A Film by John Junkerman
Produced in Japan by Yamagami Tetsujiro
121 minutes/Color/HD 16:9/Stereo
English and Japanese, with English narration and subtitles
© 2016 Siglo, Ltd.
In 1945, the Japanese island of Okinawa was the site of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Still today, with 32 American bases, it remains a bastion of US military power in East Asia. After their island was literally burned to ashes, the Okinawan people developed a deep-seated aversion to war, but the island was fated to be the launching pad for American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.
Acclaimed in Japan since its June 2015 release, Okinawa: The Afterburn is the first film to provide a comprehensive picture of the battle and the ensuing occupation of the island by the US military. This revised, updated English version provides timely context for the ongoing controversy over the construction of a new Marine Corps base on Okinawa.
The Battle of Okinawa lasted 12 weeks and claimed the lives of 240,000 people. This film depicts the story through the eyes of Japanese and American soldiers who fought each other on the same battlefields, 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 military dominance and popular resistance from the postwar occupation (which lasted until 1972) through the present. Okinawa: The Afterburn is a heartfelt plea for peace and an expression of deep respect for the unyielding spirit of the Okinawan people.
This ambitious documentary was directed by the American filmmaker John Junkerman. His previous films include Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times, the first film to address the American response to 9.11 in critical terms; and the Academy Award-nominated Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima, portraying two Japanese artists’ response to the atomic bomb.
Seventy years after the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest conflict of the Pacific War, the United States military still occupies nearly 20 percent of the island. The film features interviews with American, Japanese, and Okinawa survivors of the Battle, and traces its legacy—continued occupation, violations of dignity and civil rights, and dogged resistance. Opposition to the American bases expanded dramatically after the 1995 rape of 12-year old girl by three US servicemen (one of whom is interviewed in the film). But the US, with the active support of the Japanese government, still treats Okinawa and its land as the spoils of war, and a large new Marine base is now under construction.
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’s population.
Part 3 The Afterburn 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.
In Part 4 To the Future, we explore the Japanese government’s 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.
Production of this film marks Siglo’s 30th year as an independent production house. The company launched in Tokyo in 1986 with a documentary about Okinawa, and it has now produced five long-form documentaries and feature films in Okinawa.
Today, some 70 years since the Battle of Okinawa, we ask ourselves how we should engage the problems of Okinawa. I wanted to produce a film that would revisit the Battle and reexamine the postwar history, in order to see once again “the unending war” in Okinawa, and to challenge ourselves to consider our response.
YAMAGAMI Tetsujiro was born in 1954, and joined the film company Seirinsha in 1981. Forming Siglo in 1986, he has produced more than 70 documentaries, including Yuntanza, Okinawa (dir. NISHIYAMA Masahiro), Out of Place: Memories of Edward Said (dir. SATO Makoto), and Outside the Great Wall (dir. HAN Guang).
Siglo has also produced more than 20 feature films, including Village of Dreams (dir. HIGASHI Yoichi) and All Around Us (dir. HASHIGUCHI Ryosuke).
To most Americans, Okinawa is no more than a speck in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean. Many are surprised to learn that, 70 years after the end of the Pacific War, 50,000 US servicepeople and dependents remain stationed there. 32 US bases and installations occupy 18 percent of the narrow island—just one-third the size of Long Island—where 1.3 million civilians live.
In 1975–76, just after finishing university, I spent six months living in Koza, Okinawa, outside of 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 ground 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 the American administrative control over Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, but the bases were still an overwhelming presence. There was a slogan at the time, that “Okinawa exists within the bases,” 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 Okinawa’s reality is embodied in the title of our film. “Afterburn” 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 island’s 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 Okinawan 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 “the spoils of war,” 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 the island.
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 Okinawa’s reality that I felt committed to convey. It is the spirit captured by the Japanese title of the film, “Urizun no Ame,” meaning, “the rains of early spring.” 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 to come. The Okinawan people are not going to give up. But I don’t think, in the end, it is the Okinawans who are responsible for putting an end to the treatment of their islands as the “spoils of war.” 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. Japan’s Peace Constitution (2005) was chosen as the Kinema Jumpo Best Documentary of the Year.)
Directed and edited by John Junkerman
Produced by Yamagami Tetsujiro
Executive Producers: Maezawa Tetsuji, Maezawa Mariko
Camera: Kato Takanobu,
Additional Camera: Higashitani Reina, Chuck France, Stephen McCarthy, Brett Wiley
Sound Mix: Wakabayashi Daiki
Sound Design: Nakamura Yoshio
Contributing Editor: Oshige Yuji
Contributing Producer: Higashitani Reina
Production Manager: Sasaki Masaaki
Production Staff: Ishida Yuko, Komachiya Takehiko, Nishi Akiko, Takabatake Takashi, Yamagami Sakiko, Watanabe Eiji
Narrator: John Junkerman
Music: Komuro Hitoshi
Musicians: Kido Natsuki, Takara Kumiko, Tanaka Kunikazu, Tanikawa Kensaku
Music Recording Studios: Sound City Annex, Sunrise Studio
Recording Engineers: Anan Keisuke, Nakayama Taiyo
Music Production Assistance: Face Music, Office KHYS
Sound Mix Studio: syncwire
Research: Kaburagi Aki, Edward Engel
Translation: Nakano Makiko, Sakurai Mariko, Otake Hideko
Location Assistance: Sato Chiyoko
U.S. National Archives & Records Administration
（Dir. Higashi Yoichi, Higashi Productions 1969)
（Dir. Nishiyama Masahiro, Siglo 1987)
Ishikawa Mao, Kuniyoshi Kazuo, Okinawa Peace Research Institute, Okinawa Prefectural Archives, Donn Cuson (www.rememberingokinawa.com)
Photographs by W. Eugene Smith
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona © 1945, 2015 The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith
Okinawa City Tourism Association, Sonda Seinenkai, Okinawa City, Okinawa Film Office, Sakima Art Museum, Namihira Community Center, Yomitan, Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM), New Diplomacy Initiative, Naka Nihon Air Service
Arakaki Yumiko, Chinen Ushi, Jahana Minoru, Kawamura Masami, Kina Katsuyo, Kon Ikuyoshi, Miyajima Shinichi, Nakamoto Kazuhiko, Jun Pangilinan, Tamaki Takashige, Uechi Tetsu, Daniel Broudy, Daryl Mitchell, Peter Simpson, Ando Kohei, Honda Miki, Kashiwabara Hiroshi, Matsumoto Kaoru, Matsumoto Maya, Matsumoto Kai, Minagawa Kyoko, Nonaka Akihiro, Obayashi Noriko, Aileen Mioko Smith, Watanabe Mina, Mitzi Uehara Carter, John W. Dower, Gavan McCormack, Jon Mitchell, Norimatsu Satoko, Markus Nornes, Mark Selden, Kevin Eugene Smith, Julian Aguon, Miget Bevacqua, Leevin Camacho, Takao Kuba, LisaLinda Natividad, Akko Cacaji, David Vine, Peter Kuznick, Cary Karacas, Wesley Ueunten, Alan Christy, Dustin Wright, Bill Anderson, Takashi Mizuno, Toshie Ozaki, Nakano Koichi, Harada Toru, Motion Gallery, Film Craft, Iwanami Hall, Sakurazaka Theater, Pole Pole Higashinakano, Veterans for Peace Okinawa Working Group, Waseda University GITS, Athénée Français Cultural Center, Okinawa Shimagurumi Kaigi
Produced by SIGLO, Ltd.
5-24-16 Nakano #210, Nakano-ku Tokyo 164-0001 Japan