Retired police detective Yukio Shige is haunted by the memories of those he could not save. He frequently keeps watch on the Tojinbo Cliffs which overlook the sprawling Sea of Japan, seeking any opportunity to save someone from self-inflicted peril. Surrounded by savage waters and jagged rock formations, these cliffs are the site of over 70 suicides a year. The sobering documentary short Gatekeeper chronicles Shige's mission to battle this epidemic through outreach, compassion and understanding.
As a police detective, Shige had far too much experience in retrieving the bodies of suicide jumpers from the bottom of these cliffs. Suicide is not uncommon in Japan; more than 24,000 of the country's residents take their own life each year. This phenomenon is so common and widespread that many of Shige's colleagues developed an apathy towards it, perhaps because it was their only remaining defense mechanism in the face of such titanic suffering and loss. Shige, however, was determined to set in motion a more proactive response to the crisis. After retiring from law enforcement, he started a non-profit support group aimed at assisting those who felt depressed and potentially suicidal.
It hasn't been an easy task. The community has taken advantage of their notoriety as a suicide capital, and used it to grow a booming tourism industry. During one particularly astounding segment of the film, we're placed on a ferry alongside dozens of eager passengers as a tour guide encourages them to photograph the sacred spots where many distressed victims have drawn their last breath.
In spite of these obstacles, Shige continues to soldier on. He and his rotating crew of 20 assistants can't bring themselves to sit idly by as the cliffs claim more lost souls. We witness him counseling a young man who only moments before was teetering on the cliff's edge. Later, we follow him as he frantically combs the area for another wandering visitor he lost sight of in the night.
Gatekeeper is a sensitive and searing profile of an extraordinary man, and a testament to how simple human kindness can mean the difference between life and death when we are at our most vulnerable.
Directed by: Yung Chang