AJFF Review: ‘Persona Non Grata’: A Desirable Story

AJFF Review: ‘Persona Non Grata’: A Desirable Story

Leah R. Harrison

Leah Harrison is a reporter and copy editor for the Atlanta Jewish Times.

Based on the true story of Japanese diplomat Chiune (pronounced Sempel) Sugihara before and during World War II, “Persona Non Grata” is a hero-making tale of epic proportions.

With attention to detail and sweeping, luscious cinematography, filmmaker Cellin Gluck brings to life the story of Sugihara, showing how a Japanese consul with intelligence, backbone and a strong moral compass can come to be considered one of the Righteous Among the Nations by the government of Israel.

Toshiaki Karasawa plays Chiune Sugihara, and Koyuki is his wife, Yukiko, in “Persona Non Grata.”
Toshiaki Karasawa plays Chiune Sugihara, and Koyuki is his wife, Yukiko, in “Persona Non Grata.”

The story begins in Manchuria in 1934 with a young Sugihara bent on keeping his beloved Japan from becoming embroiled in the inevitable international conflict set in motion by Hitler and the Third Reich.

The film follows him as an employee of the Japanese Foreign Ministry stationed first in Tokyo, then sent to open an embassy in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1939 with the charge of learning the state of affairs in Europe and keeping an eye on Soviet expansion plans.

In Kaunas he encounters a member of the Polish underground, who comes to be a friend and confidant, helping to make him aware of and sympathetic to the plight of the Jews in Europe and those in his new community who are becoming ensnared in Hitler’s net.

Sugihara became known as Japan’s Schindler and is credited with issuing 2,139 visas while ambassador in Kaunas without the expressed permission of his government to do so. It is estimated that he is responsible for the lives of now 40,000 descendants of those Polish Jews he helped escape by issuing them visas to Japan.

Aptly named, the film tells the story of how Sugihara became a persona non grata, or an undesirable, in the eyes of his own government by following his conscience and, at risk to his family and position, doing what was within his power to ease the plight of others.

Lest we forget, and in homage to the righteous who undertook great personal risk, “Persona Non Grata” is a previously little-known story worth knowing and a film worth seeing.

read more: