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Author of novel on leprosy stresses every life has meaning in lecture

Durian Sukegawa explains his experience at the Cannes Film Festival when the movie version of "An (Sweet Bean Paste)" was screened, at a lecture held in the city of Nara on Aug. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

NARA -- The 56-year-old author of a novel about former leprosy patients gave a lecture here on Aug. 22 on the difficulties and inner conflicts he faced while writing the book, and the hardships leprosy patients faced.

The novel, "An (Sweet Bean Paste)," was also made into a movie by director Naomi Kawase and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Author Durian Sukegawa, whose real name is Tetsuya Akikawa, began to believe that "there is meaning in life in any environment," following the abolishment of the Leprosy Prevention Law in 1996, and was strongly motivated to create a piece of work based on Hansen's disease. However, he came close to giving up numerous times as he read the sad collection of notes left by former leprosy patients. The author got to know a resident of a sanatorium for patients with the disease, enabling him to hear stories from those directly affected, and it took him about 10 years to complete the novel.

The setting of the novel takes place around the time that the Leprosy Prevention Law was abolished. The story is about a former leprosy patient Tokue and "dorayaki (Japanese red-bean pancake)" maker Sentaro, and their encounter through the Japanese confection.

Sukegawa explained he asked Kawase to shoot the movie after hearing her say, "People do not always die satisfied. When I film, I convert people who died with regret and emptiness into a modern drama." The author said he believes that only people like the 56-year-old director who develop that kind of emotion can shoot such a film.

The writer used a projector to provide actual descriptions on leprosariums. Some audiences were moved to tears when they were shown an image of a long row of cherry blossom trees planted by former leprosy patients and listened to an explanation stating, "This is a row of unpruned cherry blossom trees. It represents how former leprosy patients wanted the trees to grow freely as they themselves were not free."

Makiko Aono, an 80-year-old lecture participant from the town of Heguri in the Ikoma district of Nara Prefecture commented, "Every life has meaning. It made me think about what humans live for."

(Japanese original by Narumi Nakatsu, Nara Bureau)

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