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The brutal treatment brewed a hatred still simmering more than three decades after his release.

Memories of punishments endured and friends lost to treatable diseases could not be erased.“Starvation, beatings, illness, insults, psychological wounds,” he wrote in a memoir.

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Both men found inspiration from their painful wartime history. Allister detailed his own imprisonment in “Where Life and Death Hold Hands,” a 1989 memoir remarkable for recapturing the stilted life of prison camp in which the veneer of civilization has been all but stripped away.“Forget — no.

But forgive — yes, if forgiving could encompass disapproval.

To really understand was to forgive, to grasp the nature of the illness, the historic path of the virus in the bloodstream of a nation,” he wrote.

By Tom Hawthorn Special to The Globe and Mail November 29, 2008An actor, artist, novelist, filmmaker, and scriptwriter, William Allister’s creative impulses were stifled but not extinguished during 44 months of wartime mistreatment by Japanese captors. A pilfered swatch of canvas, a paintbrush improvised from a whittled stick and shoe-brush bristles, and a smear of crankcase oil secreted from an Japanese truck were the materials that allowed him to create surreptitious paintings of his Hong Kong concentration camp.

Camp overlords were known by nicknames, some hinting at their particular cruelties — Piston Fists, Little Napoleon, the Kamloops Kid.

The latter was a notorious tormentor whose childhood experience of racism in British Columbia had left him with a dark heart and evil intent. Allister suffered much deprivation and several beatings.

Once, a Japanese officer unsheathed a sword, threatening to cut his head off. Allister’s defiant riposte — “Tell him my boss doesn’t want his men working without their heads” — was deliberately ignored by a fellow prisoner serving as translator, likely saving his life.

A son of one of the camp guards spent a week as a guide in Tokyo.

At a precise moment, as a ceremonial dancer removed one kimono after another, Mr. The journey unlocked a vision of how he could reconcile a simmering hostility with a new-found admiration.“As an artist, I would paint toward peace, paint as I’d never painted before, stretching to the limits, soaring, exploring new forms, new harmonies,” he wrote.

“Visions of giant canvasses marrying East and West unfolded before me.”Remarkable for their bright colours and expression of an exuberant spirit, his works can be found in collections around the world. This transformation became the subject of a 1995 Canadian documentary film.

“The Art of Compassion” offers parallel portraits of the artist and a Japanese-Canadian architect who had been interned during the Second World War.

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