(いいじまなつき /Natsuki Iijima )
Despite terminal cancer, seeing life in new light
I recently visited Omaezaki in Shizuoka Prefecture. The grey waters of the Enshu-nada Sea were dotted with whitecaps that were rolling in toward the shore on the southern tip of the prefecture.
The somnolent sea of late summer puts on an entirely different face when strong westerly winds rise in autumn and spring. These are the great winds that made Omaezaki the site of annual world windsurfing championships for 10 years from 1984.
A film titled "Life Tengoku de Kimi ni Aetara" (Life: If only I could meet you in heaven) opened around the nation on Aug. 25. It tells the story of Natsuki Iijima, a professional windsurfer who died in 2005 at the age of 38. It is also a story of love that bound Iijima's family together--his wife Hiroko who first met him in Omaezaki and traveled around the world with him in health and sickness, and the couple's four children.
Iijima was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2002. He was in and out of hospital 17 times until he was told he had only three months to live.
At that point, the family decided to move to Hawaii, where Iijima had spent most of his professional life, so that they could spend intimate moments together during his final months. He actually survived for six months, during which period he kept a journal of his battle against terminal cancer.
The journal was eventually published by Shinchosha Publishing Co. under the title of "Gan ni Ikasarete" (Being kept alive by cancer). An entry, made while gazing at the sunset sky suffused with pale yellows and blues, reads: "In the final chapter of my life, my family couldn't be more loving and closer-knit, and I am surrounded by true friends. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be living here."
Iijima kept writing until five days before his death, hoping to bring encouragement to people who knew that every moment they lived was on borrowed time. He likened his variable physical condition to the waves and winds.
He thought about life itself in the waning moonlight of the pre-dawn sky, and felt invigorated by morning winds blowing in the valley. "There are so many things I am seeing for the first time since I became physically helpless."
The movie's atmosphere is cheerful, which owes mostly to Iijima's positive attitude to life. A photo of the smiling Iijima family forms the backdrop of the credit roll at the end of the film. The theme song, a ballad written by popular singer Keisuke Kuwata, goes: "Embraced by the winds and the roaring of the seas/ I hum this tune ... ."
It is a poignant song, as gentle as the trade winds of Hawaii, and tears threatened to spill from my eyes.
But once I got hold of myself, I felt filled with sweet courage.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 26(IHT/Asahi: September 3,2007)