From the film’s introduction:

The Okinawa islands are located in Japan’s southwest. There was intense land warfare in Okinawa when the Allied Forces invaded at the end of WWII. Over 100,000 locals died in the Battle of Okinawa.

After the war, Okinawa was under a different administration of the United States Military Forces than the mainland.

As a result, many Okinawans had to surrender their land to the U.S. military bases. The Japanese Constitution was not applicable in Okinawa during this time.

In 1972, control of Okinawa was given back to Japan. But the military bases and the impact of the oppression remained.

And now, in 2015, there is a plan to build a new military base, complete with a port, an airfield, and an armory.


A continuous and desperate struggle

The documentary deals with the continuous and desperate struggles of the islands’ inhabitants to keep the U.S. military from building the base, disrupting one of the few virgin seas remaining in the world. The documentary focuses on three central figures of the movement, Hiroji, Takekiyo and Fumiko, examining their everyday life and through them, the history of the islands since WW2.


Unique individuals

All three of the aforementioned individuals, are unique characters. Hiroji, a relentless leader of the movement, is every day in front of the US military base in Henoko, shouting messages, rallying the rest of the demonstrators and trying his best to obstruct the trucks transferring materials for the new base to the camp.

Takekiyo has his whole family (wife and three children) dedicated to the cause, with them even having weekly rituals regarding their protesting. The scene where his older son gives a speech in front of the crowd regarding the cause, is one of the most touching in the film.


The one who steals the show, though, is 85-years-old Fumiko, a survivor of the Okinawan war, who is at least as energetic and determined as the younger members of the movement. Chie Mikami focuses a large part of the documentary around her, as she tells her dramatic life story and explains the reasons she is still protesting.

As many of the protesters use canoes to reach the place where the base is to be built, the government hired local anglers to patrol the area. The documentary also records Nakamura’s (one of those men) opinion on the subject.


War without Arms

What is impressive though is that through all this friction, with the inhabitants referring to it as “War without Arms,” there are no clashes between them, despite the differences of opinion. Furthermore, they seem to retain their humor and their will for dancing, singing, and keeping traditions, despite their many hardships. The scenes after  Onaga, a governor candidate who is against the building of the base, wins the election, are a great testament to the fact.


However, Mikami does not shy away from depicting that, despite their relentless efforts, the outcome is not the one they hope for, as their struggle against the combined forces of their own and the American governments proves futile, despite some sporadic wins. The fact that their constant losses, and the violence against them, does not dishearten them, but instead increases their determination, makes them appear almost heroic.


Technically sound

Technically, the documentary is quite sound, and the mixture of historic footage, with images from everyday life in the island, and scenes in the demonstration is elaborate, exemplifying Takafumi Aoki’s editing. Hitoshi Komuro’s jazz music and the wonderful voice of narrator Cocco are in perfect harmony with Chizuna Okubo and Chie Mikami’s photography. The fact that the latter does not feel the need (so frequently and unnecessary felt by other documentarians) to show herself on camera is another trait of the documentary, as Mikami allows her material to speak for her. Furthermore, her direction shows a sensitivity that highlights the fact that she seems to share the people’s sentiments.


“We Shall Overcome” is a great film about a very important issue, that combines artfully the documentary with the biopic.


The DVD of the documentary is available from Zakka Films, with English subtitles.