Director humanizes tragedy of Okinawan mass suicides

May 24, 2012


Director Pak Su-nam has pieced together survivors’ accounts to portray the horrors of forced civilian mass suicides during the bloody 1945 Battle of Okinawa, in which residents were caught in the middle.

“I want to bring the truth of history to many people,” Pak, 76, a second-generation Korean resident in Japan, said of her new documentary, “Nuchigafu--Gyokusaiba karano Shogen” (Nuchigafu--Testimonies from sites of honorable deaths).

Takejiro Nakamura, who was 15 years old at the time, said he and his mother strangled his sister, using a rope.

“My sister was 20 years old,” he said in the film. “She was crying out, ‘Mother, please kill me first,’ because we had heard a military order to kill ourselves when U.S. forces landed.”

According to survivors, the Imperial Japanese Army tried twice to kill Okinawans in the name of “honorable deaths," with machine guns and bombs.

“There were two types of orders for ‘honorable deaths’--one for residents to kill each other and the other for the military to kill all residents,” Pak said.

Many of the approximately 20 survivors featured in the film are from the Kerama islands, where U.S. forces first landed. Pak interviewed many others for her documentary.

Some were Koreans forcibly brought to Okinawa as “civilian workers for the military,” and Pak accompanied six of them to where they narrowly survived suicide attacks on tanks.

Pak has produced two documentaries, “The Other Hiroshima: Korean A-bomb Victims Tell Their Story” and “Song of Arirang: Voices from Okinawa.” The latter focuses on Korean women forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

She began her research for a documentary on the Battle of Okinawa in 1987. The only ground battle in Japan involving civilians during World War II lasted from March to June 1945. About 200,000 Japanese died, half of them civilians.

“Nuchigafu,” in Okinawan dialect, means, “only if one is alive.” Pak chose the phrase for her film’s title as an irony because Okinawans, known traditionally for valuing their lives, were forced to kill themselves and their loved ones.

The film will be shown to the public from around July.

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Pak Su-nam (The Asahi Shimbun)

Pak Su-nam (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Pak Su-nam (The Asahi Shimbun)

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