Two school pupils from Birmingham’s King Edward’s School have made a hard-hitting new film about a prisoner in Japan who has been on death row for 45 years - longer than anyone else in the world.
The nine-minute film, which has already been watched hundreds of times on video-hosting site Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/61635615), tells the story of Hakamada Iwao, a former professional boxer sentenced to death in Japan in 1968.
There are longstanding doubts about the fairness of Hakamada’s original trial and he is currently waiting to hear whether he will be granted a retrial. During his trial he testified that police had beaten and forced him to sign a “confession” after he was interrogated - without a lawyer present - for 20 days. He was convicted of the 1966 murder of four people
Hakamada now suffers from a mental illness after spending 28 years of his time on Japan’s notoriously harsh death row in solitary confinement. The Guinness Book of World Records recently confirmed that the 77-year-old Hakamada Iwao has been under a death sentence for longer than anyone else in the world.
The King Edward’s film was created by two of the Edgbaston school’s lower-sixth pupils - Rohan Jain and Tom Haynes - and features numerous pupils as well as many members of staff at the school. The film shows staff and students speaking about notable events in their own lives, with each of the 45 years Hakamada has been on death row represented.
Rohan and Tom are both members of the Amnesty International Society at the school and the film emerged from their Monday lunchtime meetings, with the production and filming being done at lunchtimes and during after-school hours, taking three months to complete.
Rohan Jain, Head of King Edward’s Amnesty Society, said: “I was inspired by a Jeremy Irons short film about Hakamada. It was the idea of having people talk about an important thing that had happened in their lives in the last 45 years that seemed like a really powerful - and deeply emotional - way to tell Hakamada’s story.”
Tom Haynes said: “The reaction has been totally positive. Many teachers have approached us saying how powerful they found the film. We’ve had new students joining our Amnesty society and the existing ones have really bonded around the film.”
Gill Hudson, who teaches religion and philosophy at the school, said: “The students were totally dedicated to making the film. Along with the other members of the school’s Amnesty group, they care deeply about the plight of Hakamada and they believe that young people working together can make a difference.”
The film has been shown at King Edward’s School assembly, emailed to parents of students at the school and publicised via social media. Amnesty staff in the London headquarters of the human rights organisation are also helping to publicise the film.
Amnesty International UK Campaigner on the Death Penalty Kim Manning Cooper said: “This is a fantastic film with a simple but really powerful year-by-year concept.
“Thankfully capital punishment is slowly being abolished around the world, but films like this remind us that a small hard-core of countries still persist in using this cruel and unnecessary punishment.”
So far this year Japan has carried out five hangings and last year it executed seven people . Japan was one of only 21 countries to execute prisoners in 2012, while 140 countries have either formally abolished capital punishment or no longer use it.