Director Sakaguchi Katsumi’s latest feature documentary Songs of Triumph may deal with Hansen’s Disease, more commonly known as leprosy, but it is not about the disease. That is to say, his movie is not a lecture on the disease itself. Like many of Sakaguchi’s works, the focus is entirely on the human subjects, on putting genuine faces to otherwise impersonalized issues. In the case of the Hansen’s Disease sufferers featured in Songs of Triumph, their stories of the persecution and discrimination inflicted upon them by an ignorant public as well as unsympathetic government serves as an important warning of how fear can drive inhumane actions. The timeliness of Sakaguchi’s movie can’t be stressed enough. Human behavior changes very little. The demonization of the disease and/or its source; fear of infection driving suspicion of or discrimination toward those who become afflicted with the disease; misinformation and/or ignorance forming the base for public policies are all currently ongoing. But the human spirit is also indomitable. The strength and will to live life with dignity despite the personal tragedies suffered by the subjects featured in the documentary serve as a powerful reminder that people can choose to become a beacon for the generations to follow rather then succumb to (justifiable) indignation. Ultimately, Songs of Triumph espouses the triumph of its subjects over the stigmas which had and continues to affect their lives as Hansen Disease victims by simply and unobtrusively allowing them to be human beings on camera.
The screening attended was followed by a talk session with SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL programming director Hasegawa Toshiyuki who discussed the appeal of Sakaguchi’s style of documentary filmmaking, confirming he himself wasn’t sure about a movie dealing with Hansen’s Disease, but was won over by the beautiful souls of those featured, particularly Yamauchi Kimie who is seen on the poster. The movie will continue to play at Image Forum in Shibuya until December 18th. Meanwhile Sakaguchi and producer Ochiai Atsuko continue to crowdfund for future screenings. The next venue will be at the Nagoya Cinematheque starting in January 2021.