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New documentary seeks to shine light on hidden events during Battle of Okinawa

In this photo used in the documentary "Okinawa Spy Senshi" (War history of Okinawa spies), teenage soldiers, far right and second from right, surrender to the U.S. military. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa Spy Senshi production committee)

TOKYO -- The film "Okinawa Spy Senshi" (War history of Okinawa spies) documents the "secret war" carried out by young men during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa in the final stages of World War II and other little-known conditions on the islands in evocative detail. The film began screening in Okinawa Prefecture on July 21, and is expected to come to theaters across the country.

The movie seeks to bring the untold stories of the Battle of Okinawa to light through Japanese and American records as well as testimonies from those who lived through the period. One of these stories is that of the teenage soldiers.

Even when the fierce battle on the southern part of Okinawa's main island came to a close in June 1945, guerrilla warfare carried out by the "Gokyo-tai," a group of teenage boys, continued on the northern part of the island. The Gokyo-tai were led by young officers who had been trained as spies at the Nakano army school in Tokyo and were dispatched to the island.

The film also explores other aspects of the war. While there was no ground fighting on Okinawa's Yaeyama Islands, residents were forced into the mountains under orders from the Imperial Japanese Army to evacuate, and at least 3,000 people contracted malaria and lost their lives. On the island of Hateruma, where nearly 500 residents -- roughly 30 percent of the population -- were killed, the order to evacuate ended up being issued by an operative from the Nakano school.

Teenage soldiers shouldered extreme duties such as suicide attacks on U.S. tanks and the burial of corpses. An 89-year-old former member of the squad said that as a soldier, there were numerous occasions on which he was sure he was going to die, and recalled, "I thought that if dying was going to just make my parents sad, I shouldn't have been born in the first place." For at least 30 years after the end of the war, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, which made him become violent at talk about the battle.

Directors of the documentary "Okinawa Spy Senshi" (War history of Okinawa spies) Chie Mikami, left, and Hanayo Oya stand in front of posters for the film at the office of movie distribution and promotion firm Tofoo Films, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, on July 11, 2018. (Mainichi)

The directors of the film are Chie Mikami, 53, who has continued to put out films that document the anti-U.S. base movement in Okinawa Prefecture, and 31-year-old Hanayo Oya, making her debut as a film director. Both women were originally journalists for the Okinawan television station Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting Co.

"In this documentary, we even went after cases where the Imperial Japanese Army killed civilians out of fear that they would leak military secrets," said Mikami, who also emphasized, "Just using civilians as war pawns and not protecting their safety is the true nature of the military."

Of her motivation for telling stories of the war, Oya said, "As the number of people who experienced the war is dwindling, it is our responsibility to not stop at simply sending the message that war is tragic, but to actively pass these stories on to the next generation to prevent wars altogether."

(Japanese original by Hojin Fukunaga, Foreign News Department)

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