The film "Bart no Gakuen" ("The Forgotten Orchestra," in English) is now playing in Japanese theaters.
The movie tells the story of how Beethoven's Ninth Symphony came to be played for the first time in Japan by German POWs.
This production is of special interest to me, as I lived in Naruto, the site of the Bando POW camp, for two years.
I now live near where much of the film was shot and I had a chance to visit the set before it was dismantled.
A little history: At the end of the 19th century, European nations were expanding their interests in Asia. Germany set up bases in Tsingtao and other cities in China.
When war broke out, Japan sided with the Allies. The Japanese army attacked Tsingtao and Kiachow, which were then German territories, and hauled the prisoners back to camps in Japan.
The camp director at Bando, Colonel Matsue Toyohisa (played by Matsudaira Ken in the film) operated under a highly humane administration policy. The soldiers were free to do pretty much whatever they liked.
They were allowed to interact with the locals and engaged in a variety of intellectual and creative activities. They published books, put on puppet shows and plays, held lectures, and organized athletic events.
The various orchestras put on more than 100 musical performances during the four years of internment, including the Japan debut of Beethoven's Ninth.
The movie, made with a budget of 15 hundred million yen, features well-known German and Japan stars, as well as expat extras. Although it's entirely in German and Japanese, hopefully there'll be English subtitles on the DVD.
Japan Books and DVDs
Wednesday, July 12, 2006