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A 20-year-old Keio University student has recently returned to the movie scene with his second film in six years, aiming to make viewers think about issues surrounding U.S. military bases in his native Okinawa Prefecture.

In one scene in the movie titled “Girl of the Sea” (“Ningyo ni Aeru Hi”), a high school boy tells his girlfriend that Okinawa is a “sacrificial victim.”

The girl then asks, “Are you opposed to the presence of (U.S.) military bases?”

“I don’t know,” the boy replied. “They (the bases) have been here since we were born. I cannot image what would happen if they were gone.”

That reply is what Ryugo Nakamura had in mind in making the film.

The movie depicts the girl’s life in a city modeled on Ginowan, home to a key U.S. air base. She gradually begins to question the presence of the base against the background of a decision to relocate it to another city in Japan’s southernmost prefecture at the risk of damaging its beautiful sea. The other city is evidently Henoko, chosen as the relocation site for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma.

Nakamura was born in the city of Okinawa near Ginowan and raised in the environments surrounded by the Futenma base and the Kadena Air Base.

“The mothers of my friends were working at the bases, while each class in local schools had one half-American and half-Japanese kid or more,” he says.

While the presence of U.S. military bases and personnel was part of life in Okinawa, Nakamura was surprised by the totally different environments in the Tokyo metropolitan area when he began to live there to attend Keio. Newspaper and television reports on Okinawa created an image that Okinawans are divided only between those in favor of and against the local presence of U.S. military bases.

One day two years ago, a friend asked Nakamura, “What is Okinawa Memorial Day?”

The day is a public holiday observed by Okinawa annually on June 23 to remember those lost during the Battle of Okinawa.

“The day when Okinawans wish for peace is just an ordinary day here,” Nakamura said to himself.

The difference Nakamura felt prompted him to produce a movie.

“I even started writing a scenario the following day,” he says.

Before he was 10 years old, Nakamura had begun using the video camera left by his father who died when he was young. He was carried away by filming because he says he “enjoyed running what I shot on our family television set.”

Nakamura grew more enthusiastic about filmmaking after his mother, Miwa, 47, an elementary school teacher, told him that children should pursue whatever they like to do. When Nakamura and Miwa watched movies shot in Okinawa, she would take him to the film locations.

Nakamura proved to be a film prodigy, debuting in the movie industry at 13. His 2010 “The Catcher on the Shore” (“Yagi no Boken”), which showed a young Okinawan boy’s bewilderment over the local tradition of eating goats, won an award at a film competition. The movie went on to screen and was watched by more than 75,000 people across the country.

Shinya Tsukamoto, 56, director of internationally renowned films such as “Fires on the Plain” (“Nobi”) and “Kotoko,” says Nakamura produces films “based on his constitution and feeling without being bound by fixed ideas and techniques.”

“He makes his films by directly watching society and seeing its absurdities, always remaining aloof,” Tsukamoto says. “I’m looking forward to seeing him expand the scope of his work.”

All the staff members involved in the production of “Girl of the Sea” were university students. One of them was Mayu Matsumura, a 20-year-old sophomore at Meiji University, who also appeared as an extra in the movie.

Born in Ginowan, Matsumura too has come to believe that the problems in Okinawa, such as the concentrated presence of U.S. military bases, are of a different world for people in Tokyo and its vicinity.

“I hope this film will help narrow the gap, if only by a millimeter,” she says.

Nakamura does not have an answer to the question of military bases in Okinawa. But the movie will “drag viewers to consider the problem,” he says, hoping that each of them will find an answer.

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.

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