On April 1, 1945, the United States military launched its invasion of the main island of Okinawa, the start of a battle that was to last 12 weeks and claim the lives of some 240,000 people. This film depicts the Battle through the eyes of Japanese and American soldiers who fought each other on the same battlefield, along with Okinawa civilians who were swept up in the fighting, complemented by extensive archival footage from the US National Archives.
The film also depicts the history of discrimination and oppression forced upon Okinawa by the American and Japanese governments, from the postwar occupation through the present. Carrying up to the current controversy over the construction of a new base at Henoko, the film explores the root causes of the widespread disillusionment and anger expressed by many Okinawans.
This ambitious documentary was directed by the American filmmaker John Junkerman. His previous films include Uminchu: The Old Man and the East China Sea, featuring the rugged beauty of the Okinawan island, Yonaguni; and Japanfs Peace Constitution, exploring the global significance of Japanfs pacifist national charter. Okinawa: The Afterburn is a heartfelt plea for peace and an expression of deep respect for the unyielding spirit of the Okinawa people.
Part 1 The Battle of Okinawa depicts the ferocious land battle through the testimony of Japanese and American soldiers who faced off in the conflict, along with Okinawans who were mobilized to assist Japanese forces on the front lines. Extensive research into the archival record from the battle produced a filmic account that parallels the eyewitness accounts.
Organized resistance to the US invasion ended on June 23, 1945, but Part 2 Occupation reveals how the military occupation policies were implemented immediately after the April 1 landing, with the construction of bases and civilian detention camps. The occupation continued during the 1950s and 1960s, sparking a persistent anti-base movement, fueled by an abiding desire for peace among the island population.
Part 3 Violation begins with accounts of the group suicide at the Chibichiri-gama cave in Yomitan during the 1945 invasion, then explores the history of sexual violence that has accompanied the American military presence on Okinawa, first from the perspective of woman who was abducted as a child, and then through the account of one of the perpetrators of the notorious 1995 rape of a 12-year old girl. We also learn from reporting in the US that military sexual violence is perhaps even more widespread inside the fences of the US bases; scores of rapes are perpetrated by Americans against fellow servicemen and women every year on Okinawa.
In Part 4 To the Future, we explore the Japanese governmentfs decision to build a new base in Henoko, despite the strong opposition of the Okinawa people. The developments are seen as a reflection of decades of discriminatory treatment, while the commitment to bring about a future that is no longer burdened by the bases remains unflagging.
In 1975-76, just after finishing university, I spent six months living in Koza, Okinawa, outside the Kadena Air Force Base, working as a staff member for group that provided legal support to GI resisters. The war in Vietnam had just ended, and Okinawa showed signs of recently having been used as the staging area for the war. It was 30 years since the Battle of Okinawa, but it was still evident how much of the island had been burned to the ground. There were few tall trees and many of the dwellings had roofs of sheet metal.
Three years had passed since control over Okinawa had been returned to Japan in 1972, but the bases were still an overwhelming presence. There was a slogan at the time, that gOkinawa exists within the bases,h and it seemed literally true.
I have felt since that time that I had a responsibility to convey the reality of Okinawa to the American public and the wider world, which was at the time and remains still today largely ignorant of that reality.
One aspect of Okinawafs reality is embodied in the title of our film. gAfterburnh refers to how a burn continues to grow deeper even after the flame is extinguished. Those who experienced the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest and most extensive battle of the Pacific War, have lived with that trauma ever since. This is true of the American veterans, and the Japanese veterans. But it is especially true of the Okinawan civilians, of whom 150,000\one in four of the islandfs population\were killed. For them, the war has never ended, literally so, because their island remains a military bastion.
Having experienced the unfathomable tragedy of the Battle, the Okinawa people developed a deep-seated antipathy to war. American soldiers also shed blood and lives in the Battle, but the US military came to see Okinawa and its land as gthe spoils of war,h and built expansive bases throughout the island. Using them as a staging ground, the US has fought wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East from Okinawa. Thus, an Okinawan culture that seeks peace has been forced to coexist with an American culture that chooses war, within the confines of a narrow island (Okinawa is just one-third the size of Long Island, and home to 32 US military installations).
Unarmed, nonviolent Okinawans engaged the most powerful military in the world in an antiwar, anti-base struggle that began with island-wide demonstrations in the 1950s and continues today with the overwhelming opposition to the new base at Henoko. I was deeply moved when I first encountered this unyielding spirit of pacifism in 1975. Now 40 years later, this unbreakable spirit has only grown stronger. This is the other aspect of Okinawafs reality that I felt committed to convey. It is the spirit captured by the Japanese title of the film, gUrizun no Ame,h meaning, gthe rains of Urizun (early spring).h It is the season of hope, as it is also the season of remembrance of the Battle of Okinawa.
The struggle against the US bases on Okinawa will likely continue for a many years. The Okinawan people are not going to give up. But I donft think, in the end, it is the Okinawans who are responsible for putting an end to the treatment of their islands as the gspoils of war.h That responsibility lies with the American people, and with the Japanese people. Whether we will bear that responsibility or not is the challenge that is posed for us.
John Junkerman was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1952. He spent a year in Japan as an exchange student in 1969, and since graduating from Stanford University has split his time between Japan and the US. His first documentary, Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima (1986), profiled the atomic bomb artists MARUKI Iri and Toshi and was nominated for an Academy Award. Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times (2002) was the first documentary to focus on the American response to the 9.11 terror attacks. Japanfs Peace Constitution (2005) was chosen as the Kinema Jumpo Best Documentary of the Year.
No place in the world surpasses Okinawa as a symbol of the bitter legacies of war since World War Two. And no voices are more eloquent in calling for peace and equality than the voices of the people of Okinawa.
All this is captured in Okinawa: The Afterburn. With great intimacy, Siglo's balanced, engrossing film takes us from the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 through the postwar colonization by US military forces to the struggles of the present day.
American as well as Okinawan voices bear testimony to the horrors of the war between the United States and Japan, the American abuse of power during the Cold War, the betrayal of Okinawa by politicians in Tokyo even after the Cold War ended. Visuals come from many perspectives, including compelling archival footage from the war.
And yet despite the oppression and discrimination we encounter, the voices we hear are so dignified and articulate that one emerges not just with understanding and admiration, but also with hope. This is the outstanding accomplishment of Okinawa: The Afterburn.
John W. Dower Emeritus Professor Massachusetts Inst. of Technology
A terrific tour-de-force, beautifully integrating the history with a contemporary perspective. The interviews are all relevant and treat a complex topic with the dignity of complexity it deserves, without losing sight of the message. It also ends up being a persuasive comment on the American presence all over the world. A remarkable film!