02 October 2014

琉球王国 Made in Okinawa (2004)

When Renzō Kinoshita (木下蓮三, 1936 - 1997) passed away in 1997 at the early age of 60, he left behind an unfinished project called Ryūkyū Ōkoku – Made in Okinawa (琉球王国 – Made in Okinawa, 2004) dedicated to the history and people of the Ryūkyū Islands of Okinawa Prefecture.  The storyboard for the animated short was completed in 1996, and after his death his wife Sayoko Kinoshita (木下小夜子, b. 1945) completed the film. (Source: ASIFA JAPAN).  This animated 'documentary' short, which was shot on 35mm, played widely at international film and animation festivals from 2005-2007, and since then has shown at ASIFA screenings (Source: ASIFA JAPAN) at events such as International Animation Day

In a prologue to the title screen, the film presents a beautiful cutout sequence of the sea – the defining element of Okinawan island culture – along with other significant symbols of Okinawan culture.  A red-cheeked god, nanachi-bushi (the Big Dipper / Ursa Major), a traditional fan, the rising of the red sun out of the sea: these images all culminate with the face of the Ryūkyū god of nature in white dress.  He looks directly into the camera, as if to challenge the spectator to think carefully about the culture and history of these islands. He places his hands on a palm tree and its leaves flourish.  The sequence ends with a sequence of fish in their plenitude.

A Ryūkyū man dressed in a traditional bashōfu (芭蕉布 / banana plant cloth) kimono lies on the beach looking out to the sea.  As he lies there, we witness the passage of time on the islands.  At first there is peace and time seems to move slowly.  Only the music and the occasional movements of the man indicate the passage of time.  Finally a man carrying water passes by, followed by other people representative of times past: market vendors, peasants, the red-cheeked god dancing at a matsuri (festival).  But as the film progresses, the islands prove to be the meeting place of many cultures.

Okinawa has long been strategically important due to its central position in the East China Sea.  With Japan and Korea to the north, Taiwan and the Philippines to the south, and China to the west, the Ryūkyū were (and still are) significant for both for sea-going trade and political control in the region.  The Kinoshitas depict boats with various flags passing the islands, and present a montage of the cultural influences on Okinawan life.  This ranges from the benign (countries who want to trade with the people of the Ryūkyū Islands) to the threatening (countries who invaded/colonised the region).

The film is a great tool for teaching Okinawan history to secondary school children and university students, for there are visual references to many key historical events.  These include trade with the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the invasion of Ryūkyū Kingdom by the Satsuma Clan (1609) during the early days of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868), the Ryūkyūan missions to Edo (琉球江戸上り / Ryūkyū Edo Nobori) following the invasion, and the landing of American Commodore Matthew C. Perry at Naha Port on May 26, 1853.

The montage of events becomes more intense as the region enters the modern era beginning with the advent of the Meiji Period (1968-1912), which saw the abolition of the Ryūkyū Clan and establishment of Okinawa Prefecture (1879). The animated short also depicts the Crown Prince of Japan (Hirohito) visiting Okinawa briefly in 1921 at the outset of his famous extended tour of Europe.  The most dramatic sequences concern the terrible events experienced by Okinawans during the Second World War and the American Occupation of the islands.  Historical events are not presented in a strictly chronological order, but are often juxtaposed against past and future events in a complex way that provokes debate and critique. 

In conclusion, the film raises questions about the modernisation of Okinawa and leaves the audience much to consider regarding the region’s future.  As in their earlier films, particularly Pica-don (ピカドン, 1978) and The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (最後の空襲くまがや, 1993), the Kinoshitas do not shy away from presenting the harsh realities of the atrocities that have occurred in Okinawa.  The horrors of the Battle of Okinawa and the notorious forced mass suicides are difficult to watch, but clearly necessary to understanding the ongoing frictions between Okinawa and the Japanese government.  Although they are Japanese from Osaka and Tokyo respectively, Renzō and Sayoko Kinoshita clearly sympathize with the plight of the Okinawan people and the film expresses their desire for a peaceful future for the islands.   


Renzō Kinoshita
Sayoko Kinoshita

Sayoko Kinoshita
Studio Lotus

Reijiro Koraku

Music Producer:
Yoshi Ando

Music Production:
Company Aza

Music Recording Studio:
Backpage Studio

Recording Engineer:
Mikio Obata

Sound Recording:
Kunio Ando

Sound Recording Studio:
Aoi Studio

Sound Production:
Magic Capsule

Sound Production Manager:
Rika Ishibashi

Okinawan Music:
Chibana Sanshin Club

Voices (Okinawan dialect):
Takashi Uehara
Masaru Taira

Hisao Shirai
Teruo Tsuda

Chikako Fukui
Yasuhito Fukui

Production Assistant:
Masahiro Hayashi

Production Manager:
Makiko Nagao


Selected Filmography

1972       Made in Japan   / Nippon Seizou                 
1977       Japonese                              
1978       Pica-don / ピカドン    
1986       Geba Geba Showtime / ゲバゲバショウタイム           
1989       Self Portrait, part of David Ehrlich’s collaborative work Animated Self Portraits
1993       The Last Air Raid Kumagaya / 最後の空襲くまがや 
1994       A Little Journey                 / ひろしくんは空がすき                         
2004       Ryūkyū Oukoku Made in Okinawa        琉球王国Made in Okinawa       

For a complete filmography and links to secondary sources on the Kinoshitas, visit the Japanese Animation Filmography Project

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2014