Film follows man’s struggle to seek acquittal in ‘Sayama Case’

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

When a man who had spent three decades in jail for a murder he denies committing declared in an interview that he had “no regrets” about his life, film director Kim Song Woong was stunned — and inspired.

After the encounter, Kim spent three years following Kazuo Ishikawa, 74, and his wife, Sachiko, 66, around with a camera to figure out the meaning of his words. The result is the documentary film “Until the Invisible Handcuffs are Removed.”

“I couldn’t take what he said at face value, as he was jailed for more than 30 years before his release on bail, and he is still treated as a criminal,” Kim, 50, said of Ishikawa, who was convicted of killing a 16-year-old high school girl in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, in May 1963.

The title of the documentary reflects the fact that Ishikawa remains a parolee, whose fight to clear his name has yet to bear fruit.

The film shows the couple standing in front of the Tokyo High Court in good weather and bad, urging the court through a loudspeaker to act on his petition for a retrial.

“My hair or my fingerprints were not detected at the crime scene,” he shouts. “I was threatened by the investigators who said they would arrest my elder brother if I did not confess to the crime.”

His defense lawyers have submitted several pieces of evidence to the high court seeking the reopening of what has become known as the “Sayama Case.” The evidence includes the results of handwriting analysis by experts, who say Ishikawa’s handwriting does not match a ransom note delivered to the victim’s family.

The film also touches on the issue of discrimination against people in socially disadvantaged “buraku” districts, because Ishikawa was born in a buraku enclave in Sayama. His background is believed to have prejudiced investigators against him.

The descendants of social outcasts from feudal times still face discrimination in a wide range of areas, such as marriage and employment.

“I learned how to read and write in prison as I couldn’t go to school because of poverty, and I came to know during my studies how . . . buraku (people) have been discriminated against,” Ishikawa says in the film. “If only I could have attended elementary school.”

On Dec. 21, 1996, the second anniversary of his release, Ishikawa married Sachiko, who is also from a buraku district in Tokushima Prefecture and campaigned for him during his incarceration.

The film also shows their daily life — mealtimes, jogging and trips to Sachiko’s hometown.

Even now, their conversations focus on how to reopen the case. “We will be at a loss as to what to talk about once he is acquitted,” Sachiko says in the film.

Ishikawa says he wants to attend night courses at a junior high school if acquitted, and to visit Kenya to see “living creatures feel at ease and freely move around.”

Nearly 20 years have passed since his release, but Ishikawa has not yet visited the grave of his parents, determined to do so only after his “invisible handcuffs” are removed.

“I had initially determined to leave prison only as a free person after being acquitted in a retrial, rather than accepting parole, but I reluctantly accommodated myself to doing so,” he says. “So I think I have to discipline myself with this new determination” to report his acquittal to his parents.

While shooting the film, Kim gradually came to understand the meaning of Ishikawa’s words.

“Mr. Ishikawa acquired literacy in jail and became aware of the discrimination against buraku people. Most of all, he met a wonderful lifetime partner,” Kim said. “Although he has faced hardships, he has gone on with his own life.”

The Ishikawas, who still live in Sayama, say they expect the movie to stir public awareness that “there are still people who are (wrongfully) accused and fighting for their exoneration.”

The film, funded by donations from around 800 individuals and groups, will be screened through independent distribution channels in several cities, including Tokyo and Osaka. It will be shown once a month at a public hall in Tokyo from February with different guest speakers invited each time.

Kim also said he will eventually create an English-language version to screen at overseas film festivals.

For further information, visit the Internet website of the production group at sayama-movie.com or call 042-316-5882.