The principal woman featured in this movie begins showing the initial symptoms of mottled spots on the skin at the age of seven. The onset of stupor beings when she is 10-years-old. She is diagnosed with leprosy at 22 and the following year in 1957 she is separated from her family before being mandatorily quarantined at the Tama Zenshoen Sanatorium. 10 months later she meets a man also quarantined there with leprosy and the two are wed. However, sanatorium rules at the time stipulated the castration of any male leprosy patient who marries another leprosy patient within the facility. The couple have no other recourse but to accept the rule for the sake of their married life together.
I was very young when I first learned of leprosy. People said “get too close and you’ll be infected by the disease” so leprosy was a very scary sickness for me at that tender age. I became familiar with leprosy in a proper sense in 1999. I was involved as a director of a one hour television documentary about the emotional journey of a young boy in his early teens. His parents were employed at a leprosy sanatorium located in Tokyo’s Higashi Murayama City (the Tama Zenshoen Sanatorium). That became a turning point. Afterward, over several visits to the Tama Zenshoen Sanatorium, the fearfulness I felt during my childhood toward leprosy sufferers vanished. I realized ignorance and prejudice breeds discrimination.
As with his debut feature-length documentary, Atomic Bomb Home, Sakaguchi’s upcoming work aims to give voice to people dwelling on the periphery of society in order for them to tell their story and leave a lasting image of themselves and their lives while bringing into focus an issue not in the public conscious. Furthermore, filming of the documentary has taken just over a decade (if scheduled completion of filming in 2019 is not delayed) similar to his Walking With My Mother. And like that movie, capturing the couple featured in this documentary over a long period of time is sure to paint an evolving portrait that will hopefully change minds as much as it captures hearts. Though Japan’s “Leper Precautionary Ordinance” was finally repealed in 1996, leprosy patients have not been able to return to society with a large majority still languishing to this day in the very facilities they were mandatorily segregated.
Sakaguchi and producer Ochiai Atsuko hope to finish the documentary in 2020. Check the Indievisual Facebook or blog for details as they emerge. This entry will also be updated with a trailer and imagery when they become available. Meanwhile, if your perception of leprosy was instilled in the days the disease was largely misperceived–like myself, the site for the Global Campaign for Leprosy Elimination sheds light on those “dark age” perceptions.
*Feature image of the building within the Tama Zenshou Sanatorium from the Leprosy.jp website.