.  And also, just a bonus for those who are familiar with the Japanese pop culture, to have legendary singer Kyu Sakamoto’s wife/actress Yukiko Kashiwagi also in the film was pretty cool to see. And of course, having Danny Glover in the film is a bonus!  It was great to see him in this film but also believing in the film as one of the producers.

Overall, I have to admit that I am so grateful to Aaron Woolfolk for going forward and writing and directing a film such as “The Harimaya Bridge” to be made and also surprised and applaud FUNimation Entertainment for bringing this film to a wider audience.  The film is beautiful, vibrant, heartwarming but also painful and thought-provoking as well.

The film does seem like a Japanese film, especially in structure and what filmmaker Aaron Woolfolk wanted to communicate, but at the same time, its easily accessible to those who are not Japanese, especially those wanting to learn Japanese culture and those who have had similar experiences to the characters of this film.

I am so grateful to see this film as it mirrors the experiences that many of us who have embraced Japanese culture, despite being from another country.

“The Harimaya Bridge” is highly recommended!

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