Okinawa—Nexus of Borders: Ryukyu Reflections

Part 10
Diffused Reflections of Okinawa

Okinawa is a cinematic archipelago. This is not simply because of the ease of depicting situations in the brilliance of the subtropical sun, nor because of the sheer number of works that have been produced. It is true as far as the quality suggested by the images, expanding across borders. Why is it that so many eyes have turned to Okinawa, why has Okinawa provoked so much desire for expression? This is a reality that remains unexplained. The numerous films produced and in production now create diffused reflections of Okinawa. From this departure point, what kind of cinematic voyage will the new generation of filmmakers embark on? Let us turn our attention to the works of these active auteurs.


1 The Reflection of Okinawan Images

White Mural

(“Shiroi hekiga”)

1942 / B&W / 35mm / 96 min
Please note that this film is a reverse print from the 35mm master print, and that there may be difficulties with sound and picture quality.

Director: Chiba Yasuki
Script: Yoshida Fumio
Photography: Nakai Asakazu
SFX: Tsuburaya Eiji
Music: Suzuki Seiichi
Art Director: Abe Teruaki
Producer: Koi Hideo
Cast: Irie Takako, Tsukigata Ryunosuke, Hanai Ranko
Production Company: Toho
Source: National Film Center

This is the story of a young doctor who ventured to Iriomote Island to treat the endemic Black Water Fever. This entertaining film about the trials of an earnest young doctor is also a clear-cut depiction of pre-war Okinawa, especially of scenery from a far-flung island (actual filming took place on the Okinawan main island.) Contemporary Japanese audiences must have enjoyed this humanistic drama about an enterprising Japanese doctor in the country’s southern-most region (Taiwan, which is further south, was not a legitimate Japanese land but a colony).

- Sonatine


1993 / Color / 35mm / 94 min

Director, Script, Editing: Kitano Takeshi
Photography: Yanagishima Katsumi
Sound: Horiuchi Senji
Music Director: Hisaishi Jo
Art Director: Sasaki Osamu
Executive Producer: Okuyama Kazuyoshi
Producers: Mori Masayuki, Nabeshima Hisao, Yoshida Takio
Cast: Beat Takeshi, Kokumai Aya, Watanabe Tetsu, Terashima Susumu, Osugi Ren
Production Companies: Bandai Visual, Shochiku Dai-ichi Kogyo
Source: Shochiku

In Boiling Point (1990) Kitano Takeshi focused on the peculiar experiences of young men who went to Okinawa for absurd reasons under absurd circumstances. The characters leave Tokyo for Okinawa, and then return to Tokyo. Okinawa was a stage for “transformation.” In Sonatine, produced three years later, Okinawa is a dead end. Beat Takeshi’s hit man goes to Okinawa with his followers in tow, and the film concludes with violence, play, escape, men, women, enemy and friends.


2 Okinawa Mixed and Split

- Pineapple Tours

1992 / Okinawan, Japanese / Color / 35mm / 118 min / Japanese and English subtitled version

Director, Editing, Original Idea: Makiya Tsutomu, Nakae Yuji, Toma Hayashi
Script: Makiya Tsutomu
Photography: Ichinose Masafumi
Sound: Takizawa Osamu
Music: Teruya Rinken
Art Director: Wauke Fumio
Producer: Daishima Haruhiko
Cast <Episode one>: Kaneshima Reiko, Ara Yukito, Tomita Megumi
<Episode two>: Riju Go, Miyagi Yuko
<Episode three>: Tsuha Shinichi, Nakasone Aino, Doguchi Yoriko
Planning, Production Companies: Sukoburu Kobo, Panari Pictures, Ryuei
Source: Sukoburu Kobo

Made in the late 1980s, this is the first commercial film by three former members of a film club at Ryukyu University. The film’s music, actresses and actors, and its use of Uchinayamato-guchi, a hybrid of Okinawan dialect and standard Japanese language, hint at the 1980s popularization/commercialization of Okinawan culture, and anticipates cultural trends of the late 1990s and beyond.

- Fighting Rabbit

(“Tatakau usagi”)

1992 / No dialogue / Color / 8mm / 42 min

Director, Photography, Editing, Source: Gushiken Tsuyoshi

Gushiken Tsuyoshi has made personal films since the late 1980s and was twenty-six when he made this film. He reconstructed this work from 8mm clips of his family following his younger brother’s death in a traffic accident. Fighting Rabbit refers to the tenacity of rabbits competing with chickens for food at his uncle’s house, and the desire “to give it your best shot.”

- Hitchhiker

1977 / B&W / 16mm / 15 min

Director, Script: Jahana Yuzuru
Photography: Nakamura Hitoshi
Sound: Aoki Kiyokado
Cast: Ochi Sadao
Source: Jahana Yuzuru

This is a drama shot on 16mm film in post-occupation Okinawa by Jahana Yuzuru, who was a university student in Tokyo. The story starts when an American-looking girl on a bicycle picks up a young hitchhiker and tries to go to the U.S. with him. On the way, they come up against an American base and meet an American named Roy running a marathon around the base, and they circle the base together. This interesting work contrasts the young man’s dreams of America and the full force of U.S. military bases in Okinawa (film shows the Yokota base in Kanagawa prefecture).

Swell Air—Short Film Collection by New Talent from Okinawa

In any era we can find creators who draw nourishment from the soil and air of their particular locale. In particular, young creators in Okinawa have been making numerous short video works, in step with global trends. This collection features a few of these works. Three artists were previously introduced on NHK’s Digital Stadium program this June and received considerable attention for their superb computer graphics and animation: Komatsu Hashihito’s Tobukotsu, Kawabata Shoji’s Ninja 2000 Millennium, Matayoshi Hiroshi’s Wonder Frog and his latest work, The Summer Vacation Experiment. This collection also includes Kameshima Makoto’s Unfixed, notable for its distinctive atmosphere. The independent filmmaking group Mix Breed Film Family, founded in 1999 by a group of college friends, is represented with Miyahira Takako’s Call, evoking a delicate Okinawan autumn. Ryukyu Underground “Hana” director Gushiken Tsuyoshi (Fighting Rabbit) has been making 8mm independent films since the 1980s and currently is involved with most of Nakae Yuji’s films. Toma Hayashi (Pineapple Tours) started to make films in Okinawa as a university student, and has been covering the the band “Yachimun” since 1990. This has been compiled on the DVD The Legend of Yachimun, and three dynamic pieces will be shown as part of this collection. This colorfully woven collection of works bursts with individuality and defies categorization.

2001 / Color / Video / 8 min
Director, Producer, Source: Komatsu Hashihito
Cast: Hisami Natsuko, Taira Satoshi, Takami Naoto

Ninja 2000 Millennium
2001 / Color / Video / 13 min
Director, Script, Music, Source: Kawabata Shoji
Photography: Momohara Takashi, Taira Ryuichi, Aragaki Ryuta
Editing: Kawabata Shoji, Taira Ryuichi
Sound: Gushi Yoshie, SAYAKA, Isa Natsumi
Cast: Takemura Hirotaka, Momohara Takashi, Oshiro Kazuhisa, Higa Shoichiro, Taira Ryuichi
Planning, Production: TEAM Natchan

- Wonder Frog
2001 / No dialogue / Color / Video / 6 min
Director, Source: Matayoshi Hiroshi
Music: Akamine Keitaro
Clay modeling: Nakagaki Hidenoshin

The Summer Vacation Experiment
2002 / Color / Video / 3 min
Director, Source: Matayoshi Hiroshi
Cast: Matsuda Sachio

2003 / Color / Video / 10 min
Director, Source: Kameshima Makoto

- Call
2001 / Color / Video / 19 min
Director, Source: Miyahira Takako
Cast: Helena, Nakamoto Akiko, Shimoji Toshiya
Mix Breed Film Family

- Ryukyu Underground “Hana—A Flower for Each Person’s Heart”
2003 / Color / Video / 5 min
Director, Photography, Editing: Gushiken Tsuyoshi
Appearance: Ryukyu Underground
Producer: Nakae Yuji
Source: Respect Record

- Yachimun “Sky Blue”
1994 / Color / Video / 6 min
Director, Photography, Editing, Source: Toma Hayashi
Assistant Photography: Taketomi Yoshimi
Appearance: Yachimun (Nasu Shigeki, Motomura Saneatsu, Kawakami Takeshi)
Producers: Shige & Hayashi

- Yachimun “Kitamae Song”
1994 / Color / Video / 5 min
Director, Photography, Editing, Source: Toma Hayashi
Appearance: Yachimun (Nasu Shigeki, Motomura Saneatsu, Kawakami Takeshi)
Producers: Shige & Hayashi

- Yachimun ’93 LIVE in OFT Opening Movie
1993 / Color / Video / 11 min
- Director, Photography, Editing, Source: Toma Hayashi
Appearance: Yachimun (Nasu Shigeki, Motomura Saneatsu, Taira Juri, Gibe Takayuki, Sato Hajime, Nakamura Kazuhiro)
Interviewer: Taketomi Yoshimi
Producers: Shige & Hayashi

• 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