[Marxism] Interview with director of "Yasukuni"
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 24 16:34:28 MDT 2008
"Yasukuni" director Li on his tough-love letter to Japan
"Yasukuni" director Li Ying shares his thoughts with John Junkerman
and David McNeill on the contentious Tokyo shrine, the motivation
behind the movie, and his reaction to the furor in Japan over the
On the reaction to his movie in Japan:
Before the movie was released I visited each theater and talked to
the managers. Some magazines had already started discussing the movie
so we knew that there would be some protests. There was a very strong
sense among everyone then of wanting to put this movie out and
challenge the protesters. So why have they all suddenly changed their
minds? I can only conclude that pressure was exerted behind the scenes.
How the idea for "Yasukuni" was born:
I had wanted to make a film about Nanking (the Nanjing Massacre). In
speaking with Japanese, of course there is always a gap in the
perception of history. And the gap surrounding Nanking is the widest.
So I was interested in Nanking and in 1997 I attended a symposium at
Kudan Kaikan (in Tokyo) on the 60th anniversary of Nanking.
Dancing with the devil over 'Yasukuni':
The first event of the symposium was the screening of a documentary
about Nanking. It was a propaganda film produced by the Japanese
military, and of course it didn't touch on the massacre at all. There
was a scene of the formal ceremony of the Japanese military entering
the city. And something happened that I couldn't believe. The
audience applauded, very loudly. It was a shock. It left me shaking.
I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was standing on a battlefield.
It was a shock to experience such a scene, here in Japan so many
years after the war. That people still feel a sense of honor and
pride toward such a scene, it's unthinkable.
This is not simply a typical rightwing problem. This far surpassed
what I understood to be the right wing. It's a fancy venue, more than
a thousand people, all wearing suits and ties, University of Tokyo
professors, members of the "Atarashii Kyokasho o Tsukuru Kai" (the
Japanese Society for Textbook Reform). There are those who have
researched the massacre, and there are those who deny it. There were
deniers participating in the symposium. And what do they emphasize?
They deny the testimony of those who were in Nanking, and argue that
the massacre never happened. There's no possibility of discussing it with them.
At the symposium, the daughter of one of the officers who engaged in
the "100 head-cutting" contest appealed for the restoration of her
father's honor, that he be treated not as a war criminal but as a
heroic soul in Yasukuni. So that made me wonder what Yasukuni
symbolized, this sacred space that granted heroic status. This was an
issue that had more of a sense of reality. Nanking is a historical
problem, but to take up an issue that carries reality, you need to
film in Japan, and that meant filming Yasukuni, to bring the issue
into present reality. Yasukuni feels very real to me.
So I began filming then and continued for 10 years. I didn't know
what kind of film it would turn out to be. I decided I would just
film every time I went to Yasukuni. As I filmed I would study and
learn more, and figure it out. That's very time-consuming, not
knowing what kind of film it will turn out to be. But I had a sense
that it raised very real issues.
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