Hokkaido: Film shines light on life with Russians after WWII

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People watch “Soviets came to my house” in Wakkanai, Hokkaido on Aug. 20.

WAKKANAI, Hokkaido — Students at Ikueikan University in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, created a documentary film based on the true story of invading Soviets and Japanese living together in South Sakhalin immediately after World War II.

The students showed the film to about 50 residents and others at a screening at the university on Aug. 20. The film has been praised for its depiction of people who lived together beyond national borders 77 years ago. The Russian invasion of Ukraine started shortly before the film’s completion.

The film is called “The Soviets came to my house,” and was created by four seniors at the university between spring last year and March as a project for a “Visual media theory” class taught by city hall employee Ryuji Makino, 38, a part-time lecturer at the university.

After World War II ended, many Japanese residents remained in South Sakhalin, and the occupying Soviet Union sent its own citizens into Japanese peoples homes. Both the reality and existence of these widely unknown “mixed residences” are introduced in the film, which focuses on the childhood experience of Junzo Yoshioka, 80. Now living in Sapporo, he lived for several years with a Soviet couple who came to his home. The 30-minute film includes footage of a play based on Yoshioka’s memoirs.

Yoshioka apparently told the students that his family and the Soviet people who lived with them would help each other. They taught him math and protected him from bullies. One of the students, Takumi Kanaya, 21, said, “I had no idea about the ‘mixed residence,’ and I was surprised that he looked back on it with such joy.”

After the war ended, a fierce ground war was fought in South Sakhalin, and many civilians were killed. In the film, another repatriated woman said, “I have painful memories that I cannot erase even though I want to.”