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Documentary to capture views of young Okinawans on U.S. Futenma base issue

  • September 7, 2018
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



As Okinawa continues to be roiled by tensions over a plan to move a key U.S. air base within the prefecture, filmmakers from Iwate Prefecture are using their next documentary to give younger Okinawans a greater voice.


Movie director Shinya Todori and his twin brother Takuya, both 35, were in Okinawa on Aug. 15 shooting footage in a hilltop park overlooking U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is located in a densely populated area of Ginowan.


In front of their camera was Jinshiro Motoyama, 26, who leads a civic group campaigning for a prefectural referendum over the central government’s plan to move the Futenma base to the less populated Henoko coastal district of Nago, also in the prefecture.


During his early elementary school years, Motoyama remembers shouting out “Shut up!” when he heard the noise of U.S. military aircraft. But by the time he entered higher grades, he’d got used to it.


“Does that mean that you gave up?” asked Shinya as the camera rolled in Kakazutakadai Park. “I felt powerless,” Motoyama confided.


U.S. bases in the prefecture were built on land expropriated from islanders during the post-World War II U.S. occupation, which lasted until 1972. Okinawa has since hosted the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, which many residents feel is an unfair burden.


Motoyama hadn’t been drawn to campaigns opposing the presence of the U.S. bases, but he came to think differently after witnessing the wave of public protests against nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 power plant disaster. “I felt it might be possible to change things,” Motoyama said.


The Todoris have always felt a deep attraction to Okinawa. During their childhood they were fascinated by the popular “Ultraman” superhero TV series, which was written by screenwriters who hailed from the prefecture such as the renowned Tetsuo Kinjo.


After graduating from film school, the twins decided to produce documentary movies. Their encounter with Kyoko Ureshino — a photographer in her 70s known for capturing a photograph of a little girl hit by a U.S. military truck in Okinawa in 1965 — inspired them to make their first documentary featuring the island prefecture.


Shinya was shaken by Ureshino’s story. Seeing a group of American soldiers surrounding the girl as she lay on the road, Ureshino secretly took photos — believing that they were worth “risking her life.”


“There were so many things I didn’t know. I thought I must keep a record,” Shinya recalled.


The Todoris created “Okinawa 1965” in 2017, a documentary that depicts the prefecture during the period when it was under U.S. control.


Now they are documenting the voices of Okinawans, from teenagers to those in their 40s, for their new documentary on Okinawa, “Watashitachi ga umareta shima — Okinawa 2018” (“The Island Where We Were Born — Okinawa 2018”).


When the twins broach Okinawa-related topics in Tokyo, some ask, “How do the young people feel?” The twins have also heard others say, “Young people must care little about (the base issue).”


Shinya admits he has had an impression of the anti-base movement as being led by people in their 60s or older. But he thought he should discover the “true feelings” of young people.


In the town of Kadena, one young man who has lived near a U.S. base said, “I haven’t really thought about (U.S. bases).” But added, “If some incidents happen around me, my mind may change.”


While some Okinawans are prompted to start thinking about the base issue after an incident happens, many young people seem accustomed to the existence of the military facilities, according to Shinya. He also said he sees a gap in the way the younger and older generations view the issue.


“I think highlighting such differences will help us think about the future,” Shinya said.


The twins plan to finish shooting footage for the documentary by January next year so that it can be released in 2019.

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