A short film of fifteen minutes on the dot, based on a true story, and a little snippet of a family’s life, My Daughter Yoshiko is a lot less about autism and a lot more about shame.
Yoshiko’s autism, not the problem, as much as many of the characters feel it is. Instead, it’s more of how people react to Yoshiko and her mother Saki as they try to navigate the world together. When we get glimpses of Yoshiko being worked up into being overwhelmed, Saki doesn’t notice until it’s almost too late and then rushes to apologize to onlookers and hurry Yoshiko away to quiet her. Her father says it’s vaccines. Her mother thinks it’s a bad marriage. A fun and very nice lady on the playground thinks that autistic children are a danger to all around them and then calls the cops.
The whole film while Yoshiko is just existing as herself, Saki is apologizing for it. She makes origami cranes apologize to her neighbors for Yoshiko screaming, she apologizes to a kid Yoshiko pushed (that one’s fair) and even explains apologetically to her mother that instead of drawing on paper, Yoshiko likes to crumple it up and put it into straight lines.
But amid all her mother’s stress, the camera is very sympathetic to Yoshiko. We see things that are upsetting her out before anyone else does—noisy lights, things falling loudly, irritating machines that all just build up until they’re as insufferable to her as the music you hate most being blared into your eardrums and not being able to change the station. For an entire grocery store trip. But we also see quiet moments of Yoshiko just having a good time as herself. Hanging out in her grandparent’s quiet house, at a playground walking along a balance bar and keeping a close eye on her feet—and the whole time, her mother and grandparents discuss if she will ever be cured.
The whole film takes Saki and her family quietly not believing in Yoshiko and feeling bad about her existence. It’s only when that same dismissal is brought by someone outside the family that Saki hears what it sounds like, and rises up to defend her daughter.
It’s a short film but it is about a much-needed step when it comes to caring for someone you may not be able to understand or relate to normally. Accepting that it maybe is not going to be something you can change—and then deciding that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person and deserve to be talked down about.
While Saki says Yoshiko is “really a good girl,” it’s not that Yoshiko has changed at all. It’s that Saki has changed how she sees her daughter. And in the end, she takes back her apologies—very literally, when a single paper crane apology remains.
They say if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, any wish of yours will come true. But Saki doesn’t need to fold them anymore.