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Hideki Irabu’s sad final years

Oct 10, 2011, 9:15 AM EDT

Hideki Irabu AP

Ken Belson of the New York Times had an excellent albeit sad story in yesterday’s New York Times about the final years of Hideki Irabu, who committed suicide in late July.

In some ways it’s a familiar story of an athlete who doesn’t know what to do with himself after his playing days are over. But there’s one aspect of it Belson touches on that made Irabu’s situation way worse: he was basically a man without a country.

He was of mixed heritage, with his father being an American military man who has been stationed on Okinawa and who Irbau never met. This caused him to be taunted to some degree by the media and fans when he played in Japan. After coming to America to play he remained here, living in Southern California, but he never really got acclimated. Belson says that before he killed himself his wife and children, “had become acculturated to American life” and left him.

We saw during his career that he was not one who fit in easily anywhere. We learn now that, on top of that, he was isolated.  Putting that together with a career that was unsatisfying in many respects and which he tried and failed to revive later, it’s much easier to understand why the man was so haunted in his final days.

  1. Old Gator - Oct 10, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Fine article, and yes, pretty sad. A little more background: Japan has a long history of xenophobia, and when its self-imposed isolation dating back to the seventeenth century was lifted, that horror of outsiders was turned inward. With its exposure to European theories of racial pollution and supremacy as a result of its alliance with Germany in the early 20th century, the unstated but pervasive racism of earlier days was codified into a theory of the Japanese as the only ethnically pure race in Asia, and after Japan’s defeat that unfortunate form of bigotry went underground again – this time, tinged with resentment at the Euro-Americans who had defeated them so humiliatingly and, from their point of view, brutally. The offspring of American servicemen weren’t treated much better than the hibakusha, the survivors, and the children of the survivors, of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and for a remarkable exposition of what it was like to be hibakusha in postwar Japan, find a copy of Shohei Imamura’s film of Masuji Ibuse’s novel Black Rain – not to be confused with the American film with Michael Douglas by the same name). . All were viewed as “polluted” in some way or another by Western influence.

    These days, though, especially in the larger cities, mixed-race marriages have become much more common. It took the better part of a century to get more or less past the stigma of miscegenation in the American south – with its legal classifications of mulatto, quadroon and octaroon bloodlines being pertinent to issues of inheritance and voting rights, right on into the mid-20th century. Given that it is not plagued per capita with as many Pastor Jeffress types as we are, Japan will doubtless get past it more quickly.

    • philsieg - Oct 10, 2011 at 11:50 AM

      Imamura’s Black Rain is currently available in a decent R1 transfer from AnimEigo and is available from the usual on-line retailers. Another film on the subject worth seeking out and made much closer in time to the actual event is Shindo Kaneto’s 1952 Children of Hiroshima (Gembaku No Ko), which contains a considerable amount of footage filmed immediately after the blast. It was one of the first films made after the end of the occupation. Unfortunately, no DVD is currently in print, but the film can be found on the web for download.

      Both films will force you to reconsider the Allied justifications for dropping the bomb, if you haven’t already. Children of Hiroshima is a particularly difficult film to view

      • Matt - Oct 10, 2011 at 12:37 PM

        Wait, the dropping of atomic bombs hasn’t already had its justifications reconsidered? I honestly thought it was pretty widespread to look at the unnecessary mass-killings of that many innocent civilians in such brutal fashion as an unfortunate decision.

      • philsieg - Oct 10, 2011 at 1:11 PM

        Matt, please consider the conditional phrase after comma…the one that begins with “if”.;-)

  2. Old Gator - Oct 10, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    philseig: thanks for the heads-up on Children of Hiroshima. I bought a PAL compatible version on VHS at the museum shop at the Peace Park in Hiroshima years and years ago (along with a cheapo copy of Ibuse novel that I have to keep patching together with cellophane tape). I copied the Imamura film on my VHS recorder a few months after that from a PBS broadcast but I will now strike out in search of some decent DVD versions.

    Incidentally, I do want to recommend the Ibuse novel too. Imamura added a few touches to the film – like the shell-shocked veteran sculptor who freaks out every time he hears a truck engine, a brilliant stroke that simultaneously leavened a very grim story with both humor and a gentle pathos.

    I’ll also add that Imamura’s recreation of the bombing itself has never been equalled and it will ruin your sleep for weeks – an excellent reason to watch the film. It’s a wonderful treatment for mindless jingoism.

    • Old Gator - Oct 10, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      Damn that itchy trigger finger. One more thing: I attended a game between the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and the Fukuoka Swallows at the Hiroshima ballpark. If you sit anywhere along the arc from third base to midway between first base and the right field foul pole, you can see the “Bomb Dome,” the partially destroyed mercantile mart building which stood at ground zero, standing across the street between the scoreboard and the left field mezzanine. It’s strange – sitting back and enjoying a ballgame when one of the world’s most infamous monuments to man’s inhumanity to man looms before you. Japan is full of contradictions, and this is one of the most troubling.

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