Chinese filmmaker talks about his documentary, "Yasukuni"





Li Ying’s documentary film “Yasukuni” opened in Tokyo on May 3, without incident but under heavy police protection. The original launch of the film, scheduled for April 12, was postponed when four theaters in Tokyo and another in Osaka cancelled their screenings of the film after conservative members of the Japanese Diet raised questions about the film’s political stance (See also David McNeill and John Junkerman, Freedom Next Time. Japanese Neonationalists Seek to Silence Yasukuni Film.

Japanese media and civil liberties organizations quickly protested what they considered to be government interference and a threat to freedom of expression. More than 30 declarations were issued (see the texts of these declarations and of statements at an April 10 press conference, in Japanese. An English-subtitled video of director Li Ying’s remarks at the press conference can be found here and here.

In the aftermath of the cancellations, more than 20 movie theaters across Japan announced plans to screen the film. Officials from Yasukuni Shrine have asked that a number of scenes be deleted, on the grounds that they were filmed without proper permission, but the production company, Dragon Films, has released the film without making any changes. Discussions between the shrine and lawyers for the production company continue.

The 123-minute documentary, filmed over the course of decade, focuses on the annual events at the Shinto shrine in central Tokyo on August 15th, the date of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in 1945. Interspersed with this footage are scenes of craftsman Kariya Naoji, the last surviving member of a team of sword smiths who forged 8100 “Yasukuni swords” on the grounds of the shrine during World War II. The film also documents efforts by indigenous Taiwanese, Okinawans, Koreans, and non-Shinto Japanese to have the souls of their relatives removed from the shrine’s register. It ends with an extended sequence of archival footage, depicting the history of Yasukuni, visits to the shrine by Emperor Hirohito, and scenes from World War II.

The film premiered at the Pusan International Film Festival in October 2007 and is scheduled for wide release in South Korea this spring. “Yasukuni” won the Humanitarian Award for documentaries at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March. Theatrical release in China is planned, but the schedule is yet to be determined. The film also screened at the Sundance Film Festival in the US in January and at the Berlin Film Festival in February. North American and European distribution of the film have not yet been announced.

“Yasukuni” was funded in part by the Japan Arts Fund and by two funds administered by the Pusan International Film Festival’s Asian Network of Documentary. It was coproduced by the Beijing Film Academy’s Youth Studio, Beijing Zhongkun Film, and Dragon Films. ...

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