On Dec. 9 last year, Nagasaki University hosted a speaking event featuring director Yoji Yamada and actress Sayuri Yoshinaga about their new film "Living with My Mother," a story rooted in the atomic bombing of the city in 1945. On stage alongside the Japanese movie titans was 90-year-old Hideo Tsuchiyama, a Nagasaki A-bomb survivor whose younger self is the model for one of the film's main characters -- the ghost of Yoshinaga's character's medical student son (played by Kazunari Ninomiya), who is killed in the nuclear attack.
With some 450 medical students listening attentively, Tsuchiyama was asked about his state of mind the day the bomb fell.
"I was studying medicine, so I was thinking about how much longer I had; I was resigned to dying," the former Nagasaki University president answered, slowly and carefully.
Tsuchiyama had always loved classical music and, during the war, he and his siblings would pool their allowances to buy records. This led to confrontations with civil defense group members who hounded them for "listening to enemy music." In July 1945, with the war going very badly, he and his siblings huddled together with a gramophone under a futon for a "final concert." The music: Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor.
"I have to admit that the unusual, gentle melody had me in tears," Tsuchiyama says. "I was thinking, 'Maybe this is the last time I'll ever hear this.'" Tsuchiyama was designated for early graduation and an October dispatch to the front as an army doctor.
At the time, Japan was still in the grip of the 1925 Public Security Preservation Law, and freedom of thought was severely restricted. And so Tsuchiyama told no one about how scared he was of dying. In "Living with My Mother," too, the Mendelssohn piece is introduced as the son's favourite music, and it accompanies many of the scenes.
In early January this year, Nagasaki University medical students opened an exhibit about the film and its production on campus. Included in the show were photos of Nagasaki before and after the A-bomb, and parts of interviews with Tsuchiya and other survivors.
"I suspect it took a lot of effort just to collect the material," Tsuchiyama comments. "It's just wonderful that they (the students) did all this independently."
At the beginning of this year, citizen and other groups in Nagasaki Prefecture began a petition calling for the repeal of security-related legislation passed the previous September that paves the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. At the activists' first meeting on Jan. 11, Tsuchiyama said to the crowd, "The (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe administration has constantly been breaking the rules. Let's use the power of the people to give him a red card!"
Wearing a red shirt reminiscent of that "red card" comment, and an intense look in his eyes, Tsuchiyama speaks about his growing sense of danger over Abe's drive to use this summer's House of Councillors election to secure the two-thirds Diet majority he needs to push through constitutional revision proposals.
"It's frightening to imagine saying 'Well that's it, it's over' and giving up after the security bills passed," he says. "After a turning-point year (like 2015), we have to think of the next year as a new start. We can't let this end here."
(This is Part 2 of a five-part series)