New movie ‘Imphal 1944′ stresses the futility of war

by Hirotaka Sunada

Kyodo

A London-based Japanese actor has produced and premiered a short film about the 1944 Battle of Imphal between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Allied forces to deliver a message — the world should never wage war again.

The film “Imphal 1944″ by Junichi Kajioka depicts a Japanese veteran who devoted half his life to reconciliation between Japan and Britain after fighting in the battle, and a former British soldier who befriended the Japanese. The film is based on the life of former Japanese soldier, Masao Hirakubo (1919-2008), who was an awarded the Order of the British Empire.

At an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle this year, the 30-minute film in which 44-year-old Kajioka plays the role of Hirakubo, was screened at a theater in Imphal, northeastern India, in late June, and received a standing ovation from hundreds in the audience.

“This film had to be made in this milestone year,” Kajioka said during an interview in the capital of the state of Manipur. “We don’t know how many people who experienced World War II can survive the next decade.”

Kajioka said he was first offered a role by an Indian director to act in a film about the battle. But when the project showed little signs of development, he decided to raise funds and produce a film on his own.

A native of Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Kajioka has lived in London since 2001, after struggling as an actor in Japan and moving in 1995 to China where he played many roles in films and TV dramas.

The Battle of Imphal is often regarded as one of the bloodiest battles for the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Army during WW II.

In the battle that lasted from March through July 1944, Japanese troops crossed steep mountains from Burma (now Myanmar) and attempted to occupy Imphal where the British Army was stationed.

But the Japanese suffered a disastrous defeat after failing to ensure sufficient food for its soldiers, with a combined estimated 38,000 soldiers succumbing to death as a result of starvation and disease as well as the fighting.

“In Imphal, the remains of many dead soldiers are still yet to be unearthed,” Kajioka said. “We should never ever start a war again and should never forget past wars either.”

Kajioka said he hopes to create another film set in the city.