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‘Miracle City Koza’: A Two-Hour Journey Through Okinawa’s History

Filmed in Okinawa, “Miracle City Koza” miraculously made its way to the screen on the reversion anniversary after being postponed three times.

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From May 13 to 15, the Marunouchi Building in Tokyo was host to HAPPY OKINAWA FESTA 2022, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan.

Traditional Okinawan performing arts such as Ryukyuan dance and Sanshin (Okinawan Sanshin) were presented, as well as several talk sessions and a photo exhibition documenting the pre-and post-reversion history of Okinawa.

An event that attracted lovers of movies and Okinawa was a public talk by filmmaker Yukihiko Tsutsumi, known for 2002 Trick and 2010 Spec, and emerging director Kazuhiro Taira.

The discussion focused on Taira’s first film, Miracle City Koza, which first premiered in Okinawa in January 2022, then nationally in February 2022.

Set in Okinawa, the film had been postponed three times because of the COVID-19 crisis, but miraculously found its way to the screen on the 50th anniversary of the reversion.

Storyline

The 1970s rock band IMPACT was massively popular among American soldiers heading to Vietnam from Koza, a city in Okinawa under American occupation.

Shota, the grandson of Haru, a legendary rocker in the band, was been spending his days idly dreaming of music fame.

Following Haru’s death in a traffic accident, his ghost appears to Shota and trades bodies so Haru can complete unfinished business.

Suddenly, Shota finds himself transported to the 1970s, his spirit transmuted to the then young Haru. There he discovers the surprising truth about his family.

More About the City of Koza

It was joyous every evening back in the 1970s in Okinawa City, then known as Koza. The bars and clubs on the main streets were crowded with a large number of American soldiers spending their money wildly to enjoy their last days on the island, before embarking on combat operations.

Called Koza from 1956 to 1974, the city was located in the central part of the main island of Okinawa Prefecture, not facing the sea, even though Okinawa is an island. 

The town used to be a chaotic place but now only the name of the place remains. However, some Japanese bands like 紫 (MURASAKI), that used to perform in front of American soldiers onstage in Koza City, still exist.

Fully supported by MURASAKI.

The music in the movie that colors the story is also noteworthy. George MURASAKI and the other members of MURASAKI, a hard rock band active in Okinawa in the 1970s, shared their best-known songs in support of the film. In addition to some newly recorded live soundtracks that appear in the film, it also features music by Condition Green, a rival band of MURASAKI at the time.

The band IMPACT, created just for the film, draws its name from MURASAKI’s second album, released in 1977.

About the Movie

Miracle City Koza won the “Unfinished Film Trailer Award” in April 2019 and was made with about a ¥30 million JPY ($230,000 USD) budget.

In a word, it was “good.” It begins with a humorous twist that will leave you in tears by the end.

It also depicts the conflicts and anguish in the relationship between the United States military and the Okinawan people.

The first and second halves of this film give different impressions. Shota’s grandfather’s sudden appearance as a ghost and Shota’s confusion after time traveling to the 1970s make the first half of the film more of a comedy.

Sci-fi enthusiasts might be curious as to how time travel works since the scheme wasn’t explained specifically.

From the second half, it is a bit more serious.

There are a number of important elements here, including the truth of Shota’s grandmother, who he was told abandoned her family. There is also the band’s interaction with an American soldier called Billy, who wanted to be in the band, along with the friction between American soldiers and the Okinawans.

Bringing Out Hidden History

The story of the family and their relationship with the US is filled with touching episodes that will leave you in tears.

Most people picture Okinawa as a place with traditional songs and Soki soba. In reality, however, Okinawa has a lot of American culture infused into it.

Aside from being comical, the film also incorporates various issues related to bases in Okinawa, the Vietnam war, the rock band boom, and even contemporary town planning issues.

No matter what age and culture we are from, the vivid parts of history are often talked about, and the less bright parts, especially the painful parts, are not. Nevertheless, Taira’s creativity as a director helps to bring this hidden history to life as entertainment, accessible to a wide audience, both inside and outside of Okinawa.

Seeing this film might even make you want to visit Okinawa ー after COVID settles down.

RELATED: The Emperor and Okinawa: 50th Anniversary of the Reversion

Author: Shaun Fernando