Labour Of Love: “My Invincible Compass”

An Interview With Director Matt Miller

By Melodie Cook
September 14, 2020
Community Support, Families

After learning about his own family story, Matt Miller started a project that became a life purpose. With his movie “My Invincible Compass”, he wishes to tell the many stories of children in care, and help them through awareness.

About a year ago, I heard about a Kickstarter campaign for a film about children in care in Japan. I donated funds and have been keeping an eye on the project as it has been progressing. It is in post-production now and another fundraising campaign is on the way, so I thought I would help the film’s director, Matt Miller, by interviewing him about this important project which aligns so well with my own desire to inform people living in Japan about adoption and fostering

From personal history to a passion project

This is a very personal endeavor for Matt. The idea for this film was sparked by Matt’s father, Jim, who was born and institutionalized in Sasebo, Nagasaki until he was adopted and moved to America at the age of 10. Matt’s biological grandfather was a member of the American navy who vanished after his term in Japan was over; his biological grandmother is Japanese. 

In 1957, Jim was among the last group of seven mixed-race children allowed to be adopted out of Japan. When he landed in America, he knew nothing about the country, nor any English. Although he never returned to Japan, his traumatic experiences here followed him into adulthood. His generation was taught to grin and bear it, so he never sought counseling or talked of his experiences with anyone. 


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However, although he tried to suppress his feelings, he suffered a mental breakdown when Matt’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Mental health professionals linked his psychological collapse to a reminder of the feelings he had remembering watching his biological mother walking away after placing him in an orphanage. Thinking that his wife was going to abandon him in death was what recalled a resurgence of his former trauma.

Getting back to his roots

This happened when Matt was 16; his father then “shut down” from his family, which had been firmly connected prior to Matt’s mother’s illness. Jim was diagnosed with radical attachment disorder (RAD) common among adopted/foster children and usually exhibited in childhood. Matt and his father had a tenuous relationship for 10 years which was troubling, yet Matt realized that he wanted to know more about Jim and his own Japanese history. In addition, he wanted to explore more about psychological issues affecting people like his father. In 2006, he decided to move to Japan to find answers to his questions, and perhaps help his father heal in the process.

Matt connected with the house mother at the orphanage Jim had lived in Sasebo; she told him that most of the children had had “a difficult time growing up” due to a lack of mental health counseling and no one to express their pain to. Matt searched and found his biological family, but the reunion was bittersweet and short-lived. Although he met his grandmother in 2010 and had a wonderful reunion with her, he learned that after Matt’s biological grandfather returned to the US, she had married a violent gambler and alcoholic. She had put Jim into care because she believed it would be the best thing to do for him.

When Matt met his aunts and uncles, who had stayed with his grandmother, he realized that they had all suffered from emotional and physical mistreatment from their abusive stepfather. Matt said that although it was “a very healing moment for my family” to learn about the truth, other family members wanted the grandmother to sever her connection with her “shameful” mixed-race family. She was forced to choose between continuing her relationship with her grandson or becoming homeless.


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From his story to their story

Understanding that Matt could do nothing more for his father, he turned his efforts to seeking out NPOs around Japan who were supporting abandoned, abused, and orphaned children in care and began volunteering at institutions. It was then he realized that “I can’t help my father, but these children, they actually need help right now. And if they can get the counseling and they can get the support, they can work through their pain. They actually won’t end up as bad as my father.”

So, Matt’s mission since 2010 has been to help children in care get the support they need and although he had no prior experience with filmmaking, believed that making a movie would be the best way to raise awareness, especially among Japanese people. It took him five years, between 2010 and 2015 to get permission to begin filming at various care facilities around Japan, spending his time building trust and getting to know the children and caregivers.

One part of “My Invincible Compass” follows Tomoya through institutional care to aging out of Japan’s care system. Another part of the film explains the kinds of trauma children go through, told in a fairy tale accessible to both adults and children. The third part contains interviews with foster and adoptive families as well as children who have aged out of the system. 

Maybe I can be a little part of this”

What Matt hopes is that Japanese families will see the film, which he will freely distribute to schools, universities, and any groups wanting to help raise awareness around foster care and adoption in Japan, and hopes will be available on a major streaming service. His vision is that “Typical Japanese families will watch this and go, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t know this existed! But wait a minute, I see this Japanese family who’s fostering and who’s adopting and there are these children who need help. Maybe that can be me! Maybe I can be a little part of this.’”

This passion project is Matt’s main focus. Although he teaches English classes and does videography work to live on, most of his hours are put into “My Invincible Compass”. He says that his passion is “imagination and play” and through the film, he wants to honor children who have been “stripped away of their innocence” and help them embrace imagination and joy.

While he receives unending encouragement and emotional support from his wife, he still requires financial support for this film. Matt will be holding another fundraiser from September 13-22, but please consider contributing to this very worthy project any time using the link below. The post-production of “My Invincible Compass” should be finished in December.

I am shy and reserved most of the time.  I don’t like attention and I don’t like speaking up. But if it helps other children living in institutional care around Japan, I feel I need to stand up and share my story.

– Tomoya

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