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Visas and Virtue

Distributed by NAATA National Asian America Telecommunications Association, 346 Ninth Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
Produced by Cedar Grove Productions
Directed by Chris Tashima
VHS, color with b&, 26 min.
College - Adult

Reviewed by Rebecca Adler, College of Staten Island, City University of New York

Not Recommended   

Gratitude to the filmmakers for bringing to light the story of an authentic, selfless Holocaust hero is, regrettably, attenuated somewhat by the manner in which they've chosen to tell the story. The time is Spring 1940. Japan is still officially neutral as World War II lurches bloodily on. And in Kaunas, Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul general stationed there, for pure humanitarian reasons and against the express orders of his government, issues over 2,000 transit visas to Jews fleeing the murderous Nazi onslaught into Poland, thus sparing them from certain extermination. The visas permitted their bearers to cross the Soviet Union into Japan and on to safe haven beyond. Unfortunately, in the absence of any documentary footage, the consul's story is told essentially in a single cloying episode in which a Jewish mother, whose infant was killed by a German soldier the week earlier, offers to nurse the consul's sick child when the child's mother cannot. The likelihood of that event ever happening is undercut by the disclaimer shown at the beginning of the film, which states that much of what we are about to see is fictional -- fictional characters, fictional scenes. Also of dubious authenticity is the script's depiction of the consul hesitating at a certain point to issue more visas in defiance of his government, but continuing to do so at his wife's passionate urging. (A separate play about the consul's exploits that had runs in theaters in Los Angeles and New York apparently attributes no such role to the consul's wife.) Acting, writing, and production values of the film are at best below professional standards, so it comes as a surprise to learn that it was awarded the 1997 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. But even if the film were intended mainly for a young audience as part of a Holocaust education program (as the video packaging suggests), one may yet question whether that young audience was not being patronized by this sentimental dramatization -- offered in place of the historically reliable account that begs to be told.