Photo/IllutrationYoungsters surrender to U.S. forces during the Battle of Okinawa in the film titled “Okinawa Spy Senshi” (History of espionage in Okinawa). (Provided by the producers of the documentary)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Teenage boys died in droves after being drafted by the Japanese military in Okinawa in the closing stages of World War II to harass U.S. forces and thwart their advance, a new documentary shows.

“Okinawa Spy Senshi” (History of espionage in Okinawa) charts how a unit called "Gokyotai" was hastily formed by young army officers of the Imperial Japanese Army in the closing stages of the bloody Battle of Okinawa to wage guerrilla tactics behind enemy lines.

Of the 1,000 or boys in their mid-teens enlisted for the project, 160 perished, according to Chie Mikami, who with Hanayo Oya, jointly directed the film released in April.

The two women used to work for Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting Corp. based in Okinawa Prefecture.

The documentary reveals another brutal perspective of a conflict that claimed around 200,000 lives, nearly half of them civilians, which accounted for one-quarter of Okinawa's population at the time.

“The military didn’t protect the islanders during the Battle of Okinawa,” said Mikami.

"I want people to see the movie to understand what Okinawans have been calling for all these years," said Oya.

Shooting for the film began in June 2017, and around 50 people were interviewed for the project.

It emerges that 42 young army officers who had just graduated from Rikugun Nakano Gakko, a secret training school for military intelligence operatives run by the army, were mobilized to Okinawa and its outlying islands in or after September 1944, according to Akira Kawamitsu, who is compiling a history of Nago, in northern Okinawa Prefecture, for the Nago board of education.

A book titled “Rikugun Nakano Gakko and the Battle of Okinawa” written by Kawamitsu was a valuable reference work for the documentary.

It illustrates the efforts military officers made to harass U.S. forces with sneak attacks staged by youngsters even though Okinawa was destined to be sacrificed in order to fight a decisive battle on the main islands of Japan.

The film traces the whereabouts of the teenage warriors and the way they were manipulated.

After the U.S. forces made landfall in Okinawa, the youths were used to plant explosives under tanks and rush enemy positions.

One elderly survivor talks about the wrenching heartache he felt at the time.

“I would rather wished to have never been born than cause my parents grief by dying," he recalled.

The youngsters were also trained for all sorts of special missions, such as carrying explosives into prison camps after purposefully surrendering to the U.S. forces.

Mikami said the Gokyotai troop unit served to keep a tight control on the population.

“No parent would surrender to the U.S. forces while their children were frantically fighting,” she said, adding that with their children struggling on the battlefield, they would have been willing to offer scarce food.

Mikami said the army "maneuvered islanders to become as one, in body and mind with the troops.”

The film also covers the tragedy that befell residents of Haterumajima island who were forced to move to Iriomotejima island, where malaria was rampant.

Around 500 islanders, or one-third of the population, died, even though the fighting had not spread there.

This forced resettlement was ordered by an army officer who had graduated from Rikugun Nakano Gakko.

The film makes abundantly clear that the Japanese military exploited the population of Okinawa for its own purposes, instead of trying to protect the people.

Mikami believes that this policy would have prevailed if a decisive battle was waged on the main islands.

The film is now showing at theaters in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

(This article was compiled from reports by Tatsuro Hoshina and Nobuyuki Takiguchi.)