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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 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.
  • A Friend in Need: Saving the lives of thousands of total strangers from the Nazis certainly qualifies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • The Noun and the Noun: Visas and Virtue
  • 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.)