Japan’s distinctive animated movies have become ubiquitous in recent years, with their saucer-eyed cartoon characters permeating both Asian and Western culture. A small Japanese NGO based in Siem Reap province believes “anime” can also inspire poor Cambodian children to dream of brighter futures.
For the past month, Create A Theater in Cambodia (CATiC) has been traveling to rural villages in Siem Reap with a film projector and a white sheet to show the Japanese animated movie “Hal’s Flute” to hundreds of children.
“Our mission is to make a world where all children can carve out their own lives with dreams, regardless of the limitations of their backgrounds—this is the happy ending we imagine,” said Saori Kyoraiseki, 32, the founder of CATiC, who works a full-time office job in Tokyo and visits Cambodia in her spare time.
CATiC was established in 2012 and up until this year, its activities were funded exclusively out of pocket by 10 Japanese volunteers with a passion for anime.
For its most recent monthlong series of film screenings between February and March, the organization used Japanese crowd-sourcing service Motion Gallery and collected about $9,000 from a total of 89 supporters in just 45 days.
All but $1,000 was spent on paying copyright costs to screen the film, travel expenses and accommodation for volunteers, equipment rental and finally paying a small number of employees, including drivers and a Khmer-Japanese interpreter.
Though the project is in its relative infancy, with its scope restrained by limited resources and the availability of its volunteers, the enthusiastic response of the communities CATiC has visited has emboldened Ms. Kyoraiseki to expand the project.
“We would like to establish a system of ‘Film Deliverers,’ which employs local Cambodian people to deliver films to the children on a regular, ongoing basis,” she said, adding that she hopes to train 100 people to deliver anime to rural children by the end of 2016.
Neak Reatthy, a 21-year-old Japanese-Khmer translator and one of the NGO’s only paid employees, says local authorities have been receptive to the project because villagers, and especially young children, are so excited by watching “Hal’s Flute.”
The film, which has been dubbed into Khmer, tells the story of Hal, a raccoon dog disguised as a human mother, and Pal, the raccoon dog’s adopted human infant, who has been abandoned in the forest. Pal grows up to become a gifted flute player and eventually leaves home to study with a famous musician.
“Authorities have understood the purpose of the film is to educate,” Mr. Reatthy said. “In our interviews with the children afterward, many said they want to be teachers, showing they understand the meaning of the film.”
In villages where the film has been shown, hundreds of children and adults alike have crowded around makeshift cinema screens made from bamboo poles as the small band of volunteers screen the movie.
“The film is a colorful cartoon and is funny for children to watch but I also watched it too and enjoyed it,” said Pheang Poeu, chief of Rohal village in Siem Reap City’s Nokor Thom commune. Rohal is one of five villages where the movie has been screened this month.
“The film is funny but it has a hidden meaning for children to help them understand the value of learning and to be respectful of wildlife and animals,” he added.
Sart Oeun’s 6-year-old granddaughter was too shy to speak to a reporter about her opinion of the film, but the 61-year-old said that she had laughed at the story of Pal and Hal.
“Not only children, but old people were also laughing,” she said.
“It teaches children to follow the cartoon to become a good person in the future.”