Production Company: Kobushi Productions, Eiga “Gama–Getto no hana” o Seiko Saseru Kai
Length: 110 min.
Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
Director: Osawa Yutaka
Screenplay: Shimazu Yoshi
Photography: Okazaki Kozo
Fusa: Asagiri Mai
George Kelly: Kabira Jiei
What kind of reckoning of the war is being made amidst all the furor over the American military bases in Okinawa, arising fifty years after the United States invaded Okinawa at the end of World War II? Looking at the media coverage, it seems that everyone is a victim of an injustice perpetrated by two villains: America and the Japanese government.
This tale of victimization is not new to the Japanese media. Except for a few, rare examples, most Japanese movies have depicted the war as a process by which the innocent Japanese “people” suffered at the hands of either a cruel government or a brutal war waged by Americans, without ever asking what responsibility the “people” themselves bore for supporting a war effort that victimized so much of the rest of Asia.
With Japanese politicians today still publicly spouting their fictions about Japan’s wartime innocence, this historical obfuscation is not surprising; many Americans, as is evident in the hubbub over the Smithsonian A-bomb exhibit, also have a tendency to whitewash painful truths.
It is this context that makes one want to praise, despite its failings, a film on the war in Okinawa like Gama - Getto no hana for its willingness to talk about the past.
The film’s narrative pretext is the return to Okinawa of one George Kelly (Kabira Jiei), the son of an American soldier and an Okinawan woman, to visit his grandmother Fusa in hopes of having her forgive the daughter who ran off to America. The scenes in the present allow the plot to touch on the problem of the American bases, but this is really a film about the painful memories of the past.
It is George’s earnest insistence that prompts Fusa, who for years has tried to forget her tormenting recollections, to narrate what really happened to her during the battle of Okinawa. In a long flashback, we see first the young Fusa (Asagiri Mai) lose half of her family to American fire before she can finally find refuge with her two children in a gama–“cave” in Okinawan–along with soldiers and peasants, only to encounter an even more horrifying tragedy.
In that dark interior, it is the Japanese that come off looking worse than the Americans. The issues the film relates are shocking: the blatant discrimination against Okinawans by mainland Japanese, the mass suicides that were more forced than voluntary, poisoning of the wounded, the plight of Korean comfort women.
Reinforcing its narration of the facts with hard-hitting documentary footage, Gama rises heads and tails above movies like last year’s embarrassingly atrocious Himeyuri no to (dir: Koyama Seijiro, 1995).
It is more as history than as cinema that Gama deserves attention. The fact the film was made with the support of local Okinawan businesses and organizations gives the film a grass-roots authenticity, but also explains its amateurish air. The acting is rather stiff and the direction by Osawa Yutaka uninspired. But the story packs a punch.
If the narrative is deficient, it is in its tendency to replace the myth of Japanese victimization with that of Okinawa. While the film touches on the fact many Okinawans, precisely because they were discriminated against, felt compelled to be better subjects of the Emperor than the Japanese, its character psychology is often simple and one-faceted.
It is only Fusa’s character that remains etched in our memory. The crime she committed in that cave and her need to relate it remind us that it is only by admitting one’s own guilt, not just one’s victimization, that one can forge the responsibility to prevent future wars.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 11 July 1996, p. 11.
Copyright 1996: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow