Director claims new film helped Oe beat lawsuit

by Mariko Kato

Korean-resident film director Pak Su Nam said Wednesday that a confession appearing in her latest documentary about mass murder-suicides by civilians in Okinawa in 1945 helped dismiss a lawsuit against writer Kenzaburo Oe.

Oe was recently sued for stating in his book “Okinawa Notes” that Japanese soldiers, facing defeat, issued the orders for the heinous acts.

Pak’s documentary, “Nuchi Kafu, Preciousness of Life — Testimonies from the Mass Suicide Caves,” features a confession by a key figure, Yukinobu Miyamura, that contradicts a statement used as evidence by Yutaka Umezawa, a plaintiff in the case who was a former garrison commander on Zamami Island.

Umezawa and another plaintiff told the court that military orders were not given to citizens to commit suicide during the Battle of Okinawa. As evidence, the two backed their stance by submitting a statement signed by Miyamura stating that it was village executive Seishu Miyasato, Miyamura’s brother, who issued the orders.

In the interview, however, Miyamura confesses that Umezawa tricked him into signing the false statement implicating his brother.

Umezawa’s case apparently unraveled when Pak showed the interview to Haruko Miyahira, the sister of Miyamura and Miyasato.

According to Pak, Miyahira decided to reveal the truth to writer Harumi Miyagi, a key witness in Oe’s case who had hitherto denied military orders were involved in the murder-suicides when she wrote her 2000 book “What my mother left.”

After learning what happened from Miyahira, however, Miyagi stated during Oe’s court case in March 2008 that she was mistaken, and that military orders had indeed been given, Pak said.

“Haruko came up to me after the trial and said that if she hadn’t seen the video clip of her brother confessing the truth, she would have never have told the real story to Miyagi,” said Pak, a Korean resident of Japan.

Oe’s case was cited by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry when it decided in March 2007 to direct history textbook publishers to delete or rewrite references to the Imperial Japanese Army’s role in pressuring civilians to commit mass suicides during the U.S. onslaught.

Umezawa and Hidekazu Akamatsu, a brother of another ex-commander, sued Oe and his publisher, Iwanami Shoten Publishers, in 2005, stating Oe incorrectly claimed in his 1970 essay “Okinawa Notes” that the garrison ordered civilians to commit mass suicide amid the battle.

The defendants claimed testimony given by residents shows soldiers handed grenades to local residents, indicating that such orders were issued. The case is being considered by the Supreme Court.

Many civilians in Okinawa who survived the fighting have said soldiers gave them orders to kill themselves, and loved ones, as Japan neared defeat. Okinawa was the only part of the country where ground fighting took place in the last days of the war.

“Nuchi Kafu, Preciousness of Life — Testimonies from the Mass Suicide Caves” will be completed next month, although its release date has not been confirmed.