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The Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara remains an enduring leftist icon throughout the world, including in Japan. Here, however, his visage pops up in somewhat apolitical moments — like at soccer games in support of the Urawa Reds.

A new film about Che (real name: Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna) that opens in Japan tomorrow and aims to show the deeper relationship he had with this country. “Ernesto” follows the brief friendship that blossomed between one of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th century and a second-generation Japanese-Bolivian named Freddy Maemura Hurtado. Che was so taken with Hurtado’s personality and medical skills (Che himself was a doctor), that he granted him full use of his first name, Ernesto. It’s a slice of political history that few Japanese are aware of — that and the fact that Che once visited this country for 12 days, in 1959.

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