Enemy, My Friend?
A documentary film by Mike Finlason.
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed I parried!
But my hands were loathe and cold
Let us sleep now…”
Excerpt from STRANGE MEETING by Wilfred Owen. 1915.
The Real Railwayman
This film not only charts the extraordinary story of a personal act of reconciliation between two old men who, during World War 2, were mortal enemies, but also the fine line dividing good from evil and the true cost of all out war. It is a parable of the twentieth century with lessons for participants in other bitter conflicts between different cultures in the 21st century.
Eric Lomax was a 23 year-old British officer when captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Together with 60,000 other Allied POW’s, and a quarter of a million Asian Coolies forcibly recruited by the Japanese, he was put to work building the notorious Burma Siam railway through sometimes impenetrable, disease infested, jungle.
At a camp by the Kwai Bridge, he and six colleagues built tiny radio receivers out of odds and ends to gain news of the outside world and help maintain the morale of their starved and beaten colleagues. But someone gave them away and all seven were arrested and tortured by the Japanese military police, the Kempai Tai. Over time, six of the accused died. But despite horrendous tortures, including water being forced down his throat through a hose-pipe, Lomax survived.
When nuclear attacks on Japan brought an unexpected end to the war Lomax helped identify and track down the torturers of the River Kwai. Some were executed, others received long jail sentences, many committed suicide. But the man who interrogated Lomax over the many days of torture could not be found.
For the next fifty years Eric suffered the acute mental and physical after affects of the torture he had endured. But he single-handedly continued his pursuit of the interrogator through war records held in London and elsewhere. Then came the breakthrough.
A booklet written by a Japanese and published in English, "Crosses and Tigers", came into his possession. In the book, his torture on the banks of the Kwai is described in detail by someone who was clearly present. The author was Nagase Takashi. It soon became clear Lomax had his man.
Plagued with hate and a thirst for revenge, Lomax was warned by experts at the London based Medical Foundation for the care of Torture Victims, where he’d been receiving counselling, not to suddenly confront his unsuspecting nemesis. Instead, his wife Patti and film-maker Mike Finlason persuaded him to start a correspondence with Nagase with a view to a possible face to face reunion.
This extraordinary film charts the build-up to, and first emotion charged meeting between the two at the site of the original torture, the Kwai Bridge. What transpired at that meeting, and subsequent events, transformed the lives of Eric and Nagase. Eric forgave him, while not forgetting, and Nagase and he became friends for the last 18 years of their lives.
Lomax, as part of his treatment, was persuaded to write his story. It became the award-winning best selling book THE RAILWAY MAN, now a major motion picture of the same name featuring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jeremy Irvine. Sadly neither Nagase nor Lomax lived to see the film completed.