Granddaughter's Film Documents Wartime Woes Of Italians In Japan

Granddaughter's film documents wartime woes of Italians in Japan

A granddaughter of an Italian anthropologist who was detained at Japanese prison camps with his family has completed a documentary about their wartime ordeal.

Mujah Maraini-Melehi, the 46-year-old director of "Haiku on a Plum Tree," said she is now seeking a distributor for the 74-minute film.

"I made the movie out of a desire to have more people both in Italy and in Japan learn about the wartime experiences instead of just talking about them within our family," Mujah said following a November screening of the film at the Italian Institute of Culture in Tokyo.

Ryuichi Sakamoto provided the music for the film.

Mujah’s grandfather, Fosco Maraini (1912-2004), came to study in Japan in 1938 with his wife, Topazia Alliata, and their first child.

Mujah’s mother is the couple’s third daughter, who was born in Japan.

During World War II, the family members were sent to prison camps in Aichi Prefecture as enemy aliens.

Italy, which was part of the Axis alliance with Japan and Germany, surrendered to the Allied Powers in September 1943.

Fosco’s family refused to swear allegiance to a puppet state established by Germany in northern Italy, and they were taken to a prison camp in Nagoya along with more than 10 other Italians.

Prison guards took their food, so the family suffered from terrible hunger.

Mujah learned about the harsh realities from a notebook that her grandmother, Topazia, secretly kept at the time.

"We are hungry from morning through evening, and from evening through morning," says one passage from the notebook that is presented in the documentary.

Topazia died at age 102 in November 2015.

Mujah started filming scenes, intermittently, in 2003.

Two years ago, she made the rounds of related locations, including the former prison camp site and Kosaiji temple in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, where the family was relocated after air raids had intensified.

The title of the movie was taken from a passage in a work written by a U.S. poet, who had interactions with Topazia, and themed on her experiences at the prison camps.

The passage reads: "A haiku to hang. From a plum tree. And give to the wind."

"My grandmother’s notebook was packed with short sentences written with a pencil," Mujah said. "The poet probably referred to that when he used the word 'haiku.’"