Our lives are defined by choices. “With my own two feet, I walked to prison. I made the choice.” Up until her final breath this past November my 102-year old grandmother Topazia Alliata is proud of her choice. In 1938, she had chosen to go live in Japan with my grandfather Fosco Maraini, anthropologist and photographer, after leaving Fascist Italy in protest. When they were later put on house arrest in Tokyo in 1943, she chose not to sign the document adhering to the Republic of Salò, thereby condemning herself and her daughters (Dacia, Yuki, and my mother, Toni) to be the only female prisoners and the only children in the Japanese prison camp. The family survived two years before they were released at the end of the war.
During their difficult imprisonment, Topazia kept a diary. It too survived, and it too, with its yellowing pages, my grandmother’s fading cursive pencil trails and Dacia’s occasional doodling, is a central character in this project. This little green notebook is the only known (and published) eyewitness account of a Japanese prison camp written by an Italian woman. She kept it in a locked cabinet by her bed, and she carefully pulled it out for me whenever I asked to see it. She entrusted it and her story to me.
I believe that my grandmother’s choices altered our internal map, our DNA, and our moral integrity for two generations. As a child, I often wondered what it would have been like if my grandmother had lied and signed the paper just to keep her children safe. Today, as a woman and a mother, I understand that all those family anecdotes I grew up hearing about are actually powerful, profound stories. Stories of hunger, heartbreak, sacrifice, honor and courage. Topazia walked to prison. She chose it. However, we as a family have to reconcile the harsh reality of that — having survived that choice. Every child of a survivor understands that there are wounds and responsibilities that find their way to the next generation. How do I trace what I am and what my inheritance is? A family tree is made of choices, of forks in the road, of maps and places. I am a product of these choices. Mine and theirs.
This film project is a visual memoir, a personal journey into my family’s history and legacy as a granddaughter, a daughter and as a mother. This journey of understanding and reconciliation through conversations, interviews, and documents takes me to Japan to retrace my family’s experience by visiting some of the sites from their past including both prison camps in Nagoya. The scenes, memories, and journey will be told through animation, maps, voices and framed by Basil Twist’s Dogugaeshi screens opening up to reveal deeper layers of the story, leading us into a world of mystery, memory, wonder, pain, and silences so we can understand where we are now.