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Japan: Views on Yasukuni, the movie

Categories: East Asia, China, Japan, Arts & Culture, Ethnicity & Race, Film, Freedom of Speech, History, International Relations, Politics

(Update: Plans to show “Yasukuni” in Tokyo theaters have now been cancelled altogether [1].)

A documentary film about the controversial Yasukuni shrine [2], shot by a Chinese filmmaker through funding by a Japanese government agency, has sparked debate and discussion [3] 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 [4], 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 [5] [ja] in which she explained her views (see English/Japanese audio [6] and video [7] coverage) on the production of the film and the controversial move to screen the movie prior to its release.

Yasukuni [8]
Yasukuni shrine (from Wikipedia, see license conditions [8])

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 [9] in the film:

中国人監督のドキュメンタリー映画「靖国 YASUKUNI」。

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 [10]:


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 [11]:


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 [12]:




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 [13], which amounts to roughly 73,000 USD:



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 [14] what he perceives as hypocrisy:


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 [15] 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.