Comments on OKINAWA: The Afterburn

John W. Dower
Emeritus Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner

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.

Ota Masahide
Former Governor of Okinawa
Former member of the Blood & Iron Student Corps

I couldn’t help being overwhelmed when I saw this film at a preview screening. I marveled at the scope of what the filmmakers were able to accomplish. Beginning with political scientist Douglas Lummis, an array of participants from both the American and Japanese sides give in-depth testimony, grounded in their own place and experience. The addition of consistently spot-on narration insures that, without a doubt, the film will deepen understanding of the past and present situation of Okinawa.

As one Okinawan citizen, I am deeply grateful to director Junkerman and everyone involved in the film for their efforts. It is a remarkable film, and I hope that it will be seen widely, both within Okinawa and abroad.

Peter Kuznick
Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University
Co-author (with Oliver Stone) of The Untold History of the United States

John Junkerman’s latest tour de force is a spellbinding reminder of the human costs that America’s vast empire of bases exacts all over the globe. Okinawa may be 7600 miles from Washington, DC, but the U.S. military has occupied it for 70 years. The Okinawans are demanding their islands back. This gripping documentary details the little known history of how American and Japanese leaders have trampled on the rights of the Okinawan people in pursuit of conquest and “security.” It is a must-see not only for Americans and Japanese but for justice-seeking people everywhere.

Roger Pulvers
Australian writer, theater and film director

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!

Reviews and Essays

John Junkerman documentary ‘Okinawa: The Afterburn’ sheds light on the ferocious anger against U.S. bases

The issue of the large U.S. military presence in Okinawa is divisive, deeply rooted and, frankly, one I have never completely understood. Anti-base protests have been going on for decades, and while locals elsewhere in the developed world may have been unhappy with the bases in their vicinity, the Okinawans stand out for the tenacity and, at times, ferocity of their opposition. What keeps them going?

John Junkerman’s documentary “Okinawa: The Afterburn” (“Okinawa: Urizun no Ame”) sheds more light on this question than any of the other Okinawan-themed films I have seen, fiction or nonfiction.

As a former Okinawa resident who has lived in Japan for nearly four decades, Junkerman is unabashedly on the side of the protesters (in a program note he describes the Okinawan islands as “spoils of war”), but he presents both sides without strident editorializing.

He has also found archival footage and living witnesses to Okinawa’s troubled history, which illuminate — far more brightly than the standard journalistic regurgitation of facts and figures — why Okinawans continue to resist the bases 70 years after the Battle of Okinawa began on April 1, 1945.

The film begins with an account of that battle, accompanied by interviews with elderly but articulate survivors — Japanese, Okinawans and Americans.

One survivor of the battle is former Okinawa governor and anti-base activist Masahide Ota. “A lot people here say that battle still continues. That has certainly been true for me,” he says.

Another is Masa Inafuku, who served as a 17-year-old student nurse at the height of fighting. “There was no place in the world where the fighting was so futile,” [a third] says.

Still another is Kamado Chibana, who was 26 when 83 civilians hiding in a cave with her committed group suicide rather than surrender to the Americans, despite assurances from Japanese-fluent soldiers that they wouldn’t be harmed.

These and other testimonies are illustrated by rarely seen color footage of the battle and its aftermath, showing soldiers with what former sergeant Leonard Lazarick describes as “thousand-yard stares,” as well as emaciated Okinawan civilians on the brink of collapse.

The film follows the story of these survivors and the succeeding generations, as Okinawa became a key launch pad for U.S. wars in Asia and the Middle East.

In the 1960s, local activists campaigned for the reversion of Okinawa to Japan from the U.S., who were then ruling the island as a military protectorate. “Japan didn’t fight wars, had no nuclear weapons and its economy was booming,” explains [Shoichi Chibana, a priest] who was a teenage activist at the time.

After Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, however, locals soon realized that the bases would remain, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s support, together with all the problems that had long accompanied them.

The film focuses on sexual violence perpetrated by U.S. soldiers on Okinawan women and others in the military, male and female. Witnesses from both sides testify, including a former soldier involved in a highly publicized 1995 group rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl.

The film concludes with an overview of ongoing disputes, including the protests over the construction of a new U.S. base in Nago’s Henoko district, which — after the intense opening sections — feels slightly scattershot. But it’s hard to neatly tie up the 70-year history of the U.S. military on the island with a bow, as the struggle continues.

Despite its English subtitle, “Afterburn” — a reference to Okinawa’s long postwar trauma — the film does not view the struggle as never-ending. The Japanese title, “Urizun no Ame,” means “the rains that herald spring” — the season of hope.

Illuminating a Troubling History of Ongoing Occupation and Resistance

Victor’s Images, Words That Do Not Form Words
BY ISHIZAKA KENJI, professor at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image

Produced by SIGLO, Ltd.
5-24-16 Nakano #210, Nakano-ku Tokyo 164-0001 Japan
Tel: +81-3-5343-3101