FROM STAGE TO SCREEN "Visas and Virtue" began as a one-act play written by Tim Toyama, and directed by Tom Donaldson. It enjoyed a successful run at The Road Theatre company in North Hollywood, California, from November 1995 to January 1996. The play was subsequently presented by the Jewish Federation, the Anti-Defamation League, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles. Through these performances and post-play discussions, it became clear a wider audience needed to be reached. The first draft of the "Visas and Virtue" screenplay was written in February, 1996. Soon after, Cedar Grove Productions was formed to produce the filmed adaptation. The company's name honors Mr. Sugihara, and comes from the literal translation of sugi, meaning cedar, and hara, meaning field, or grove.
"Visas and Virtue," the film, was directed by Chris Tashima, who originated the role of Sugihara on stage. Tashima co-wrote the screenplay with stage director Donaldson. Chris Donahue, a graduate of the American Film Institute, joined the team as Producer, having recently co-produced the feature "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story." Playwright Toyama served as Executive Producer. The original stage ensemble of Lawrence Craig, Susan Fukuda, Diana Georger and Tashima all reprise their roles in the film. Actress Shiuko Hoshi ("Come See the Paradise," "M. Butterfly") was brought on board to narrate, as the voice of Yukiko Sugihara. Veteran cinematographer Hiro Narita, A.S.C. ("The Rocketeer," "James and the Giant Peach") served as director of photography. Film editing was done by Irvin Paik, currently of the editing staff of the acclaimed television drama series, "ER." All staff, crew, and cast members, professional and non-professional alike, donated their services, volunteering their valuable time and talents, to make this production a reality.
Many individuals have also supported the film by lending personal equipment wardrobe, props, or set dressing items, or with countless other forms of assistance. In addition, the community responded to appeals from the filmmakers for financial assistance with over 400 individuals from across the country, including Hawaii, and from Japan, contributing donations to help tell the Sugihara story. Fiscal non-profit sponsor Visual Communications, an Asian American media arts organization, also received a generous grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, of San Francisco, to support "Visas and Virtue."
CHIUNE AND YUKIKO SUGIHARA - A TRUE STORY
Chiune "Sempo" Sugihara, Japanese Vice-Consul to Lithuania in 1940, is credited with saving the second largest number of Jews from the Holocaust.
Haunted by the sight of hundreds of Jewish refugees outside his consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania, Sugihara was forced to make a life or death decision: defy his own government's orders, risk his career, and issue life-saving transit visas, or obey orders and turn his back on humanity.
Three times Sugihara cabled Tokyo, asking for permission to issue the visas and three times he was rejected. But after agonizing for two days, and consulting with his wife, Sugihara risked everything and chose life over death, kindness and compassion over evil.
With the help of Yukiko, his wife, Sugihara worked 16 hours a day for three weeks to issue over 2,000 visas, which ultimately saved 6,000 lives. Add children and grandchildren of the survivors, and it's estimated that over 40,000 people owe their lives to the Sugiharas.
At the end of August, the Russians closed the Japanese consulate in Kaunas. Before Sugihara left the city, however, he continued issuing vis
as for two days from a hotel room, then at the train station, as he was departing. From his compartment, Sugihara signed blank visas and handed them out the train window.
In 1945, Sugihara was captured by the Soviets. He, along with his wife and three children, spent the next 16 months in prison camps in Russia. When he returned to Japan, Sugihara was asked to resign from the diplomatic service, "...for the incident in Lithuania."
Having a gift for languages, Sugihara was able to find work teaching Russian for NHK (Japanese) radio. However, he also had to take many odd jobs as well. For a time, he even sold light bulbs from door to door.
In 1968, Sugihara was tracked down by Yehoshua Nishri, who had received a visa from Sugihara in Kaunas in 1940, and had survived to become an Israeli diplomat Nishri wanted to personally thank Sugihara for saving his life. Until this meeting Sugihara had not known if anyone had escaped using his visas.
In 1984, Yad Vashem recognized Sugihara as "Righteous among the Nations," the highest honor which can be bestowed. A tree was planted in his honor on the Mountain of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Chiune Sugihara passed away in 1986, largely unknown, and unrecognized in his native country. It was not until 1991 that Japan finally apologized to his family. There is a park bearing his name in his home town of Yaotsu, Japan.