THESSALONIKI – Tokei Maru is an animated short that tells the story of an extraordinary human being. The story may sound like a myth, but is based on historical fact as a Japanese captain placed human life above all else during the Catastrophe of Smyrna. The captain of the Japanese cargo ship Tokei Maru took a great risk in order to save more than 800 people during the devastating fire that destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city of Smyrna, on the coast of Asia Minor in September of 1922.
The Turkish army, who had gained control of the city a couple of days before the devastation started, tried to stop him. Bravely, the Captain defied them, threw his cargo in the sea, and continued the rescue mission that made him a legend. Almost 100 years later, his identity still remains a mystery.
Animator/Director Zachos Samoladas, who studied Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts and is currently working as Production Manager at the Municipal Television of Thessaloniki TV100 in Greece first discovered the story two years ago and began a journey into the past. The heroic act of the Japanese was commemorated with a plaque placed at the Second Chance School in Thessaloniki and inspired Samoladas to make the film.
Following two years of animation based on the decade-long research by the professor Nanako Murata Sawayanagi, articles in newspapers, including the National Herald, and other written materials, and with a little help from historic events, the fifteen minute film is finally ready for screening.
The powerful and majestic music of the film is composed by Boston-based composer Ryan Camus. The story begins with the ship entering the Gulf of Smyrna and the Turkish army entering the city. Witnessing this, the Captain is suddenly flooded with memories. We are transported to the city of Kagoshima in Japan circa 1873; ten years after the Bombardment of Satsuma that devastated the city, and ten years since the British warships claimed his father’s life.
As his ship is about to enter the Port of Smyrna, the British warships warn against it. The city is under siege and black smoke is visible on the horizon. The city is doomed and people try to flee from death by fire and the atrocities of the hostile Turkish army. Tokei Maru is the first step in rediscovering that remarkable person. Following the animated short is a documentary about the heroic act of Mr. Lou, as some newspapers of the time refer to the Japanese captain, and the decade-long research in the United States, Greece, and Japan. A feature film script is also in the works.
Samoladas told The National Herald that the film does not have an official release date yet since it is “on the festival circuit.”
He said, “The film is selected to screen at the Pakistan International Film Festival in March and I am waiting for screening dates in Europe, the United States, and Asia.”
He also thanked TNH, adding that “most of the information about this extraordinary story was published in your newspaper.”
More information on Tokei Maru is available online at: https://genesispix.wixsite.com/tokei-maru and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7992310/.
The plaque in Thessaloniki commemorating the Japanese ship that saved more than 800 people from the Smyrna Catastrophe in 1922. Photo: Zachos Samoladas
An image from the animated short film Tokei Maru. Photo by Zachos Samoladas