[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 138 / Jun. 15 .2007 ]
I knew about the film by reading a newspaper. This film won the 2006 Academy reward of the best foreign picture of the year. According to the newspaper, Amnesty International and Japan International Volunteer Center sponsored the show of the film "Tsotsi" that was given an R-15 (restricted to over 15-year-old) classification in Japan. The movie takes place in the slums of South Africa and the story deals with the rehabilitation of a boy that has committed a crime. This is a unique opportunity for Japanese children to know about real poverty and crimes, but the fact that they are forbidden from watching it, the movie, cynically, arose in me special interest.

In fact the movie made a deep impact in me, no matter the particulars surrounding its show. Nevertheless the impact was not the customary one. It is nothing like, 'from now on the good guy appears, or that at its climax one would be waiting for a heroic move.' All the actors get angry at times, become frightened and being at a loss act timidly. The central actor in the story that is the only one candidly acting is a cheerful baby that had been kidnapped. But in spite of it, there is something especially attractive in all the actors that caught my interest.
The movie starts with an assassination scene. The story takes place a few years after the abolishment of the apartheid policies. The main star Tsotsi, a boy slum dweller as many other blacks, whose name means "delinquent" in South African slung, assaults together with his friend a senior gentleman on a train and stabs him to death. As a consequence, Tsotsi beat almost to death a companion and escaped to a luxurious compound where trying to steal a car shot a lady. Running away he finds a baby inside the stolen car. Tsotsi was raised within a painful past as a street child and, being unable to throw the baby he is moved and challenged, by taking care of the baby...
But if I continue narrating the story there will be no more fun. The attraction of the film is not so much the story itself but the situation of the slums of South Africa that appear there and the actors that perform exactly the persons they represent. The script writer was South African Athol Fugard who wrote a novel in the 1960's at the time of the height of the apartheid. In the film the times have been converted into the actual ones.

Slum areas cover a big part of the big urban centers. The main actor lives in a small room in the second floor of a shanty. A gang buys the stolen car and dismantling it sells it. People move around dancing at the South African music 'a la vogue,' called "kwaito". A young mother embracing her baby manages to live stoutly after thieves stubbed to death her husband. A black millionaire holding mountains of wine reserves owns an automatic locked residence in the outskirts of the city. A senior citizen that became disabled as a result of an accident that occurred in a mine is begging by the railroad station. Black policemen storm at the slum dwellers followed by a white boss. A band of children are living by a clay pipe where Tsotsi accustomed to live before. This film produced by the director, the staff and the actors, all South Africans, shows us the South Africa of today, in its overwhelming reality.

But, in spite of it, the film is not a stiff documentary. Each actor performs with a marked personality difficult to forget and the music is fine. Although the violent scenes are very powerful, everybody understands that violence is not the film's sale point. On the contrary, Japanese TV programs are, by far, more violent and harmful. I often think it was a pity the film was considered R-15.

We are not either saints or devils. It is impossible to select the place of birth and one's parents, but everybody can select his/her way of life. "I apologize..." With these words conversion begins and this is the message of this film.

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

*About the film, see the web site below:
=====     Copyright ®1997-2007 Jesuit Social Center All Rights Reserved     =====