BERLIN – Veteran director Yoji Yamada told the Berlin film festival he made his new 1940s drama “The Little House” for a generation of compatriots who seem oblivious to the horrors of war.
Yamada, 82, said Friday the picture, his latest release in 60 years of filmmaking and based on a best-selling novel by Kyoko Nakajima, aimed to explain the devastating impact of World War II to younger audiences.
“People from that era are slowly but surely all dying — the last people who really know what it was like during wartime,” he said through an interpreter. “The sense that the war was a catastrophe, that it was dreadful, that it was cruel, that it was a tragedy — the sense that you have to learn from that and never repeat that again.”
The director said the themes were bitterly relevant at a time of heightened tensions between Japan and China, and after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s inflammatory visit to a contested Tokyo war shrine in December.
“The whole government, the prime minister and so on, they’re all from the postwar era so there’s a real generational divide from those who experienced the war,” Yamada said. “I think we should be against this kind of official visit,” he added, referring to Abe’s stop at Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including Class-A war criminals.
The film tells the story of a university student in modern-day Japan whose childless great-aunt Taki has just died. Taki had been handwriting her memoirs in her twilight years, detailing her tumultuous time as a maid and nanny in her youth in the home of a toy company executive, his beautiful wife and their sickly son.
Yamada portrays the heady optimism of those years as the population was duped by state propaganda that said Japan would win the war, a phenomenon he said he vividly remembers from his childhood: “All the newspapers were saying ‘Japan will be victorious, Japan will be victorious,’ but of course that was not true.”
He said he based one of the final scenes, when the home is hit during an air raid with incendiary bombs, on memories from the war.
“The Little House” is one of 20 films in competition for the Berlin festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear, which was to be awarded Saturday evening.