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Japanese film director tells of ongoing aftermath of nuclear testing on Marshall Islands

Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film "Tarinae," is seen during an interview in Tokyo's Taito Ward on Dec. 24, 2020. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)
This photo provided by Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film "Tarinae," shows her posing for a photo when she visited the Marshall Islands as a high school student.

TOKYO -- Shiori Okawa, 32, who directed a documentary film on the Marshall Islands to pass down the footprints left by war, says she felt residents were still physically and mentally affected by the U.S. hydrogen bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll when she lived there for three years.

    Born in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, Okawa worked at a Japanese firm in the Marshall Islands after graduating from Keio University. She shows the tragedy of war through interaction with locals in the area, where Japanese soldiers died of hunger and traces of war still remain, in her first film "Tarinae" released in 2018.

    Okawa told the Mainichi Shimbun what nuclear tests brought on to locals.

    This photo provided by Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film "Tarinae," shows a woman who spoke about her experience with the nuclear bomb tests when Okawa visited the Marshall Islands as a high school student.


    I was in my third year of high school in 2007 when I first got the desire to learn about the experience of nuclear bombs among non-Japanese people. At the time, I had an interest in nuclear and environmental issues, and joined a study tour on the Marshall Islands, known for the hydrogen bomb experiments conducted at Bikini Atoll. There, the U.S. carried out 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958.

    During the tour, a 60-year-old woman, who experienced the Castle Bravo nuclear test denoted at Bikini Atoll when she was 7 years old, told me, "I'm always feeling unwell, and I can't live without all these medicines." She said she had multiple stillbirths and opted for adoption. She was a fashionable woman with a friendly smile, but she seemed to feel helpless about the unchanging situation despite pleas to abolish nuclear weapons. That's the impression I have of her.

    Shiori Okawa, director of the documentary film "Tarinae," is seen in Tokyo's Taito Ward on Dec. 24, 2020. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

    One reason the area was used for nuclear tests is because Japan, which occupied the Marshall Islands during World War II, lost the war in 1945, at which time the U.S. took control of the islands. When I learned about canons and Japanese songs still remaining there, I thought, "Why didn't I have any knowledge of this?" From the viewpoint of someone who received an education in Japan, which has forgotten about such past events, I dreamed of making a movie to spread the memories of war that remain.

    I lived on the Marshall Islands for three years after graduating from university. There are areas still contaminated by radiation, and the aftermath of nuclear tests remain. Residents are divided over issues including whether to return to their hometown and if they can receive compensation, which is causing deep pain though it may not be visible. The pain is apparently one reason why people find it difficult to pass down the experience of the nuclear tests.

    I've heard that many people who lived through the nuclear tests developed diseases like thyroid cancer and have experienced miscarriages. The U.S. observed residents' health conditions, not to provide treatment but for the sake of monitoring the effects of radiation on people's health.

    An old cannon from World War II is seen on the Marshall Islands in this photo taken by Shiori Osaka, director of the documentary film "Tarinae."

    I participated in a memorial ceremony for the Bikini Atoll testing victims held every year on March 1, when it took place in 1954. I couldn't stand it when a U.S. government official said the experiments were held to protect the world's freedom and democracy and thanked their contribution to world peace.

    I think the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is significant in banning the overall use as well as testing of nuclear weapons. At the same time, I think we have to know what individuals were forced to sacrifice before the treaty was concluded, consider it as something personal, and imagine what it was like.

    In a little more than 100 years since the atomic nucleus was discovered by humans, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons have been created, and we are in a situation where nobody can take responsibility for the future. While nuclear policy may be a country-to-country problem, it's always the individuals who fall victim to them. Nowadays, almost no one in the world can live without having anything to do with nuclear issues.

    It's essential for each and every one of us to think again why society accepts nuclear weapons despite the sharing of individual experiences, and to talk about the issue in everyday life.

    (Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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