This morning I went to see “Bart no Gakuen,” the new movie about the WWI era POW camp in Naruto, where I lived for two years. It was me, and a bunch of elderly people. I thought of my university students who live and learn near where the story takes place and where famous movie stars made the film. They were profoundly disinterested when I tried to talk to them about it. They all want to see “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Anyway, I visited the set last month and wrote about it for Eye-Ai magazine. I was really looking forward to seeing the movie, even though I knew it would be entirely in Japanese and German.
During WWI, German soldiers taken prisoner in China were shipped to Japan. About 1,000 wound up at the Bando camp in Naruto, which was run in highly humane fashion by Colonel Matsue Toyohisa. The prisoners were allowed to bake bread, brew beer, publish newspapers and books, put on puppet shows, teach music to the locals, and otherwise entertain themselves. The director got a lot of flack for being so nice, but everything was under control. (A lesson for modern times?)
In the on-screen story, a German-Japanese love child comes looking for her papa. The colonel takes the poor kid in, even though his manservant hates Germans and refuses to do anything for her. I’d imagine that this storyline was invented for cinema, but this fit into the movie’s theme of tolerance.
There were a lot of really nice, understated moments including the scene where Colonel Matsue (played by Ken Matsudaira) wobbles along on his bicycle. And of course, all of Tokushima’s trademark features appeared – a vat of indigo dye, Awa Odori dancers, pilgrims dressed in white, the whirlpools in the straits of Naruto.
It was gorgeously filmed, the story was moving and interesting, and the performances top knotch. I think this movie deserves a wide international audience.
As a side note, I thought the timing of the film was sort of interesting. We were reminded of how humane the Japanese Army can be, just as there is talk of launching a pre-emptive attack on North Korea.