Animated film remembers those killed in Sook Ching during World War II

A boy and his father walk along a deserted street in 1942 Singapore, in a still from the animated short film A Short Walk. PHOTO: ROBOT PLAYGROUND MEDIA

SINGAPORE - In film-maker Ervin Han's latest short film, A Short Walk, a boy recalls his last memory of his father, who was summoned to a Sook Ching mass screening centre in 1942, when the Japanese occupied Singapore during World War II.

The boy grows into an adult while his father does not appear to age in the six-minute animated film as they walk through a deserted street to the site, which is today the Hong Lim Complex in Chinatown.

This was among the places where Chinese men aged 18 to 50 suspected of being anti-Japanese were rounded up by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police) to be executed in the operation known as Sook Ching, days after Singapore fell. Unofficial estimates place the number killed at 50,000.

The loss felt by the families and loved ones affected by this event was something Mr Han, who wrote and directed the film, wanted to convey.

After watching several interviews of people who lived through the event as part of his team's research for the film, Mr Han said there was a sense that this was a pain that was enduring.

"They come to terms with it in many ways, but every time they bring up these memories, there's just this very, very deep pain you can't imagine. In a way, this film is to tell this story," he told The Straits Times in a recent interview. "It's not something that we have lived through obviously, but hopefully it lets the younger generations understand what happened."

The film was released on Saturday, ahead of Total Defence Day on Tuesday (Feb 15), which marks the day Singapore fell in 1942.

A team of 15 people at Mr Han's studio, Robot Playground Media - where he is co-founder and director - worked on the film, including artists, animators, designers and producers. The studio has produced over the years several short films set in Singapore, such as a trilogy that traces 700 years of history in Singapore's bicentennial year in 2019 and one for the National Day Parade last year.

Development for A Short Walk started in October, with about two months spent on research and visual development.

As he conceptualised the film, Mr Han, 46, said it struck him that the generation of Singaporeans in their 80s and 90s now would be the last one that has lived through the Sook Ching tragedy.

He hopes that the film will serve "as a remembrance" of what they have gone through, as well as a reminder to cherish the things most dear to us.

"For me, that is our loved ones, our family members. And to remind ourselves what we have to do to preserve the freedom and peace that we enjoy so much, so that what happened 80 years ago will never be repeated."

A Short Walk can be viewed on the Ministry of Defence and We are Total Defence Facebook pages, as well as on Robot Playground Media's YouTube channel.

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