There’s always the worry about making what is essentially a ‘pub story’ into a film. A fascinating tidbit you tell your friends over a pint that seems like it’d be made into a great watch until you sit down to actually watch it. Due to the historical context, the incredible struggle behind it, and the deft human spirit running throughout, ‘A Doctor’s Sword’ transcends the pub story into a fantastic documentary.
The main focus of the story concerns a samurai sword owned by Aiden MacCarthy, a Cork-born doctor. In his youth, he served as a medical officer for the RAF during World War 2. This led him to Singapore where he was captured by the Japanese and kept as a prisoner of war. He managed to survive this for four years, as well as the bombing of Nagasaki, the only Irish person to do so. 70 years on, his daughter Nicola found a photo of a Japanese officer with the sword and a note presenting the weapon to her father. Armed only with the photo, Nicola headed to Japan to try to track this man down.
The sword has served as a source of wonder for many a Cork person, as it can be seen at the family-owned MacCarthy’s bar in Castletownbhere. Doctor MacCarthy himself has written an autobiography and did an interview about his ordeal, the latter of which was aired just before he passed away. This is the first attempt to make a documentary on this incredible story, which has been a source of fascination for producer Bob Jackson who spent 13 years trying to get it made.
The narrative is split between Nicola’s travelling to Japan and Doctor MacCarthy’s time in war, told through animation. Beautifully illustrated in sepia colours, it gives the proceedings a very quaint and atmospheric tone, while never underscoring the horrors the good doctor faced. Equally as impressive is the editing, which makes this film move smoothly and allows the transitions between animation and real life footage incredibly seamless.
On top of everything, the story really shows a sense of humanity and connection in a brutal and cold situation. The way it reveals why Doctor MacCarthy received the sword is humbling and extremely touching, also that he remained a rather grounded and empathetic person. More than being a very well made documentary, it’s a tale of an extraordinary man, one that should be celebrated proudly as a pure blooded Corkonian.
‘A Doctor’s Sword’ may not give you huge insights or reveal hidden truths about the war, but it does show you a sense of humanity and historical connection between two families that had never met each other. Nicola, her sister Adrienne and her late mother Kathleen all contribute to the doc. to bring their husband and father’s spirit and memory to life, and show just what a remarkable story this sword symbolises. Definitely worth the watch.
(more information on this documentary, including showtimes, can be found at http://adoctorssword.com/)