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“Persona Non Grata”: Gluck Brings Multicultural Perspective to Sugihara Chiune Biopic

Japanese-born American director Cellin Gluck brings a unique set of multicultural experiences and memories to his new motion picture Persona Non Grata, depicting Japanese diplomat Sugihara Chiune and his efforts to save Polish and Lithuanian Jews from the Nazis during World War II. In an exclusive interview, we explore the roots of Gluck’s latest work.

Sugihara Chiune (1900–86), sometimes referred to as “the Japanese Schindler,” was a diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis by issuing visas from Lithuania in defiance of orders from his superiors in Japan. He was dismissed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after World War II and lived in obscurity, unrecognized in his homeland until relatively recently. In 1985, one year before Sugihara’s death, the Israeli government named him Righteous Among the Nations in recognition of his efforts on behalf of Jews during World War II. MOFA reinstated him posthumously in 1991.

The new motion picture Sugihara Chiune (Persona Non Grata), which opened in Japanese movie theaters on December 5, tells the story of the diplomat’s quiet battle to provide thousands of desperate refugees with a means of escape. It stars Karasawa Toshiaki as the Japanese vice-consul in Lithuania, known to those he aided as Senpo (an easy-to-pronounce reading of his given name), and Koyuki as his wife Yukiko, alongside a credible international cast featuring several top-tier Polish film stars, who lend the drama realism and depth.

Director Cellin Gluck, the son of an American Jewish father and a Japanese American mother, was born and raised in Japan. He filmed the entire movie in Poland with a mainly Polish crew. A multicultural perspective is fundamental to the film, as it is to the director’s life and career. We talked to Gluck about the artistic aims and personal significance of his new film.

Quiet Heroism of an Ordinary Man

Gluck’s goal in directing the film was not to narrate the story of some larger-than-life Japanese hero but to explore the process by which an ordinary individual, faced with a terrible dilemma, can come to a heroic decision...

 

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