Osamu Sagawa was a close friend who Hayao Miyazaki who lived at the Tama Zenshōen Sanatorium, a facility near Miyazaki's hometown of Tokorozawa. Sagawa's life experience help inspire key scenes in Princess Mononoke.
Osamu Sagawa, who passed away in Jan. 24, 2018, was one of Hayao Miyazaki's close friends. The pair first met after he visited the Tama Zenshōen Sanatorium, a facility that houses patients suffering from Hansen's disease or leprosy. Miyazaki said he had known of the sanatorium for decades because, as a resident of the nearby city of Tokorozawa, he passed it on his way to his child's nursery school and his workplace, Studio Ghibli. But he said he hesitated about entering the premises "for a long time," even after he learned the disease was now curable.
Miyazaki met Sagawa, a Zenshoen resident who headed its residents' association, and through his visits to Tama Zenshōen Sanatorium became friends with him. A museum adjacent to a 110-year-old leprosy sanatorium, chronicled how the sanatorium once served as a segregation facility and witnessed human rights abuses caused by prejudice and discrimination.
"I thought it would be wrong to make a story about the old days that only featured samurai warriors and farmers, even though (society included) a wider variety of people," Miyazaki said, looking back on the process of formulating the plot of the film, which was released in 1997.
"And if you want to create a world (in film) featuring people with an obscure place in history, you have to come face to face with Hansen's disease, I thought. It would be nonsense, otherwise," Miyazaki, 78, said.
"I had no idea at the time about how I should behave when meeting people who were segregated there," he said, referring to the state-run sanatorium that, at its peak, accommodated 1,518 patients.
According to museum officials, Miyazaki invited Sagawa to his home twice before Sagawa's death on Jan. 24, 2018, at the age of 86. "When I was making Mononoke Hime, I often visited a memorial" to people who died in the sanatorium, Miyazaki said. Miyazaki met Sagawa for the last time at a hospital in the sanatorium after he was notified one snowy night that his longtime friend was in a critical condition.
"I saw a part of the bone exposed on one of his fingers where the flesh had gone. I rubbed his hand and said, 'Thank you, Mr. Sagawa.' My encounter with him has been important to me," a tearful Miyazaki said. Miyazaki delivered a memorial lecture in front of around 200 people during an event on Jan. 27, 2019 to mark the first anniversary of Sagawa's death.
At the end of the event Miyazaki handed Sagawa's wife Sachiko a picture drawn by Studio Ghibli artist Noboru Yoshida. The picture, "Puromin no hikari" (The Light of Promin) expresses the joy of Hansen's disease patients at the development of the U.S. drug Promin, which offered the hope of a cure and was first given to patients in Japan after the war.