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A Documentary Film "HIMEYURI"

Since it's first release, HIMEYURI has been screened in 35 theatres and by more than 200 citizen groups, schools and universities. Nearly 100,000 people have seen the film in Japan, a number that continues to grow. Himeyuri has won most of the major Japanese documentary film awards.

Director Shohei SHIBATA had nonetheless previously opted not to produce an English version, fearing that the film might not be understood by international audiences. In thinking of the people across the world suffering as a result of wars, however, and in discovering that the reality of today's world (a reality that is not often captured by the cameras of the West) overlaps with the world depicted in his film, he changed his mind and decided to produce an English version.


This film documents the testimony of a group of World War II survivors, young women later known as the 'Himeyuri Students'. They speak of their harrowing experiences and their friends who committed suicide in the Battle of Okinawa.

Remote islands at Japan's southernmost extreme, Okinawa was the battleground in fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces during the last months of World War II. More than 120,000 Okinawans lost their lives in these battles, many of the Himeyuri Students among them.

222 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were mobilized to the front to act as nursing aides, without any prior training. The hospital where they worked, situated on a battlefield with shells flying overhead, had no Red Cross flag for protection.

In the end, surrounded by U.S. forces, the students were dismissed by the Japanese military. Many of these students were killed in the war, not only in battle but also by their own hand, refusing to be taken prisoner. In total, 123 girls lost their lives.

Depicted in numerous novels and movies, the Himeyuri Students are well-known in Japan for their devotion and for the sacrifice they gave with their lives. The survivors themselves, however, until recently found it too painful to talk about their experiences. Earlier works based on second-hand accounts have thus tended to stereotype the tragedy.

The perspectives in this film are different. Director Shohei SHIBATA spent 13 years recording testimonial accounts from 22 survivors among the Himeyuri Students.


- Film Awards 2007 of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan: Grand Prize of Documentary Film Category

- 81st The Kinema-Junpo(Famed Japanese film magazine) Top Ten 2007: The Best Documentary Film

- JCJ (Japam Congress of Journalists) Award: Special Award

- Japan Film P.E.N. Club Best Cultural Film Award

- Takasaki Film Festival Special Award

- Zenkoku Eiren (All Japan Network for the Appreciation of Films): Award for Directing

- Nihon Eiga Fukko (Congress for the Renaissance of Japanese Film): Award for Encouragement

- SIGNIS JAPAN Catholic Film Award

About the Director

Shohei SHIBATA was born in Tokyo in 1963. Upon graduating from the University of Tokyo , he began work at NHK's Okinawa station and news bureau dispatch division. After being independent from NHK, he joined the Center for Ethnological Visual Documentation before pursuing a career as an independent film maker. He has since produced numerous works focusing on Asia and Okinawa . In 2004, Shibata served as the general producer for the exhibition renewal project of the Himeyuri Peace Museum . He is currently the president of ASIA Documentary Productions Company.

Filmography of Shohei SHIBATA

1995              Document of the Battle of Okinawa , Told One Foot at a Time
                      Japan Educational Film Festival 1995, Special Prize

1997              Bridge of Winds ~Life with the Lisu of Yunnan
                      Galaxy Prize for programs highly recommended

1998              Revive the Huge Building Made of Cedar
                      ~Forest People: The Dong in China~
                      Galaxy Honors for programs recommended
                      Prize of Association of All Japan TV Program Production Companies

2005              Loulan -- The Sleeping Beauty of the Taklamakan
                      Nominated for International Emmy Award

2005              Kuqa -- A Fallen Monk's Mission (Original title: Ascent Into Blue)
                      Gold World Medal Religious Programs New York Festivals 2007
                   Screened at International Festival of Cinema and Religion

2007              Life in Harmony with Nature: Finland -- Secrets of the Forest
                   Intermedia-globe Silver Documentaries: Nature and Wildlife,
                   World Media Festival 2008 - Hamburg , Germany ,
                   Third Place "Certificate for Creative Excellence",Environmental Issues,
                   Concerns,41st US International Video and Film Festival -- Los Angels , U.S.A.

Director’s notes (07.01.09)

The idea for this documentary film was born 14 years ago. I’m 45 now, and when I turned 30 I quit my job at the television broadcaster NHK to start working as an independent director. When you’re working for television, you’re always working against the clock, towards a deadline. When working independently, you don’t have this problem.

Then I met several survivors of the “Himeyuri Student Corps”. With ‘hime’ meaning ‘princess’, and ‘yuri’ being a lily flower, Japanese people consider “Himeyuri” to be a beautiful word. It’s a name which they will never forget, even if they only hear it once. In Japan, there are few who don’t know the name “Himeyuri”, associated with the tragic heroines of the second world war.

At the end of WWII, Okinawa became the stage for fierce battles waged between Japan and the United States of America. Okinawa is a region made up of small and large islands, around 1500 kilometers south of Tokyo. It was a key strategic location, because if taken by the US army, the mainland of Japan would have been very vulnerable. The Japanese army decided to try stalling the US army as long as possible from taking Okinawa and attacking Japan’s mainland. They chose to keep fighting without surrendering.

Okinawa’s residents were charged with a dangerous task, being drafted into the army, even though there were no legal grounds for that. The citizens were caught in the middle of the battle, which lasted for three months. There were 120,000 casualties amongst the citizens of Okinawa, one fourth of the total population. On Okinawa’s main island, one out of three people died. ‘Himeyuri’ became the tragic symbol of those citizens. Young girls between the age 15 and 19 were suddenly mobilized as nurses into army hospitals. They were taken away from their school and mobilized on the day the US army commenced its attack on Okinawa, without receiving any nursing training.

After the war, stories of these ‘Himeyuri’ students were spread amongst the soldiers who received care from them, and soon a book and four dramatized movies appeared. A few actresses became very famous thanks to playing the parts of these ‘Himeyuri’ heroines. ‘Himeyuri’ has become a legend, almost like a mythological tale.

Fourteen years ago from today I received a request from one of the ‘Himeyuri’ survivors to document their experiences on film. At that time I was very surprised by this request. I didn’t understand what more I could do, since there were already so many films about ‘Himeyuri’. When I investigated a little deeper, though, I realized that the actual ‘Himeyuri’ survivors, though very famous, had almost never spoken about their own experiences. At that time, there weren’t any documentaries about the subject, not even a detailed reportage. The students that survived often found it too hard to talk about their experiences, and most of them kept their past a secret.

From that day on, I started working on filming the experiences of the Himeyuri survivors. I did my normal TV work as usual, and whenever I would have the time and money I would go to Okinawa and film their testimonials.

Whilst recording, I set two goals for myself:

1.       I wanted to have the women visit the location where they endured the war one more time. When conducting interviews, the answers you receive can differ greatly depending on the setting of the interviews. I wanted to know in detail “what happened”, and I decided that for the best answers, I would have to persuade them to go to that place once more. This was one of my most important tasks: persuading the survivors to go back one more time to the place they didn’t want to go to, the place they wanted to forget.

2.       The second thing I decided to do was to capture all the stories that would come up when I had the women visit the former battlefield, stories that otherwise would have been forgotten. No matter how many hours it would take, I decided I would wait for as long as I had to for the stories to materialize.

This is how I captured their testimonials, and by the time I had built up a relation of trust with the women of Himeyuri, 13 years had passed. The women were in their eighties by that time. During those 13 years a few of the women passed away. I decided that the time had come to compile the imagery into one documentary film.

The Japanese version of this movie premiered in Japan last year. In addition to having been shown in 36 movie theatres (art-houses) until now, the film was also screened at 200 different venues, including community centers, universities and high schools. Over 70,000 people have seen it and there are still many requests to have the film screened. Those who have seen this documentary film tell their friends about it, and with this word-of-mouth advertising it’s garnering recognition.

The first and only country where the Japanese version has been introduced so far is in Switzerland: by an ASIA Documentary Productions volunteer at her “Home Theatre” with an audience of only one to three people at a time. The film has received favorable reviews in Switzerland as well.

The reputation of the film has spread, as before, via word of mouth. As a result, screenings were also held in Zurich and Thun at larger venues. And now “Himeyui” is receiving ever-growing interest from the Japanese community not only in Switzerland but also in other European countries.

A new version of “HIMEYURI” with English subtitles has been long awaited and will have its international premier this year. I am looking forward very much to receiving feedback from non-Japanese speaking audiences.

Shohei Shibata, director, January 2009


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