Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Movie Review: Sughiara Chiune (Persona Non Grata)

I don't know if this film is going to make its way out of Japan, but I hope it is because this is a must-watch!! I went in expecting to watch a moving tale (and I did, having cried for half the movie), but I came out feeling like there's still hope as long as people like Sugihara exist. I'd go as far as saying it's life-impacting (though the review I saw really criticised the movie).

For those who don't know, Sugihara Chiune is known as the Japanese Schindler, and this is a movie about his work in World War II.

During WWII, Sugihara Chiune issued 2,139 visas to the Jews on his own initiative, saving about 6000 of them and because of him, 40,000 of their descendants.

If you're wondering about the 2139/6000 discrepancy, it's cause a lot of those visas were family visas, so more than one person could travel out of Lithuania with them.

For this, Sugihara Chiune was dismissed from his job (like what???), but eventually granted the 'Righteous Among Nations' by the government of Israel, and posthumous recognition by the Japanese government in 2000.

I actually read a little about him before, which is why I was so enthusiastic to see the film. Most of my knowledge came from The Fugu Plan by Marvin Tokayer (Affiliate Link. And I think even though it's out of stock, there's a kindle version so yay!), which is really about the Jews and Japan during WWII. This book is where I first knew about Sugihara. The rest is from Wikipedia. So, I didn't know that much.

The film itself starts a little before Sugihara gets sent to Lithuania, and ends just as the war ends (there's an epilogue, but still).

What I found unusual about the film was that despite the fact it's a Japanese film, it's multilingual and it uses actual historical footage. Obviously, when Japanese characters talk to each other, they use Japanese, but when they talk to foreigners, they use English. And when foreigners talk to foreigners, they use their own language.

Some details were off though. For example, history says Sugihara was stamping the visa seal on blank papers and throwing them out the train window as he had to leave. But the film had it a different way.

But, the film is so excellent. And what made it excellent was that it showed this 'conspiracy of goodness' (to quote a biography of his - I started Googling for good biographies immediately after I finished the film).

From his wife Yukiko, to the Dutch consul in Lithuania Jan Zwartendijk and even all the way to the Japanese counsul in Vladivostok 根井三郎 (Nei Saburo), all these people chose to do the right thing, either by colluding with him (or in some cases, secretly supporting him), or supporting him (in the case of his wife, who in the film, knew that what Sugihara did was going to have consequences - and when he asked her for 'permission', she agreed).

And that's not including the characters I suspect exist only on the screen - like Peshu and Gujje. And believe me, I cried loads when characters I hope aren't real died - I mean, I really didn't want them to have to die, I was so hoping that they would live. Whether the characters are real or not... I'll probably have to find a proper biography to find out.

There was also a saying in the film I liked, that said:

人の世話にならぬよう、人の世話をするよう、そして報いを求めぬよう

Roughly translated, it means something like "don't look to others to help you, help others, and don't expect anything in return".

And that was what touched me the most, I guess. I mean, I went in knowing that his story hasn't been told much, and Sugihara himself wasn't one to brag (apparently, the neighbours only knew what he did after the news vans arrived).

I didn't realise how hard for him it must have been to deliberately ignore the unspoken command not to issue visas, especially in that sort of environment and in knowing the potential consequences.

Sugihara Chiune was a real hero. This movie is definitely a mustwatch

And now, I need to go see if there are any English biographies (or the Japanese manga) available for lending (or cheap, so I can buy them).

Movie Trailer: