Persona Non Grata - When One Japanese Man Did an Extraordinary Thing

It’s a story about an ordinary man who does an extraordinary thing. And a story that's likely one you've never heard about.

A new movie that opened in Japan this month, Persona Non Grata is a true story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Vice-Consul to Lithuania who defied his superiors and wrote visas to save 6000 Polish and Lithuanian Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.

The movie is in theaters in Japan only, and I haven’t had the chance to see it yet. So this is not a review. Here's the trailer. (Chiune’s wife is played by Koyuki, who starred in The Last Samurai)

I wanted to write about this to salute my friend, film director Cellin Gluck. We’re both Americans who grew up in Japan, each with parents of US and Japanese backgrounds. But there is so much more to this incredible story.

 Cellin Gluck, Director

Cellin Gluck, Director

Chiune’s actions took courage, as disobedience at this level was unimaginable. He faced a moment of truth, in choosing his conscience over duty. Subsequently forced to resign from Japan’s foreign service, he never spoke of about his deeds. In 1991, the ministry apologized to his widow and his honor was restored.

It's interesting that Sugihara is known to about 60% of Lithuanians, who learn about him in history textbooks, where streets in Kaunas and Vilnius bear his name, and is commemorated on a postage stamp. In 1985, Israel honored him as Righteous Among the Nations, and Poland and Lithuania have bestowed him with national medals of honor. Yet he is largely unknown in Japan, which hopefully, will change with this movie.

To add deeper meaning to this story, Cellin's Jewish-American father served in WWII, while his Japanese-American mother and family were sent to an internment camp in Arkansas. Though the film was released on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, Cellin noted the uncanny parallel to the current Syrian refugee crisis.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it so eloquently, "It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly." Yup, we're all in this together.

Our work at JaM bridges the US and Japan, and we find the best ways for companies to do business between both countries. Cellin’s work is no different. This film was shot in Poland with Polish, Japanese and American actors and crew.  I saw a behind-the-scenes clip showing Cellin directing the Japanese actors, discussing how they would act out the scene as Japanese vs what Americans might do. It seems so obvious, but working across cultural differences and embracing it, makes our lives so much more interesting, and meaningful.

As this year comes to a close and we look to the New Year, I wish for all of us to be inspired. I know that even before seeing this movie, I already am.

For those of you in Japan, go see it.

What Does “PR” Mean in Japan?

Gold fishes in water_very small.jpg

We recently had an interesting discussion around Public Relations. We met with Vantage PR, an independent PR agency specializing in technology, headquartered in San Francisco. We’ve known the company and CEO since we first worked together more than 15 years ago, and in that time, their growth has been impressive. The great chemistry we have with their talented team makes it a truly enjoyable working relationship.

One of their approaches in PR that stands out is “Thought Leadership,” a term that is not very familiar in Japan. PR is basically thought of as publicizing the products and services of a company.

On our last project, Vantage proposed a thought leadership program for one of our Japanese clients, which focused on contributed articles that leveraged his expertise on relevant topics in the industry. Through their strong relationships with editors and media, several of these article placements resulted in recognition of our client, and elevated their presence in the industry.

After our meeting with Vantage, we met with our colleague, a PR expert who we partner with in Japan. One of the big differences between the US and Japan, is that in Japan, PR agencies are often a division of advertising agencies, and PR gets mixed into a confusion of advertising and promotions. Editorial coverage is often done in conjunction with paid advertising. Our colleague told us that recently, in order to ramp up their declining ad revenues, certain media have been approaching PR agencies and clients into paying for speaking slots at sponsored events or for publishing their content.

This pay-for-play model has been around for a long time, but upping the stakes on this trend is quite disconcerting. In contrast, the thought leadership approach is infinitely better and something that serves everyone – companies, media, and the audience. (Read Hisami’s blog on this topic in Japanese.)