The Toronto Japanese Film Festival is airing a unique Holocaust-themed movie, Persona Non Grata, the story of the “Japanese Schindler.”
Directed by Japanese-American Cellin Gluck, Persona Non Grata follows the career of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat during World War II, the only Japanese person to be named Righteous Among the Nations.
The two-hour movie takes its time setting up the story, and it takes about 40 minutes to get to the crux. Sugihara is tasked with opening a Japanese consulate in Lithuania around the time the Soviets invade the Baltic nations as part of their agreement with Adolf Hitler following the start of the war.
Soon, Sugihara sees many people lined up outside his consulate trying to escape Europe. Defying orders from Tokyo, Sugihara issues more than 2,000 transit visas to Jewish refugees, allowing them safe passage through the Soviet Union to Vladivostok, and from there to a boat to Japan. Sugihara knows full well that this will jeopardize his career.
Sugihara is estimated to have saved over 6,000 Jews from the Nazis, who a year or so later, would invade Lithuania as part of their war on the Soviet Union.
Following the war – he spent the rest of it in the consulate in Nazi Germany, where he also defied orders by spying on German movement on the Soviet border – he returned to Tokyo, but his diplomatic career was ruined. He never knew whether his visas saved anybody until he was found many years later by one of the survivors.
The film is screened, with subtitles, on June 29 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 6 Garamond Ct., Toronto.