YIDFF 2015 Perspectives Japan
Okinawa: The Afterburn
An Interview with John Junkerman (Director)

What Lies in the Background

Q: Urizun (the Japanese title of the film is Okinawa: The Rain of Urizun) means “the beginning of the moisture,” referring to the season from Okinawa’s spring to early plum rain season, May. In the film, Tamaki Yoko says that people often fall ill this time of year because it reminds them of the Battle of Okinawa which started on April 1. That comment hit a chord for me.

JJ: It’s not only those who experienced the war. I initially went to see Ms. Tamaki because I’d heard she writes tanka (classical Japanese poetry) about the importance of peace. I learned that she had grown up in Ishikawa City where the “Yumiko-chan incident” (the 1955 rape and murder of a six-year-old girl by an American soldier) happened, and that she herself had survived an abduction by American soldiers. For Okinawan people who’d lived that era, the occupation remains, above all, a time of suffering and painful memories.

When we were filming this documentary, we started from the Cornerstone of Peace (monument commemorating those who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa), and went on to visit Itoman City and Yomitan Village. Everywhere we went, there were memorial services being held. That shows that each one of those neighborhoods had suffered from battle and casualties. Every year, people take their children and grandchildren to these ceremonies and swear to the souls of the dead that they will not let war happen again. The Okinawa people have continued to pass on their war memories to the younger generation. That’s why they become emotional with the coming of the urizun season, even if they did not experience war firsthand.

Q: In “Part 3: Violation,” you interview the former US soldier who was a perpetrator of sexual violence. Did you also go talk to victims?

JJ: No, we decided that Ms. Tamaki’s interview was enough. As for presenting Rodrico Harp, the offender—it was important for us to include a discussion of rape and sexual violence in the film because it is a constant throughout the 70-year history of post-war Okinawa. Data on the number of victims is important, but we wanted to focus on showing what’s actually behind the figures. How one of the perpetrators found himself committing the crime, what he thinks as he looks back on it now. Rodrico Harp is a mild-natured man who spoke frankly with us. My impression tells me that he would never have been involved in such a rape in America. He thought it was allowed because it was Okinawa. American troops in Okinawa can’t help looking at the locals through a colonist’s perspective. There’s a hierarchy in their social status, and when they experience how the pleasure quarters around the military base service them, they get the wrong idea—that everyone welcomes the American forces and that US soldiers have special privileges.

“Part 3: Violation” is not only about sexual violence. The act of violation goes back to the mass suicides (during the Battle), in Chibichiri Gama among other places. The presence of military forces and their bases itself is a sign of making light of people’s lives. You can see how Okinawa as a whole is under this abusive situation.

Q: What do you think will be the best future for Japan-US relations?

JJ: The issue of (moving the Futenma Base to coastal) Henoko and the recent legislature on collective self-defense are strongly connected. The only difference is the scale of the discussion, while the essence is the same. It’s about the state ignoring the democratic voice and forcing through a decision. During the 70 years since the end of war, the Japanese Constitution and national security legislature have been in contradiction. As we think about the future, I believe this discrepancy must be corrected. We need to think about how to build up peace in eastern Asia, how to draw up a road map and plan to put things in practice. The problem won’t be solved right away, but I hope the next two or three decades will see us producing a new system.

(Compiled by Kimuro Shiho)

Interviewers: Kimuro Shiho, Yoneda Mai / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Numata Azusa / Video: Numata Azusa / 2015-10-06 in Tokyo