Photo/IllutrationA group of U.S. Marines visit Hacksaw Ridge in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, on May 4. (Provided by the U.S. military)

  • Photo/Illustraion

URASOE, Okinawa Prefecture--City officials here are poised to capitalize on the release of the Urasoe-set Hollywood movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” based on the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, to educate locals about the devastating realities of the bloody clash.

The city has been in the spotlight since the Academy Award-winning film, directed by Mel Gibson, opened in the United States, as well as U.S. military bases on Okinawa, last autumn.

Busloads of Americans, most of them U.S. troops stationed on Okinawa and their relatives, have descended on the city to pay tribute to the former conflict site, a hill in Urasoe, according to city officials.

The steep hill was called Hacksaw Ridge by the U.S. military and Maeda Kochi (Maeda Encampment) by the Imperial Japanese Army.

The municipal government created a website that it named “the other side of ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’” a collection of footage in which islanders tell their wartime experiences, as well as their written accounts. The related website offers a detailed history of the battle, with a map and photos.

Survivors and peace tour guides in the southernmost prefecture were scheduled to share their experiences at a screening of the movie in this city on June 19, ahead of its June 24 nationwide opening.

“We would like people to take an interest in the battle--also the version witnessed by Okinawans, but that was left out of the movie,” said Yoshiki Uezu, an official at the Urasoe city government’s international exchange section.

In the three-month battle, the U.S. military's death toll came to 12,520, while the Japanese side lost about 188,000 lives. About 65 percent of the Japanese fatalities were Okinawans, and one of every four Okinawan people at that time was killed.

The movie is a biographical war drama centered on Desmond Doss, who refused to carry a weapon due to his religious beliefs, and became a combat medic who was assigned to the battlefront.

Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, saved 75 lives, including those of many Japanese.

Hacksaw Ridge turned into carnage as U.S. troops advanced south toward the Imperial Japanese Army’s headquarters in Shuri in the present-day prefectural capital of Naha to bring it under control.

The hill is now part of Urasoe Park, which houses monuments dedicated to the war dead and caves that harbored islanders who were desperate to flee the bloodshed and blaze in the fighting.

According to the city, 44.6 percent of Urasoe’s population was lost in the three-month battle. The city also reported that 22.6 percent of households were entirely wiped out.

After the movie won the best film editing and best sound mixing honors at the Academy Awards in February, the number of foreign visitors shot up, with numbers reaching the hundreds on some days.

Kiyomi Tamanaha, who heads the secretariat of a private group of peace tour guides, Uraosoi Rekishi Guide Tomo no Kai (the association of guides for history tours), hopes the movie and the website will encourage local residents to take more of an interest in the battle.

“It has been 72 years since the end of World War II, but I hope we should never forget that the Battle of Okinawa was waged here and that Urasoe will serve as a catalyst for thinking about peace,” she said.

U.S. troops landed on the main island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, following heavy aerial bombings and naval bombardments.

The battle is the only one to have been fought on Japanese soil involving civilians.