Okinawa—Nexus of Borders: Ryukyu Reflections

An Intersection of Okinawa Images:
Memory, Documentary and Dreams

The purpose of this special event is to provide a reading of “Okinawa,” reconstructing the plethora of images of Okinawa from the vantage point of the present. Yet it is not meant to be a history of images of Okinawa. The program and films might offer such a history but this is merely a result and not the intention. That a history of this sort is possible is proof that many images of Okinawa have continued to be shot and produced.

The planning of this special program consciously avoided the usual chronological arrangement of films. Informed instead by the present relationship of Japan, the world and Okinawa, it started out as a rereading of the past century and a half of images related to Okinawa, a broader variety of works than what is usually referred to as “Okinawan film.” Further, it had to take into consideration the conditions at the time the films were originally produced and shown, the intentions of the producers, cameramen, and directors, and the critical reaction the films elicited at the time of release. We looked at these films together regardless of their expressive form—whether they were documentary films, feature films, newsreels, PR films, independent films, TV documentaries and regardless of whether they were shot in film or video.

Why did we take this approach toward the program?

Whether one considers Okinawa as seen by Japan or by Okinawa itself there are few things that have been brought to closure in terms of either the general facts or the memories of those involved and those around them. Even as many of the actual images touch on various categories such as “memory,” “documentary,” “oral tradition,” “rejection and denial” or “escape,” they continue to live on in the present of 2003. Okinawa seen from the various perspectives of Japan, Okinawa, and abroad—or Japan, Okinawa and the foreign as reflected in that vision of Okinawa—may seem at first glance discontinuous yet they are in fact connected. In the continuity of Okinawa, however, there are two historical events that mark important turning points.

The first is the Battle of Okinawa, the only engagement between U.S. and Japanese armies on Japanese soil. As a result, Okinawa was separated from Japan and placed under American rule (in a structure of double authority under the Ryukyu government) until 1972. However, there has yet to be a satisfactory response to the Battle of Okinawa or the question, “Why didn’t the Japanese Army involve Japanese civilians in a fight for the mainland as it did in Okinawa?” Japan’s unconditional surrender to the U.S. rendered this issue unresolvable.

The other important turning point was the reversion of Okinawa to mainland Japan in 1972. The reversion was not just a momentary event. In Okinawa, it was viewed as an escape from American dominance and as a spiritual return to being Japanese, and functioned as the temporal and conflictual axis around which Okinawan identity was constructed. At the same time, for Japan, it represented the final tallying of the post-war period. The intersection of both of these vectors appeared in the reversion, and the challenge of this program has been to examine what that intersection means thirty years later.

Okinawa continues to occupy a distinctive place in Japan because of these two important turning points, and also in terms of topography and geography and the specific historical circumstances of its unique monarchical system that until a century and a half ago developed and supported particular values (in the sense of not having to assimilate itself into others).

The ten-part outline was a natural outcome from reading the films. In a sense, the very approach of reading the works from the perspective of the present deliniated the ten sections. In rethinking the keyword Okinawa and the numerous categories of visual expression, the diverse incarnations of Okinawa that appeared in images was so dizzying there was uncertainty about whether these images could actually be productively grouped together. The images brought under the umbrella of the keyword Okinawa highlighted the multiple aspects of its existence. We would like to point out beforehand that many films could not be shown because of the limitations of the overall screening time during the YIDFF, although we are confident that the arrangement of films is the most suitable possible.

Surprisingly, the overall program revealed clearly the worldview of the filmmakers whose works appear in this program. The films reconfirmed the strong will of the filmmakers beyond mere technique, which turns ordinary images into strong ones. Each film offers a feeling of freedom on the stage called Okinawa. We hope that those participating in the YIDFF will experience that feeling and it will be a pleasure if each film conveys that feeling to you in a different form.

The emergency legislation passed in June 2003 now permits Japan to go to war. This legislation emerges from a perspective that would have been spurned in the years immediately following the Pacific War, and undeniably symbolizes a critical turning point.

“Japan” will most likely continue undergoing significant transformations. In the midst of these changes the boundary that is “Okinawa” and its particular situation, memories, positions, and values will continue to become clearer. It is our hope that these will broaden the possibilities of Japan’s future.

—Nakazato Isao, Ito Shigeaki (author of introduction), Hama Haruka

• Okinawa—Nexus of Borders: Ryukyu Reflections | Part 1: Oriental Ryukyus: Showa Era Pre-war Perspectives on Okinawa | Part 2: The Battle of Okinawa: The final Conflict between the U.S. and Japan | Part 3: The Battle of Okinawa in Relief / A Chronicle of Memories | Part 4: Americanization and Japanization | Part 5: Caught Between Different Worlds / When the 27th Parallel Disappears | Part 6: Okinawan Diaspora / Leaving Okinawa | Part 7: Okinawa: Colonial Landscape | Part 8: Earth Songs and Celestial Fantasies | Part 9: The World of Takamine Go: Blood (chi), Earth (chi), Wisdom (chi), Foolishness (chi), and “chi” | Part 10: Diffused Reflections of Okinawa