It’s no secret that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There are even popular “suicide spots” within Japan where many people go every year to end their lives. One such area is Tojinbo in Fukui Prefecture, where the tall seaside cliffs overlook the ocean, and as many as 100 people every year choose to fall to their deaths.
However that number has been declining in recent years, thanks to Yukio Shige, a 70-year-old retired police officer. He has made it his personal duty to patrol the area and talk to anyone who looks like they may want to jump over the cliffs, and he’s saved over 500 lives in the 11 years he’s been acting as personal seaside lifeguard.
And now he has a new role: the star of the movie that’s being made about his life.
During his last year as a police officer, Shige was assigned to work in Tojinbo. He was appalled by the number of bodies he had to fish out from the ocean beneath the cliffs, not to mention the authorities’ coldness in handling the suicide cases. After retirement in 2004 he stayed in Tojinbo, making it his mission to talk to the people he saw hovering near the edge of the cliffs and listening to what they had to say.
Shige’s methodology in dealing with potential jumpers is pretty straightforward: he just helps them get what they need. If they’re bankrupt, he goes down to the legal aid office with them; if they’re unemployed, he takes them to the unemployment agency; if they’re homeless, he takes them home with him. Together with his 77 other volunteers, Shige has brought the number of suicides in Tonjinbo down drastically to 15 or less per year.
Of course, Shige doesn’t let his accomplishments go to his head. He remains a somber realist, and reminds those who interview him that at least seven people have taken their lives elsewhere after leaving Tojinbo. Still, most of the potential jumpers he speaks with are happy just to have someone listen to them, someone they can vent to about their problems – without judging them – for potentially the first time in their lives.
And now Shige’s story is being made into a film. He has been interviewed by people from 15 countries in the past eight years, all of them anxious to get more information about the man whom they’ve heard has saved hundreds from suicide, and take lots of pictures of him as well.
But pictures can only tell so much of the story. The first group to film Shige came from Iceland in 2013. They made a documentary about Shige and other “suicide spots” in Japan and released it online.
But this year, Shige has received requests from Germany, Korea, France, Canada, and the U.S. asking to film him. In April, the French group came and spent two weeks filming Shige and his group, catching him saving potential jumpers several times on film. They plan on turning the footage into a fully fledged documentary that will hopefully spread the word about Shige and what he does.
Only July 4, an American production group arrived to take photos for materials related to the upcoming film. They spent a day taking pictures and interviewing Shige. Photographer Paul del Rosario said this about the movie they hope to make:
“The image of suicide in Japan is still very strong overseas, with most people imagining samurai committing ritualistic suicide or kamikaze bombers. However, I want Shige-san to help us change that image, through showing how he’s worked with and saved potential jumpers.”
Shige had this to say about the film:
“All over the world, everyone has the same feelings about life. My hope is that this film’s message will transcend national boundaries and get people to think about life.”
The documentary about Shige and his work may not be the next summer blockbuster, but it sounds like it’s something that anyone who values what he’s doing can’t miss. And if you know someone who’s having a hard time, then do what Shige would do and help them get the assistance they need in their time of crisis.