For three months over the summer, a group of about 40 students, led by Associate Professor Yosuke Fukai of the Center for Culture and Language Education, got together to make a short movie in French.
Titled "Qui Suis-Je?" (Who Am I?), the 20-minute movie is a detective story featuring a body-switch and a murder mystery. It was conceived, scripted, acted, filmed and edited by the students, all of whom are learning French.
The project was supported by a government-funded grant, but as it was done outside the official curriculum, students did not receive academic credit for their participation. Instead they gained something potentially more useful.
"I want students to not just learn a foreign language, but also to develop useful career-based skills, such as good communication skills, taking initiative, and learning to cooperate and work with others," said Fukai, who had the idea of making a movie because of the many elements required. "Project-based learning is most effective when it's a project that the students have to collaborate on. It also helps to motivate them when there's an audience for the final product."
Fukai teaches French language and literature. He had spent five and a half years at the Sorbonne in Paris, studying the works of 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud. More recently, his research has included the effectiveness of group work and French education for the purpose of career development.
"Many companies ask in interviews what students do outside of classes and it helps to be able to talk about a highly collaborative project like this," he said. "Aside from film making skills, the students also show themselves to be hardworking, patient and willing to persevere."
"I joined the project because I wanted to do something new, something I had never done before," said Keiko Shimayama, who worked as an editor on the film. "I speak only a little bit of French but I enjoyed getting to know many new people in this class and learning how to make a movie."
Shu Takeda was a cameraman on the project. "I didn't know anything about cameras when I started, so I read books to try to teach myself," he said. "I was also lucky to meet a professional movie editor and he gave me a lot of advice on how to make a good movie. I think I have grown so much doing this project. I made good relationships and got new ways of thinking by working with other people."
Fukai encourages his students to use well-established Japanese tropes - such as featuring sentai rangers on a previous project, and the detective story this time - in order to promote Japanese culture through French language. "Just because you are learning French doesn't mean that you have to only talk about French things. You can learn about your own culture or share your own culture in French to French-speaking people."
The film has been uploaded onto YouTube and other social network platforms and Fukai plans to make it part of a series. In just one week, "Qui Suis-Je?" has earned nearly 2,000 views and attracted dozens of positive comments, many from French speaking countries around the world.
There will be a special screening of the film - including a student panel discussion - on October 12 when Campus France comes to Tohoku University. Campus France is an initiative by the French government to promote opportunities in France for university students around the world.
For details of the "Qui Suis-Je?" screening - as well as other Campus France events that are open to all students, faculty and staff - click here (Campus France poster PDF).
For further enquiries about Campus France:
Tohoku University Student Exchange Division
Tel: +81 22-795-4818
For enquiries about the "Qui Suis-Je?" project:
Associate Professor Yosuke Fukai
Tohoku University Center for Culture and Language Education