Documentary shines spotlight on U.S. Marines

At a time when the fate of a U.S. Marines’ Futenma base in Okinawa is dominating headlines, a documentary is shedding light on the troops and the training they undertake before living on foreign soil.

Director Yukihisa Fujimoto went to South Carolina’s Parris Island, one of the marines’ main training facilities, to document the 12-week process used to convert pimply boys and girls into fighting men and women in “One Shot One Kill,” now screening in Tokyo.

Fujimoto, a critic of the many U.S. military facilities in Japan, including the Futenma air station, said he was motivated to shoot the film after spotting young marines in Okinawa and realizing he knew little about them and who they were before being deployed to Japan.

Fujimoto, 56, said he was shocked to see fresh recruits forced to abandon “a set of civilian values” within minutes of arriving at the recruiting depot, which was depicted in “Full Metal Jacket,” Stanley Kubrick’s film on the Vietnam War.

“Read Line One!” an instructor barks to newcomers to teach them how to bid farewell to their families over the phone. The new recruits are told to read prepared phrases, such as, “I have arrived safely at Parris Island” and “Please do not send any food or bulky items in the mail.”

“You will not add any extra words in there, you will not say I love you or anything, understand?” the instructor shouts, prompting them to yell “Yes, sir!” immediately and in near unison.

“The recruits became almost panicked, being yelled at all the time and doing things quite new to them, like having their heads shaved and learning how to hold a rifle. They are not allowed to sleep until 48 hours after their arrival at night,” Fujimoto said.

That’s a crucial process for transforming common teenagers into professional soldiers who can follow “any orders,” Fujimoto said.

Fujimoto, along with producer Asako Kageyama and other aides, started shooting at Parris Island in January 2008. The facility gets about 500 newcomers every week and produces some 20,000 graduates a year.

Most recruits have trouble at first behaving the way their instructors like. But Fujimoto’s film shows the process through which the youngsters grow into junior soldiers, including the physical training, live-fire drills and, of course, bayonet practice.

One recruit who was interviewed by Fujimoto said he signed up to become a full-fledged marine and “help better the world . . . where there is now war. There is peace.”

Fujimoto reckoned that U.S. Marines are different from other people.

“You would say ‘no’ when asked whether you can kill somebody,” he said. “But marines do not. That means the marines we spot in Japan come from a world different from ours.

“I hope my film will help people have second thoughts about the issues of a Japan-U.S. bilateral security treaty and why Japan has to host the bulk of U.S. military facilities,” he said.