A documentary film on the former “home custody” system, under which patients with mental illnesses were lawfully locked up in sheds and other structures at home, has won praise from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
But celebratory screenings were called off after the family of a deceased man featured in the film urged the agency to refrain from showing it.
His family maintains that part of the film does not reflect the truth about what happened to him.
The film’s director is criticizing the agency’s decision and said he plans to hold his own screening in Tokyo on Dec. 19.
“I want people to watch the film and make their own judgment about it,” said Okinawa-based freelance director Yoshikazu Hara.
The film in question is titled, “Yoake-mae no Uta, Kesareta Okinawa no Shogaisha,” and documents the horrors of the home custody system that once existed in Okinawa Prefecture. It was made with footage collected in person in the prefecture.
The home custody system, originally introduced by law in 1900, allowed people to confine family members with mental illnesses at home after gaining permission from administrative authorities.
It was put in place due to a lack of public institutions and other resources for people with mental illnesses, but the result was an inhumane system under which people were locked up in unsanitary environments.
The underlying legislation was abolished after the Mental Health Law took effect in 1950.
But the practice continued in Okinawa Prefecture under a separate mental health law that applied exclusively to the prefecture until 1972, when it reverted to Japanese administrative rule after its occupation by the United States.
The film was released this spring before being given the “Excellent Film Award” under the agency’s cultural affairs documentary film category.
The family of the deceased man who was locked up under the system asked the agency to refrain from giving it the award and holding the celebratory screening scheduled in November, arguing that the film did not reflect the entire truth.
The second son of the man spoke to The Asahi Shimbun and said the family was not contacted for the film.
“I came to know of the existence of the film only when I read a newspaper article about it after its release,” he said. “We were not interviewed (by the film producers). Because the film doesn’t tell the truth about my father and his family, I want the part of the film that features my father to be cut from it.”
The agency explained that holding the screening “could violate his family’s human rights and could cause irreversible situations.”
However, the agency still honored the film as planned.
“The evaluation of the film itself hasn’t changed,” the agency said.
They added that it will hold the screening if the family of the man and the film producers settle the issue.
“We have given an award to the film, so it is not that we don’t want to hold the screening at all,” an agency official said.
Hara told a news conference on Dec. 10 that although he had changed a part of the voiceover in response to the comments by the man’s family, he would not accept the demand to cut the part of the film featuring the man.
“I do not intend to fight with his family,” he said, and then criticized the agency’s decision to scrap the screening. “It’s the wrong decision to try to cover up the history of isolating (patients with mental illnesses). The state is destroying freedom of expression by hiding and modifying history.”
He said other screenings of the film organized by local authorities and others were also postponed or called off after the agency’s decision.
(This article was written by Momoko Jingu, Atsushi Ohara and senior staff writer Ryuichi Kitano.)