Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Marcel Junod (1904-1961), a Swiss doctor, was a field representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during some of the most tumultuous times of the 20th century - the 1930s and 1940s. He worked tirelessly to ease the suffering of victims of violence, first in the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-36, then the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, and ultimately in World War II. By happenstance, he arrived in Japan just after the atomic bombs had been dropped. He was the first non-Japanese doctor to visit Hiroshima, where he delivered 15 tons of badly needed medical supplies. His life story is documented in a 2010 Japanese educational anime entitled, simply, Junod.

Dr. Junod's story was indeed remarkable. He was a first-hand witness to Italy's use of poison gas and its indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the war with Ethiopia. In Spain, he successfully brokered prisoner exchanges, even though the ICRC had no legal standing in a civil war. Eventually, his tireless work on behalf of prisoners of war brought him into contact with two of the most prominent Allied prisoners held by the Japanese: Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright (US) and Lt. General Arthur Percival (UK). Although there was little he could do for them, his refusal to knuckle under to the Japanese prison camp commander earned their respect. Following Japan's surrender, Wainwright and Percival were flown to Japan for the signing of the formal surrender documents. There, they met Junod as he was attempting to organize a relief mission to Hiroshima. Their influence with Douglas MacArthur led to the release of 15 tons of badly-needed medical supplies for Junod's work. After the war, Junod became a prominent activist in UNICEF, continued his work at the ICRC, and worked as a surgeon, until felled by a heart attack at the relatively young age of 57.

Dr. Junod's life deserves commemoration, and this film covers the highlights. However, it could have been stronger. For example, the film uses a framing device to make the story more accessible to children. Two middle school students named Yuu and Mii (ho ho) revisit scenes from Junod's career via a time-travel dream during a school trip to Hiroshima. The lesson they draw (and the film draws) - that one must stand up to school bullies and not just stand by - is a pretty small-scale conclusion for such dramatic events. A simpler, more documentary focus would have worked better and had greater impact, I believe.

As a historian, I would have liked more attention paid to the ambiguities of Junod's situation. The ICRC was constrained both legally and politically. Legally, the only treaties it could rely on were the Geneva Conventions about the treatment of the wounded and of military prisoners. (Treatment of civilians would not be addressed until after World War II.) Politically, it was constrained by Swiss neutrality and the geographic reality of being surrounded by Axis military might. As a result, the ICRC turned a blind eye to German atrocities against civilians, even though it had detailed information about the Holocaust by the end of 1942. (The Allied governments and the Vatican had the same information and kept silent as well.) Did Junod know? When he went to visit Japan in 1945, was he aware of the extent of Japanese crimes against Chinese civilians and Allied prisoners? The film does not address these questions.

This release uses an HDTV capture; the raw is badly marred with both logos. Iri translated, Yogicat timed, I edited and typeset, and Nemesis, M74, and bananadoyouwanna QCed. The encode is by tipota and is as good as the source material allows. (The animation is fairly low-grade.) There is no Blu-Ray release of the film, and even DVDs are only available to charitable and educational institutions.

One translation note: the film refers to the two sides in the Spanish Civil War as Republicans (supporters of the Spanish Republic) and Francoists (supporters of the military insurrection led by General Franco). The insurrectionists never used that term, referring to themselves instead as Nationalists. I have used "Nationalists" in the dialog.

Despite its flaws as a movie, Junod is a timely reminder of the need for good men to do good work in the face of evil. Its lessons seems particularly apropos these days. You can get it from the usual torrent sources or from Orphan|Arutha in channels #news or #nibl or irc.rizon.net.

No comments:

Post a Comment