Written by Li Ji
GREEN JAIL focuses on the story of Taiwanese miners and their descendants on
Iriomote Island during the World War II. Iriomote Coal Mine site locates in Okinawa, 200
kms away from Taiwan. From 1885 to 1945, this site became the main source of mine
supply for Japan and Taiwan. There was no advanced mining technology, and the site was mined by numerous human labors. Those miners were under inhumane management, and half of these miners came from Taiwan. They were controlled by morphine injections, ending up with drug addiction or malaria. Some tried to escape, but the harsh natural environment made it difficult for them to do so successfully because it was an isolated island. For this reason, researchers of Okinawan history refer to the area as “Green Jail”.
The protagonist of the documentary is called JIANG SHI-DUAN born in Taiwan, 1926.
Three days after her birth, she was given to Yang Tien-fu as an adopted daughter because of a bet between her grandfather and a neighbour. She moved to Iriomote island with the Yang’s family at the age of 10, as Yang Tien-fu worked in the mines as a manager. She was forced to marry Yang’s son and had children at the age of 16. Apart from returning to Taiwan for two years after the war, the family moved back to Iriomote Island due to the political turmoil in Taiwan and has not left since.
JIANG SHI-DUAN also changed her name to Hashima Yoshiko. She was in her 80s,
living alone on the island during the shooting. Her children have left for the Japanese mainland and rarely visit her. Hashima seems to have no complaints and just lives calmly after a life of hardship. “fate” is the word she often mentions and is also one of the topics of this documentary. Not only does the documentary mention the fate of miners on Iriomote Island, but also the fate of an East Asian woman.
Interestingly, the film also includes the perspective of an American - Luis, who has
resided In Iriomote long time. Luis is a tenant of Hashima and lives next door to her. Born in California, Luis moved to Japan with his father at the age of 14 and moved to Iriomote Island alone in 2010 because he liked the tranquillity of the area. It adds an extra layer by telling the history of the Iriomote miners from the perspective of a contemporary outsider, which indicates the repetition and difference in the fate of the characters on Iriomote Island, and indirectly allows the audiences to compare the fates of the two generations. The director also mentioned in the interview that “It enhances the modernity and the sense of life from a content point of view, by adding Luis to the story. He makes the story more than just a grandma talking about the past and changes the pace so that the images are not drowned in sadness and heaviness, so he has to be brought in from the director's point of view.”
In addition to this, the cinematography is beautiful, with many scenery shots of
deadly silence, creating an eerie atmosphere. When the film is recounting memories, the
“ghost” figures re-enact the events of the era, creating a spooky atmosphere. It is consistent with the folklore of ghosts in Iriomote. In one of the interviews, the director mentioned why he chose this way to narrate. “On the one hand, it is indeed the look often mentioned in oral history, and the special effects are based on real interviews of memories. On the other hand, the "ghosts" also represent these Taiwanese and immigrants in the Iriomote pit, and these memories and history are something we cannot ignore.”
Director Huang Yin-yu, has been focusing on anthropological issues for
years and began working on documentaries in 2010. He lives and travels between Taiwan and Japan, making a series of works on subjects, such as Taiwanese immigrants in Okinawa and Taiwanese Japanese descendants. Huang released his second documentary After Spring, The Tamaki Family… in 2016, receiving many compliments. Green Jail is his third documentary. It was screened at the Munich International Documentary Film Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan, where it was selected as the top ten, and was also selected for the Taipei Film Festival competition and the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (TIDF) Taiwan Competition in 2021.
In the interview, the director mentioned the reason for making this documentary. He
said that he decided to make the film because he started doing a large-scale field research on immigration in 2013, and he gradually sorted out the history and importance of immigration in Okinawa after interviewing about 150 people, which led to his trilogy project “Wild Mountains Over the Sea” of which green Jail is the second one. The Iriomote Coal Mine site was chosen because it’s a long and tragic history that few people know about. Besides, many people have moved away, and few people can tell it. The director felt that this was a history that had to be talked about.