________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 5. . . .October 1, 2010


Le Magicien de Kaboul : A Dream for Kabul.

Philippe Baylaucq (Writer & Director). Nathalie Barton, Yves Bisaillon & Patricia Bergeron (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
81 min., 35 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9909 294.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

*** /4


      On 11 September 2001, the world changed. Everywhere people watched in shock and disbelief as the World Trade Centre buildings fell to the ground. In Japan, Haruhiro Shiratori was closer than most watchers as his son, Atsushi, was working in one of the buildings. When he learned of his son's death, he easily could have fallen into sorrow and rage, vowing vengeance on those responsible. However, he chose a different way to deal with the loss of his son. He decided to try to make life better for the children of Kabul. A Dream for Kabul, or its French title, Le Magicien de Kabul, is his story.

      Haruhiro states that, after his son died, he had to do something to prevent further deaths: "Getting rid of real problems like terrorism and war doesn't just happen—poof—like magic." Not long into the film, one can see that the relationship between father and son had been strained. While Atsushi was in New York, they did not talk that much. After Atsushi's death, Haruhiro began planning the Atsushi Memorial Centre—a place for Afghan children to find hope and education.

      Haruhiro was disturbed by the images on television of Afghan children talking about holy war and Jihad. He felt that these children, "once they are older, they will form another Al Qaida—become new bin Ladens," When Haruhiro landed in Kabul, he was shocked to see how the destruction and broken vehicles reminded him of his childhood in Tokyo during World War II. He had a common bond with these people. He spent a great deal of time with Afghan children, listening to their stories and their dreams. Each one wants to help the country in some way—one wants to be a teacher, another an engineer and a third a doctor. Haruhiro visits a hospital and meets a child who has lost both hands. Moved by these children, Haruhiro knew that he had to overcome the language barrier, and so he learned how to do magic tricks in order to connect. He connects in particular with Ihsanullah, a nine-year-old boy who still has shrapnel in his body. From time to time, pieces break through to the surface, and he has to go to the doctor. The boy recalls how the planes came and bombed the houses instead of the military base. Haruhiro is able to relate as he tells the family that he, too, lost a son. However, the father says, "These kids will remain angry". Haruhiro feels it is essential to give these children "a wider perspective."

      The film is actually two stories. Clearly, the building of the Atsushi Centre is an attempt to make amends for the relationship Haruhiro had with his son. Atsushi went to New York with plans of making it big. After the attack, Haruhiro was convinced that his son was still alive. However, all he was able to take back was "some remains of his son." When Haruhiro dies, he plans to mix his own ashes with those of his son. Atsushi's death places his father at a crossroads: "Since I have no child left, I could just as well die. Do I go on living like this—not doing anything?" So he thought, "I must get beyond this sadness and discover a glimmer of hope to keep on living." He decided to build the Centre to show the Afghan children that there are other choices.

      Haruhiro takes his message to Japanese school children and explains to them that the situation in Afghanistan is much like it was for Japanese children when he was a child. He takes his message to American children as well. One child asks him, "Have you ever in your life wanted to get back at America or Afghanistan for killing your son or America for killing your parents?" He admits, "Yes, I have felt so much anger that I wanted to kill, but then I felt at one point, that's not good enough". He wants to bring peace to the children so the next generation can create more peace in the world.

      Again the film returns to the relationship between Haruhiro and Atsushi. Haruhiro admits that maybe he had not been such a good father after all as there were times when they did not communicate at all. A former girlfriend of Atsushi's recalls him saying, "I don't want to become like my father." Another friend states, "He made a saint of his mother and a villain of his father—that's all we knew." Atsushi left many friends behind, and they are surprised that when they meet Haruhiro: he is nothing like they expected. One comments, "There was more of Haruhiro in Atsushi than he wanted to admit."

      Haruhiro's first plan was to plant 911 cherry trees in Kabul. He meets with the mayor of Kabul who donates a piece of land for the centre as long as it would be used to benefit the children. One of Japan's leading architects, Kisho Kurokawa, offers to design the project. Everything looks like the dream will become real.

      However, in Kabul, when he shows the plans to a number of elders, they defer to a Mullah, who seems to defer back to them but then expresses concern that the school might be a foreign school and does not seem as keen as Haruhiro to see the project realized. Funding is also a problem. Back in Japan, Haruhiro breaks down during a presentation to potential investors. Things are not going well. Haruhiro sees his son in dreams urging him to continue. Kurokawa tells him to get the project going and suggests, "Maybe it would have been better not to have started the project at all." Haruhiro's wife becomes ill, and Kurokawa dies. The Centre? Well, nothing is said about its status.

      Whenever Haruhiro is with the Afghan children, they are smiling and cannot get enough of his magic acts. He is clearly connecting with them, and his desire to help them is happening as he works towards his dream. Building the Centre will not be a slight of hand achievement. Near the end of the film, Haruhiro states, "I do things for them, and, in return, they give me a reason to live. They make me want to go all out to make things move ahead. We are linked together they and I--forever."

      A Dream for Kabul closes with a child dancing while others applaud him. Haruhiro may never see the Centre completed, but his attempt to make a difference in the lives of children is a lesson for all. Whether his motivation is guilt for not connecting with his own son or some inner goodness does not matter. He is making a difference in the lives of some children, and the cherry trees will remind future generations of the beauty of life and a hope for the future.

      A Dream for Kabul is a beautiful film and has applicability in any course dealing with World Politics or History, Civics, Parenting or Social Justice. Haruhiro's devotion to his dream shows that change is possible even though it may not be the way one had hoped.


Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

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