Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Tomb of Fireflies

Last Tuesday, so I am told, was World Children’s Day. To celebrate, DED, an NGO which funds a program called CINEDUC, came to show an educational film to the kids at the camp and hold a discussion.

They came to our camp with all of the sound and projection equipment. My friend at HCR Kigali asked me to get the room ready (it was less a room than a shelter of corrugated metal) with chairs for the kids. I had to tell her that...well, we didn’t actually have any chairs. So we put down some plastic sheeting, which worked just as well for the 150 people or so who showed up.

The film they showed, The Tomb of Fireflies (Le Tombeau des Lucioles) was one in a series of films they’ll be showing during the coming weeks. This one was about the rights of children in wartime; other subjects include racism (they’ll be showing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and the right of girls to choose their husbands.

I was eager to watch the movie. Imagine! A movie at our little camp! It was almost too much to ask. I thought the kids would be overjoyed.

The reaction was mixed—and I could understand why. The movie, a Japanese anime dubbed in French (and translated into Kinyarwanda by microphone by the NGO staff) was set during World War II, and included images that were only too familiar to many of these children. A boy and his younger sister survive the atomic blast, but their mother dies a few days later. They show her body wrapped in blood-soaked bandages…and then, following her death, the showed the maggots which began to infest the corpse. The mother’s body was burned. If these kids had never heard of a funeral pyre, they must have been really appalled—I know I would have been! Japanese anime tends to have a flair for the dramatic, but JESUS that was not appropriate for the kids! One child started crying, flailing wildy, and threw herself up against the door, screaming to be let out. When she was allowed to leave, half of the children followed, and we thought only the adults would be left.

The story went on to show the brother trying to provide for his little sister by working and stealing. It turned out that the father had died as well, and then, at the end, the little sister dies of malnutrition, and her body is also burned.

Am I crazy? When the movie was over, I wanted to make a run for it, to escape potentially angry parents.

Thank goodness that there was a post-film discussion. They made some very charged statements and asked volunteers to pick a side—agree or disagree. The NGO team thought it would be funny if I participated, and I immediately knew my role, to be the voice of the UN. It wasn’t easy.

The first question was, “Is it justified to target civilians in times of war?” which, of course, is a no-brainer. Interestingly, several refugees said yes, and had to explain themselves; but they changed their minds after hearing contrary opinions from fellow refugees.

The second was harder: “Is it justified to steal to survive in times of war?” Oy. Survival is a whole separate ball game. I had to decline speaking first while I sorted out my thoughts, but ended up saying something like, “It’s never okay to steal, because you’re taking what’s not yours. Instead, people should share in wartime, because if people shared, there would be less theft.” Even I recognize that to be wholly unrealistic, but as a UN worker, I couldn’t say that it was okay to steal!

The program closed with music. As we left, we could hear the echo of Michael Jackson singing about making the world “a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.” No comment needed.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I've watched this film, and think it's a masterpiece of Miyazaki, the director. This is an anti-war film, and I guess you already know the story ( btw the damage in the city is caused by airstrike, there were never any nuke dropped in Kobe). A dubbed version, however, took away the most stunning part of the anime. It is the voice of that little girl that touched me the most. Stealing is wrong of course, but in war time that's the only way to survive for some. No food, no job, no money, I wonder how you would survive in such a situation w/o stealing.

Just my two cents.
Peace

Derek

7/11/2006 10:20 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Ah, so that's how they didn't die of radiation. I did think about that.

I was representing the UN's opinion, not my own. I couldn't very well say that it was okay to steal. That's what made the question even more loaded.

3/26/2008 4:16 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Ah, so that's how they didn't die of radiation. I did think about that.

I was representing the UN's opinion, not my own. I couldn't very well say that it was okay to steal. That's what made the question even more loaded.

3/26/2008 4:16 PM  
Blogger Yu said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/05/2010 3:40 PM  
Blogger Yu said...

I just watched the film and wanted to share my views here.

It's not right to target the civilians during war, but another interesting detail is how the little boy interpreted the war (which totally reflected the brainwash Japanese received at home). He thought his soldier father was a hero and was defending the country. In fact the Japanese troops were invading other Asian countries and caused trauma wherever they go. When the Japanese complain about their suffering during the war, they should think about how it all started.

As for whether it's OK to steal, I'd say it should be the last resort. It's hard to survive when everyone is starving. But when the boy took other people's food, he might be causing others' starvation. Besides, the movie never showed the boy trying to find any job. Although he's probably still young (14 year old), he could offer to help out at his aunt's place, or at the farmer's field. If he knows the right channels, he might be able to get some compensation from the government as well, since his father died for the war. In stead, for his "pride", he moved out of his aunt's place and started to steal. Does he consider stealing a more honorable thing to do than living under others' roof?

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