I just finished watching the beautifully crafted film by director Lu Chuan, City of Life and Death (2009). It is yet another film about the rape of Nanking. Others include: Nanking (2007) funded by AOL Vice-Chairman Ted Leonsis, John Rabe (2009) based on the diaries of the real John Rabe who was essentially China’s Schindler, Black Sun (1995) which is an older version of the invasion, and numerous documentaries. Japan’s brutal WWII history is catching up with it, mainly through film.
And yet, these films do not play in Japan. In fact, Japan now has “Nanking deniers” similar to what we refer to asl “Holocaust deniers”. Per Wiki, “…filmmaker Satoru Mizushima called the film a “setup by China to control intelligence,” and plans to release his own documentary, The Truth about Nanjing.”
It’s one thing to have “history deniers” but it’s another to not even show the films. I’m not saying they would make money and, yes, they would be protested–but it’s an issue of truth. It’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t a Japanese conscience that wants the truth to be known? Culture be damned. Saving “face” be damned.
In the United States we have deniers of The Holocaust, our mistreatment of African Americans, Native Americans and other races, but if you look at the material that has been put out by writers, artists and filmmakers you can see that historical nastiness is not swept under the rug. We have numerous films, award-winning ones, exposing our past injustices and there’s plenty more to come. Japan has nothing. No exploration of a reckless, maniacal WWII past, no historical guilt for atrocities, no recognition of the brutalization of China. It’s not that the present Japanese people are collectively guilty for Nanking or responsible in any way–but they are responsible for truth, no matter how ugly.
Somehow the atomic bomb has become the excuse for avoiding this past too. Bring up Nanking and inevitably Hiroshima and Nagasaki are brought up too. Certainly there is a historical debate on the devastation and morality of dropping nuclear weapons on Japan. The main argument was they wouldn’t surrender and the allies were damned tired of fighting a supposed god for an emperor (Hirohito got off easy). Moral or not, if you want to claim Hiroshima as the sin of the United States, then claim your own sins too. How would Hiroshima victims feel if they were told it all “never happened” and it’s just propaganda?
This wouldn’t be such an issue if there were any Japanese filmmakers taking an opposing viewpoint to the right wing Japanese nationalists calling the films on Nanking “bunk”. It’s pretty amazing not to even see an anime piece of anti-war introspection. The best we have is Hayao Miyazaki’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) which is sympathetic to the Japanese experience. Say what you want about The West, but German filmmakers have made a variety of films exploring their dark Nazi past including 2004’s excellent Downfall.
On top of my main complaint, I did a search to see if City of Life and Death was nominated for an Academy Award? I couldn’t find any indication that it was considered. Being a film that is worthy of an Academy Award, I kind of wonder why not? Maybe Hollywood is complicit in Japan’s silence.
With word of the upcoming The Truth About Nanjing (spelling is with a “j”) isn’t it time for Japan to have an internal dialogue about history and then be open with the rest of the world on accepting a historical event? The rest of the world’s filmmakers are calling Japan out. Per Wiki on the views of the director of the Nanking denial film, “Less than a month before the 70th anniversary of the Nanjing massacre, the director said in an interview that Japanese war criminals were martyrs who were made into scapegoats for war crimes as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross in order to bear the sins of the world, and they died bearing all of old Japan’s good and bad parts.” Comparing rapists to Jesus Christ?
No one is saying anything bad about present day Japan. I love the pop culture and the people. Historical Japan is pretty nasty though. Will any Japanese artists stand up for the truth or are they all gutless?
SIDENOTE: If you are aware of any Japanese films, writers, or artists speaking truthfully about the historical accuracy of the rape of Nanking, feel free to comment. I’ve been searching for any films that might come close and I keep coming up empty.
SIDENOTE 2: I don’t mean to make light of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the denial of it is equal to Holocaust and Nanking denial. I think it’s a fair comparison It’s pretty obvious by the end of WWII we had dehumanized the enemy and just didn’t care about the collateral damage.