I’ve written about the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan before, and all the controversy it causes, especially every year when the prime minister decides to go or not to go to pay respects. I was therefore very interested to read this article on the BBC yesterday all about a documentary that has been made about the shrine, simply called “Yasukuni,” by a Chinese director. It sounds fascinating to me, especially its attempts to understand what the shrine represents to differing groups:
In all, Li Ying has spent 10 years, on and off, making the film.
During visits to Yasukuni he says he was at times threatened, abused, and on occasion had his equipment confiscated. Newspapers here have reported that he has received death threats.
He says he set out to try to understand better what the shrine means to Japanese people.
To many it is one of the most sacred places in Japan. To others it is a place they feel glorifies war.
Legacy of War
Li Ying includes both supporters and opponents of Yasukuni in his film.
“The subject of the film is the aftermath – the legacy of the war, as defined in the space of Yasukuni,” Li Ying says.
“The debate over Yasukuni is a debate over symbols. That’s why I focused on the swordsmith. The sword is the symbol of Yasukuni.”
Of course, the reason this has made the news is not so much because the film has been hailed at film festivals, etc., but instead because many theaters in Japan have decided not to show it due to protests and controversy. Some politicians have been quoted as saying the film is “anti-Japanese,” seemingly in large part because the director is Chinese and therefore must have an anti-Japan agenda. In fact, though, the project was a Sino-Japanese joint project funded in part by a Japanese governmental grant. As Li Ying notes:
“‘Anti-Japanese’ was a phrase that was used here often before the Sino-Japanese War,” the director says.
“It was used to encourage nationalism. It’s a very dangerous phrase. Those who use it are irresponsible.”
I hope the film comes out somewhere I can see it soon. There’s so much that could be said about this issue, and I’d really like to see how this particular project turned out.
-posted by Dana