I met with Kazuo Kuroki following the premiere of “Utsukushii Natsu Kirishima (Kirishima 1945)” at the Fukuoka International Film Festival in 2002. A native of Ebino, Miyazaki Prefecture, where the film was shot, Kuroki looked content with the warm response he had received from the Kyushu audience. Smartly dressed in a black suit and his trademark black-knit cap, he was cautious yet sincere with his words.

The story is set in your hometown. How much of the story is fictional?

I was actually 15 years old in the summer of 1945, like the boy in the film. Since I was suffering from lung disease and my parents were in Manchuria, I was staying with my grandfather, a former soldier who had fought in Siberia. But my grandfather wasn’t really as strict as the one in the film.

Most of the story is fictional. I didn’t want to work or go to school, so I kind of enjoyed staying at home. It was quite boring living in a rural town where most of the residents were old people, children and soldiers. There wasn’t any entertainment at all. All of my works, whether novels, paintings or films, are fictional. I try hard to make those fictions seem real.

How did you come up with the story?

I still feel strong remorse about my friends who died in the war while I was sick and staying at home. I had always wished that I could change that painful past into a better one in a film. I actually lost my best friend in an air raid on a factory. His skull was smashed and I left him there. I was so scared. I still feel terrible whenever I think about that incident.

As a 15-year-old boy, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the adults, who had taught us to fight against the Americans and Chinese, all of a sudden becoming jubilant and relieved when the war ended. Ever since, I’ve had this feeling of guilt toward my friends and I’ve never trusted anyone, including myself.

In the film, Yasuo believes that fighting against Americans is the only way to prove himself and get justice. Of course, his character is fictional — when the war ended I felt relieved as well. I even had a big grin on my face. I never had the guts to fight against American soldiers with a bamboo stick like the boy in the film. I made the film to reflect how I wanted myself to be back in 1945.

What was the biggest difficulty you encountered during the filmmaking?

We shot the film entirely in Ebino and we needed to re-create the town as it was back in 1945. The only things unchanged were the mountains. So we created an old farming town. We removed all the weeds grown in the area and planted the Japanese weeds and flowers that were growing back then. We didn’t have a big production budget, but we used computer graphics and erased all the electric poles and greenhouses. The house where Yasuo lives with his grandfather was the house I actually grew up in. It was abandoned for a long time, but we renovated it to look as it did back then. The local Ebino community was so supportive — they even raised funding for our project.

Are you working on any new projects now?

There is a project I have been working on for the past 20 years; I’d like to make a feature about this magnificent director who was active before World War II, Sadao Yamanaka. Only a few of his films still exist, but I’d like to dedicate myself to celebrating his great works.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.