From the current buzz around Hollywood, the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” about a destitute boy from the Mumbai slums who becomes a phenomenally successful quiz show contestant on Indian TV's version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” seems a sure thing to win numerous Academy Awards.
Perhaps this need to empathize with the underprivileged may help boost sales of the recently released photo collection “Kabukicho no Kokoro-chan” (Kodansha, 1,500 yen).
According to Shukan Gendai (Feb 7), Kwon Chol, a 42-year-old Korean photojournalist, has chronicled the mean streets of Kabukicho for the past 12 years. Kwon’s newest work introduces touching scenes of a homeless 4-year-old girl he first encountered there in September, 2007.
“What’s your name?” he asked her. “Kokoro!” she replied, holding up four small fingers to indicate her age and grinning to reveal badly stained teeth.
Her parents, from a nearby prefecture, had moved to Tokyo, where they shifted from job to job, and eventually wound up living on the streets of Shinjuku.
Apparently from age three onward, Kokoro was left to wander around Kabukicho on her own, waiting for her mother to return from work. According to Kwon, other homeless fed her -- items such as hamburgers with expired consume-by dates and ice cream -- and she adapted naturally to her surroundings.
“Her living room was a game arcade,” he’s quoted. “Her toilet was the toilet in the arcade. She’d walk around the plaza in front of Koma Theater in her bare feet. Maybe she regarded it the way other kids think of their own backyards.”
Kwon tells Shukan Gendai he became emotionally involved in the child’s well being, helping her father to find a job and assisting the family in the search for affordable housing. But at the same time he couldn't resist snapping photos of Kokoro-chan, padding about the entertainment district in a tiny hooded sweatshirt, carrying discarded cardboard boxes and sleeping on the sidewalk.
“I have to accept that I’m not really a professional,” Kwon admits. The scenes in his book, of a street child smiling with a mouth filled with cavities, seem out of place in Japan's prosperous capital city.
Kwon was relieved when the homeless chapter of Kokoro-chan’s saga came to an end, and her mother obtained admittance to a welfare facility. Assuming things have since gone well, she should be entering first grade from April.© Japan Today