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Japan: Views on Yasukuni, the movie

(Update: Plans to show “Yasukuni” in Tokyo theaters have now been cancelled altogether.)

A documentary film about the controversial Yasukuni shrine, shot by a Chinese filmmaker through funding by a Japanese government agency, has sparked debate and discussion after a group within the ruling LDP party convened a screening to assess its “neutrality”. Film-maker Li Ying's “Yasukuni”, set to hit theaters on April 12th, has been dropped by one cinema thus far, reportedly because it is believed that the film may cause “trouble”. The trouble stems from the subject matter and presentation of the film, which delves into the history of the Yasukuni shrine through the underlying theme of swords forged at Yasukuni, 8100 of which were used in the battlefields between 1933 and 1945. Diet member Ineda Tomomi of the LDP held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan [ja] in which she explained her views (see English/Japanese audio and video coverage) on the production of the film and the controversial move to screen the movie prior to its release.

Yasukuni
Yasukuni shrine (from Wikipedia, see license conditions)

Many have questioned whether it is appropriate for a national government to subsidize what they take to be political views expressed in the film. Blogger Takeda Jumei points to the use of taxpayer money in the film:

中国人監督のドキュメンタリー映画「靖国 YASUKUNI」。
何と日本の文化庁から750万円の助成金が出るのだという。
この反日映画に日本の税金が投入されるというのは、文化庁のノー天気ぶりだ。
日本は、映画製作はもちろん言論の自由の国だが、中国の政治指導部の支援を受けなければ活動できない中国人監督の映画は、日本の税金を使わずに中国の金で制作するべきだ。

Documentary film “YASUKUNI”, directed by a Chinese film maker.
Believe it or not, a 7.5 million yen grant has apparently been awarded [to this film] by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan.
Japanese tax money is spent on this anti-Japan film — the Agency for Cultural Affairs is so complacent.
Japan is a country of freedom of speech as well as of film production, but a film by a Chinese director, who cannot carry out his activities without support from the Chinese leadership, should be produced with money from China, not with Japanese tax money.

But what does it mean to be “anti-Japan”? Blogger dj19 asks the question:

だいたい、この人達の言っている「反日」ってなんでしょう。靖国神社が現在かかえている様々な問題が記録映画によってあからさまにされることを恐れ「反日」とレッテルを貼って攻撃し「表現の自由」を規制するような圧力を加え人々の目と耳をふさごうとすることの方がよっぽど国民を侮辱した反日活動だと思うんだけど。

What is it that these people call “anti-Japan” anyway? Attacking [the film] by labeling it “anti-Japan” and covering people's eyes and ears in order to control freedom of expression just because they fear that the problems of Yasukuni Shrine will be exposed by the documentary film – I think this is a more “anti-Japan” activity, insulting the Japanese people.

Blogger ponko69. meanwhile, takes the following position in opposition to the film:

いかにもサヨクらしい言いがかりだ。
稲田朋美議員は「検閲の意図はまったく無い」と言ったが、国の在りように係わる靖国神社の映画であり検閲して当然である。
反日的な日韓合作映画「あなたを忘れない」や「パッチギ」に文化庁はそれぞれ3000万円の奨励金を与えて話題を呼んだ。
またもや日本の文化庁は反日活動を支援している。
反日イデオロギーを主張する映画に私たちの税金を使ってはならない。

It's exactly the kind of accusation left-wingers would make.
Diet Member Inada Tomomi said that “we have no intention to censor”, but this is a film about Yasukuni Shrine, which concerns the way the nation is governed, so it is natural that it should be censored.
The Cultural Affairs Agency awarded a 30 million yen grant to the anti-Japan films “Ananata wo wasure nai” and “Pacchigi!”, the joint works of Japanese and Koreans, and this became a big topic of conversation.
The Cultural Affairs Agency in Japan is supporting anti-Japan activity.
Our tax money should be not spent to support a film that expresses an anti-Japan ideology.

Blogger chidakatsu, in contrast, argues however that this is not a left/right issue:

もう一つ。これは、本来なら左右関係ないことなんですが、自分のイデオロギーに自信があるなら、こういう、些細なことでガタガタ騒ぐなよ、と。

この作品を観て、国籍関係なく、靖国神社の存在に興味を持って、それこそ、遊就館を訪れたりとか、そういうことがあれば、“そっちサイド”としてはポジティヴなことなんじゃないの、と。

“反対意見”の存在自体、というか、あること自体が許せない、みたいな雰囲気がある気がするんですよ。国会議員という立場にある人たちの口調の中にも。

And one more thing — this got nothing to do with being left or right, but I just want to say that if you are confident about your own ideology, then don't make a fuss over little things.

After watching the work, regardless of nationality, If people become interested in the existence of Yasukuni Shrine or even visit Yushukan, then that would be a positive for “that side” I think.

I sense that there is a climate in which people cannot tolerate the very existence of “contrary opinions” or the fact that these opinions exist. [This is apparent ] even in the tone of Diet members’ voice.

Blogger virginia-woolf comments on the small size of the actual grant, which amounts to roughly 73,000 USD:

だいたい、偏向のない映画なんてゴミに決まっているということもわからない政治家たちの文化レベルの低さにも呆れるし、芸術文化振興基金のたった750万円程度の助成を問題視って、たったの750万にケチをつける、まさにその「どケチ」ぶりに唖然としましたね。

基金サイドも一応の審査はやるわけですが、公序良俗にでも反しない限りはイデオロギー的な検閲はやらないわけだし、映画制作における750万なんて、極めてつましい予算で作られ公開されるドキュメンタリー映画の予算を考えれば、政治家が目くじらを立てるほどの話とは、とてもわたしには思えない。

I am amazed by the low cultural level of these politicians who don't even understand that films with no bias are trash. And also they are seeing the 7.5-milion-yen grant from the Japan Arts Council as a problem — I am dumbfounded by their stinginess in complaining about [an amount of] only 7.5 million yen.

On the part of the Council, they do some kind of evaluation, but unless [an application] offends the public order and morals, they do not impose ideological censorship. Also, when you think about the budgeting of documentary films that are produced and released with extremely low costs, 7.5 million yen in film production costs does not seem to me like something that politicians should be angry about.

Blogger Wally criticizes what he perceives as hypocrisy:

この作品の監督・リ・イン氏は日本在住の中国人、映画内容は反日ではなく日本ラブだと述べている。なぜ「ヤスクニハンタイ」の声がアジアから聞こえてくるのか、そのことも知らない日本人は少なくないはずだ。靖国神社についての性格を知り、靖国神社について考えていくことこそ、明日の日本を考えていく国民を生み出すことにつながる。靖国を教えられない靖国親派こそ、反日分子ではないのかな?

Mr. Li Ying, the director of this movie, is a Chinese person living in Japan, and he says that what is being portrayed in this film is not anti-Japan but is rather Japan-love. There must be more than a few Japanese people who don't even know why there are voices opposing Yasukuni coming from Asia. Knowing the characteristics of Yasukuni Shrine and thinking about the Shrine is what will bring forth a new citizenry that will think about the future of Japan. These pro-Yasukuni people who don't want to teach about Yasukuni, aren't they even more anti-Japan?

In contrast, Ampontan argues that this is a case in which “politicians are getting it right, but for all the wrong reasons”, and that opinions should not play a role in determining what films are eligible for government funding:

The opinions–whatever they are–shouldn’t make any difference either way. Those who oppose the Yasukuni visits should also be at the front of the line objecting to any government subsidies for the movie. The failure to object on principle lowers the debate to the level of cheerleading for the home team, which is missing the point.

It’s a shame that Ms. Inada didn’t take that thought about Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression further, because that’s the crux of the matter.

7 comments

  • ur chinese friend

    For all of this China bashing which has been going on lately, it’s a bit odd to see China playing the role of the victim. I suspect that the only people who would sympathize with the Chinese on this matter are the Koreans, who IMO suffered just as much if not more at the hands of the Japanese. Everyone else are likely to have the “you deserved it” attitude.

    Yet, comparing Japan’s whitewashing of their history to that of the Germans’ only shows just how much self denial the Japanese right wingnuts are living in. Instead of driving their large VANs with loud speakers blasting nationalistic propaganda all day long, the angry Japanese wingnuts should compare themselves to the Germans, their best ally in WWII. The last time I checked, the German government not only spent tax-payers’ money to support a single film paying homage to the Holocaust, but spent a lot more building museums detailing the atrocities which the Fuhrer had committed. The European nations went as far as making it into a crime to deny Holocaust. Now that is simply ironic coming from the oh-so-free Europeans.

    Granted, the Chinese and Korean governments are only bringing up the WWII issue as a leverage for their foreign economic policies. For all of this supposedly hostility between China and Japan, Japanese passport is one of the few out there which can actually enter China without a VISA..

  • neutral

    Since when was anti-Yasukuni equivalent to being anti-Japan?

  • alicia

    If there are no misstatements, why not leeting it released in Japan. Japanese love Yasukuni shrine, it’s ok. And if people in other east asian countries resent it, it’s ok. But the movie should be filmed on the basis of truth and it should not express any political bias. I was shocked when it was prohibited, it seems Japan is a little like China.

  • […] controversial there, with news that cinemas in Tokyo have dropped plans to show it and widespread blog discussion about it – with complaints that Japanese taxpayers money has been spent on an anti-Japanese […]

  • […] out a way to print circuitry (via Futurismic) Gamers now can buy health supplements The film Yasukuni has caused quite a stir in Japan. Such a stir, that although most theaters have refused to show it […]

  • Kameleon

    I’ve lived in Japan for 12 years, I’m English, and can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt, that this country is absolutely totalitarian: democracy exists on a very small, and controlled scale. Communist is another word that comes to mind when thinking of Japan.

    The Japanese government simply digs its own grave deeper, and deeper and I do not sympathize with them when attacked for their sheer stubborn closed-mindedness.

    But I do sympathize with the general public when brought into the same light as the fools running this country. Japanese people are told what they can and cannot believe, by either the education system itself, or by simple, very strong peer-pressure.

    The right-wing fools… I would seriously LOVE to join forces with other Japanese people and foreigners like myself here, and petrol-bomb the lot of those highly ignorant and racist animals.

    China being abnormally communist is expected to mess up its own people. Japan is supposed to be democratic which makes it all the worse.

  • […] Earlier this year, Diet member Ineda Tomomi of Japan’s ruling LDP party held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan to address the controversy. Listen to an English translation of the event [h/t Global Voices Online]. […]

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