Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

2017 August 9
by Stacy Smith

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last week the inaugural Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema began, and I’ve had the chance to catch a lot of great films at the two main venues of Kew Gardens Cinema and Queens Museum. Today they screened Persona Non Grata (杉原千畝 スギハラチウネ, 2015), a film about Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (“Japanese Schindler”) who served as a consul in Lithuania from 1939-40 and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees by issuing over 2000 transit visas to Japan. He famously continuing to sign visas even as his train pulled away from the station, and is estimated to have saved over 6,000 lives from the Nazis who invaded Lithuania in 1941. However, his diplomatic career was ruined because he had defied instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue the visas. Sugihara didn’t know if they had made any difference until being found years later by someone he had helped. He is now considered a hero in Japan, and those he saved have more than 40,000 descendants.

The film stars the phenomenal Toshiaki Karasawa as Sugihara and the always stellar Koyuki as his wife. It was directed by Cellin Gluck, who grew up partly in Kobe and whose mother is Japanese American and father is Jewish. Regarding the film he has commented, “It’s the classic tale of a classic hero, in the sense that extraordinary things happening to ordinary people and the way in which they react is what creates a true hero. And that was our goal. He did what he believed was right, and his actions ended up making him a hero. He didn’t set out to become a hero. It found him. He was a man that was driven by his conscience.”

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