[FILM] "YASUKUNI" - (2007 / JAPAN & CHINA/ 123 Minutes)
[SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 144 / June, 15,2008]

The films recorded in this section of the Bulletin are usually simple ones, but this time rare enough I went to see a film with a topic that is often in the news. Its title is "Yasukuni" and Li Ying is the director of this documentary film. The Japan Arts Fund of the Agency for Cultural Affairs provided a subsidy of 7,500,000 Yen for its production. Some weekly magazines reported that national funds had subsidized an anti-Japanese film and a group of Liberal Democrat Japanese politicians raised loudly their voices criticizing it.
People were concerned that rightist groups were going to gather around the movie theaters that planned to show the film and citizens made public protests by phone with the results of obliging theaters to cancel the shows. TV stations and major newspapers reported widely about the issue and the documentary film obtained a very wide coverage. On the opposite, since the film could only be shown in a very few theaters, the final result was that even people unable to see it protested against.
In the theaters where the film was shown and as a security measure, the police stood up between the screen and the public watching it.
Thus, I felt a special attraction to go to see the film. I went to the theater a week after the presentation of the documentary, but the tickets were sold out 2 hours before the show and gave up right there. Nevertheless, since I was decided to make a report in the Bulletin I searched the Internet in Yahoo users` review and found out that 80% of the opinions, most of them users of the "right net," were slanderous criticisms. That provoked in me a high interest on the documentary and 2 weeks after its presentation I decided to watch it.
Just in case, I arrived 30 minutes ahead of the morning show and to my surprise it was not as crowded as I imagined. There was one policeman at the entrance of the building and a security guard inside the theater, so that I felt relaxed, as different from the tensions of the first day of the show.
With regard to the interest of its content, it was quite ordinary and rather disappointing. Different from what I had imagined, the director quietly pursues the everyday business of Yasukuni shrine focusing entirely on the ordinary onlookers. The beginning of the film has a very simple structure and the scenes are unclear. To tell the truth I became impatient at the beginning and little by little I was taken in. Strangely enough, once the film was over I realized that the simple structure and the play of the camera had, most probably, been all planned by the director.
The screen reflects the people gathering at Yasukuni shrine. Young people in military fashion shouting loudly; Groups marching in military navy custom; The official visit of Prime Minister Koizumi; Ladies, whose brothers are enshrined in the Shrine, approving the official visit of the Prime Minister. An American man that approves the visit of the Prime Minister Koizumi and lifts the Stars and Stripes flag and people shouting against it that are brought out of the Shrine; A Taiwanese ethnic woman advancing upon the staff of the Shrine and demanding "give us back the souls of our ancestors." A young person that bursts into a memorial gathering and is beaten by worshippers and all bleeding is captured and brought out by the police...
The "ordinary" schedule of Yasukuni is full of unordinary events. There, anybody climbing the stage performs, in excess, like an actor.
The opening sequence of the film starts with an elderly Japanese sword maker that forges his final masterpiece, the "Yasukuni sword," like the embodiment of Yasukuni shrine.
Once the film was made he told the film's director that he had lied about the content of the documentary and thus, it is reported that he asked him to erase the scenes where he appears. On the other hand, the scenes are not so bad.
In fact, almost half of the documentary contains an interview of the sword maker with scenes explaining the making of the swords. Different from the "unordinary" people appearing in the film, the sword maker is shown calmly making the swords. Now, no matter how the film director would ask the sword maker about the personal meaning of Yasukuni to him, he can not properly explain. Such "ordinary" people have been supporting Yasukuni.
I thought for a long time about the reasons why the "sword" had become the nucleus of this documentary. The sword is, without doubt, a tool to kill. At the same time, the Japanese sword looks beautiful. It makes people feel as hiding a magical force. As a consequence it looks divine. Religion, similar to such swords, maybe contains unreserved forces that could become mystic or violent. This is just a personal impression.
To those who are undecided about going to see the film, especially to those that do not know much about Yasukuni, I would advice to go to see it. The program could become a valuable resource material.

(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

URL: http://www.yasukuni-movie.com/
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