YIDFF 2019 Perspectives Japan
Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in Okinawa
An Interview with Mikami Chie, Oya Hanayo (Directors)

History of War Helps Us Think About Today

Q: Ms Mikami, previous films of yours have been about people’s movements dealing with the US military base issue. Why did you take the Battle of Okinawa as your theme this time?

Mikami Chie (MC): My films about the US bases in Okinawa were intended to call out for recognition that the issue is “about all of us in Japan (and not only Okinawa).” But I would still be getting comments like “we pity you in Okinawa,” and I had a hard think after my last film. My conclusion was, looking at the Battle of Okinawa would be the only way I could discuss the current crisis in Japan regarding democracy and the separation of three powers today. I’ve been interested in the Battle of Okinawa since I was around 12, and am actually more familiar in this field than others, so it was only natural that I would try my hand with this topic.

Q: How did you think to connect this film with Japan today?

MC: It’s the issue of the Self-Defense Forces. Lots of people are supportive of an anti-US base movement in Okinawa, but if you say you are against the Self-Defense Forces, there’s a hesitation. For the SDF which are basically the military forces of Japan to be re-deployed in Okinawa—that would be repeating what happened in 1944. Okinawans at the time believed that the incoming Japanese military were there to protect them, but that was not at all the case. Learning what really happened then is an important lesson for people nationwide today who may be thinking vaguely, “If the Self-Defense Forces are stationed in Okinawa, we’ll surely be protected.”

Q: What kind of characters were the young men who were conducting espionage?

MC: You can look at them from the perspective of whether they later decided to face victims and confront the facts of their violent deeds or not, if you put aside the issue of guilt. Look at Lieutenant Takeshita, the spy who executed those young boys. In Nakijin Village, the local people worship a Buddhist goddess of mercy named Takeshita Kannon. “Why would they worship a murderer?” you may ask. That has to do with the accumulation of time, decades after the war, during which the villagers and Lt. Takeshita’s bereaved family spent trying to learn from each other. The villagers thought they were victims, but on the other side the lieutenant’s parents suffered from losing the brilliant first son they’d loved. It’s easy to accept the narrative of a cut-throat killer doing bad deeds, but why would a charming 23-year old would do that? You wonder. So when the two sides spent time conversing with each other, the villagers were offered the opportunity to look at the problem from another perspective, with more information about the background and family. It’s really meaningful because they found the chance to think, for the first time, “what would I do if it were me?” and move closer to the core of the matter.

Oya Hanayo: Yamashita Torao himself made three trips to Okinawa after the war even though he was slapped with a letter of permanent rejection. So you could say he has some kind of commitment to the islands. I have been reporting on former American soldiers these past years and found that their inability to acknowledge guilt is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even after the war, Yamashita was never able to admit to his crimes nor publicly apologize. Perhaps this was the effect of a traumatic disorder. No one knows the truth, but there are many perspectives and I imagine there must have been internal conflict for him.

(Compiled by Miyamoto Airi)

Interviewers: Miyamoto Airi, Nagatsuka Ai / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Oshita Yumi / Video: Oshita Yumi / 2019-10-14