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Film / Visas and Virtue

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Visas and Virtue is a 1997 short film (26 minutes) directed by Chris Tashima.

It is the story of Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who became vice-consul of the Japanese embassy in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1939. As the film opens it is 1940, Lithuania has already been gobbled up by the Soviet Union, and Jewish refugees from Poland are looking for a way out. Sugihara (played by Tashima) has been busy violating his embassy's guidelines by issuing Japanese transit visas to every single Jewish refugee who comes to his office, regardless of whether or not they have visas to destinations beyond Japan (they don't). Refugees with transit visas are free to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok and on to Japan, when otherwise they'd have to return to Poland and become victims of the Nazis.

However, as the film opens Sugihara has received a telegram from Tokyo telling him in no uncertain terms to stop handing out transit visas. He is caught in a dilemma, unsure whether to obey orders or follow the dictates of his conscience, thus risking his career and the fortunes of his wife Yuki and three children.

In Real Life Sugihara, who has been called "the Japanese Schindler", is thought to have saved the lives of some 6,000 Polish Jews. (Quite a few more than Oskar Schindler did, actually.)


  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Sugihara is puffing nervously on one as he considers what to do about the telegram ordering him to stop issuing visas.
  • The Conscience: Sugihara's wife Yukiko, who urges him to do what he knows is right and issue visas for the Jewish refugees.
  • Death of a Child: In the backstory. The Rosens, the husband and wife who are applying for a visa, tell of how their little baby son was shot and killed while they were running away from the Nazis.
  • A Friend in Need: Saving the lives of thousands of total strangers from the Nazis certainly qualifies.
  • Glasses Pull: Chiune does this when receiving a telegram from the Foreign Ministry. It's exactly what he thinks it is, namely, an order to immediately stop issuing transit visas to Jews.
  • In Medias Res: Given that this is a short film, time can't be wasted; as the story opens Sugihara has been busy for some time handing out visas to every Polish Jew who wants one.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: After the prologue, the camera pans across photos on the mantel of the Sugiharas when they were young. This also serves as a transition to the 1940 setting of the main story.
  • Monochrome Past: While the present-day introductory sequence with an elderly Mr. and Mrs. Sugihara is in color, everything in Lithuania in 1940 is in black and white.
  • Narrator: Yuki Sugihara in both the beginning and the end. In the beginning she recounts in arration how Chiune's father wanted him to be a doctor. At the end she notes how he was drummed out of the diplomatic service and disgraced for saving Jews.
  • The Noun and the Noun: Visas and Virtue
  • Time-Passes Montage: Towards the end, after Sugihara has decided to throw caution to the wind, there's a montage of him signing off on visas for every Jew who comes to his office. After the consulate is closed, he keeps signing visas from his hotel room.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Given the choice between his career and the lives of Jews, Sugihara sacrifices his career to save as many people as possible. (In real life, when he was finally forced to return to Tokyo, he handed filled-out visas out the window of his departing train to as many people as could take them.)