“Lives Interrupted: The Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura Story” will be screened on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro.
The documentary tells the tale of two Japanese students attending Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes who lost their lives in a carjacking in San Pedro in 1994. The shooter, Raymond Butler, executed them in a Ralph’s parking lot and took their car.
The two boys were film majors on their way to USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. The tragedy left the parents, friends and fellow students stunned and horrified. Professor Bruce R. Schwartz, a media arts professor at the college and a filmmaker, recounts what happened 18 years ago.
Butler, who was subsequently convicted of murdering a fellow inmate, is in San Quentin on Death Row.
On March 25, 1994 at 11 p.m., the two boys had just finished having dinner with friends and were coming back from Gardena. They pulled into the Ralph’s parking lot, which was down the hill from the college, to buy groceries.
As Ito, the driver, was about to get out of his white 1994 Honda Civic, he was held up by Butler, a gang member. Not wanting witnesses, Butler shot Ito in the back of the head, then turned the gun and also shot Matsuura in the back of the head. He managed to toss both victims out of the car and drive off.
The two boys lay unconscious, bleeding on the asphalt until a girl came out of Ralph’s and called 911. An emergency vehicle arrived moments later. Sirens blaring, the medics hurried the boys off to Harbor General Hospital.
Although both were still alive, they were already brain dead. Their parents flew in from Japan, conferred with doctors and made the agonizing decision to take them off life support.
The parents established a memorial film series as an annual event for students, faculty, and other members of Marymount College community to honor and keep the memory of their sons’ dreams alive. The Ito/Matsuura Film Series has been chaired by Schwartz for the past 18 years.
Schwartz’s documentary is a tribute to their dream of wanting to become filmmakers and their love of American culture. It is also an exploration of the history of what happened.
The film includes pencil sketch dramatizations of the carjacking and snippets of interviews with family and friends who were deeply affected by the rage and sadness generated by the murders.
In Japan, the incident was the stuff of national headlines. President Bill Clinton wrote letters of sympathy to the parents. Walter Mondale, ambassador to Japan at the time, conferred condolences to the prime minister.
Marymount College faculty and staff were devastated. Dr. Thomas McFadden, the president at the time, was interviewed along with Marymount faculty who taught the two boys, as well as the boys’ roommates and friends.
The spokesperson for the LAPD at the time of the killings is interviewed regarding gang culture in San Pedro and how the police were able to track down and arrest Butler within five days of the incident.
Ito’s younger brother became an attorney for murder victims in Japan because of the loss. He has visited his brother’s grave every morning for the past 18 years before he heads to work.
Last March, Schwartz traveled to Japan to interview the boys’ parents and friends. He visited the gravesites of both victims, as well as the shrines that were set up by the parents to honor their sons’ memory.
Japanese journalists who reported on the event were also interviewed.
The parents returned to the U.S. in 1996 to visit Washington, D.C., where they presented Clinton with a petition that included thousands of signatures asking for more stringent gun control laws.
Janet Moore, the prosecuting attorney in the case against Butler, was interviewed. The film includes pencil sketches of the trial and an on-camera look at the death penalty verdict handed down by Judge Ronald Coen. The film addresses why Butler has spent the past 18 years on Death Row and how much this has cost taxpayers.
Implied in the narrative is the need for better gun control laws and for a society that is less polarized into haves and have-nots. The filmmaker hopes to increase awareness of relevant social issues, and in so doing reduce the amount of violence in the world.
Schwartz’s own evolving viewpoint on the case is presented as the film ends.
The crew also included Michael Pinto, editor; Rocky Davis, composer; Nobuko Yamazaki, line producer; and Alexander J. Hufschmid, cinematographer.
For more information, visit www.takandgo.com.