Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken” opened Saturday, more than a year after its initial global release, in Japan where some have called for a boycott of the movie whose main character endures harsh treatment as a prisoner of war.
There were concerns that right-wing extremists may try to disrupt the opening. But the crowd at Theatre Image Forum in Tokyo, a small theater that specializes in independent films and documentaries, was peaceful.
Many of those in attendance appeared engrossed in the film, flinching at the torture scenes and sympathizing with the hero, Louis Zamperini.
The distributor said in a statement that it decided to go ahead with the showing because various views on war should be expressed, and because it was not natural for a movie about Japan not to be shown in the country.
A public relations representative said the company had received some angry calls when it first announced the film’s showing in October. Other than that, nothing unusual happened, and the film is scheduled to be shown in other theaters throughout Japan.
“Unbroken” is based on the true story of Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who gets shot down in a U.S. bomber and survives at sea in inflatable raft before being captured by the Japanese. He was subjected to torture and ill-treatment in a POW camp until Japan’s defeat in 1945.
Much of the negative chatter on social media in Japan about “Unbroken,” which still continues to some extent, alleges that the movie is “anti-Japanese.”
Many who take offense at the film are outraged that the book on which the movie is based mentions that Japanese soldiers engaged in cannibalism, although the film does not touch on the subject at all. Some historians say some Japanese soldiers did engage in cannibalism.
The anger over “Unbroken” comes despite the nation boasting a long list of directors who made notable anti-war movies, including Akira Kurosawa and Kihachi Okamoto. Nagisa Oshima’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” starring David Bowie, has a plot similar to “Unbroken,” taking place in a POW camp.
But some in Japan have also had a hard time coming to terms with the country’s brutal past of colonizing Asian neighbors and the barbaric acts carried out by the Imperial Army, such as the Rape of Nanking in 1937.
The number of people killed in that incident has long been a source of dispute, with the Chinese government claiming about 300,000 Chinese were massacred and numerous women raped by Imperial Japanese soldiers. The Japanese government does not deny that its troops murdered noncombatants and looted the city, but instead claims that the number cited by China is not supported by the historical evidence.
Similarly, some Japanese reject historical works that say women from several Asian countries, especially Korea, were forced into prostitution by the wartime Japanese military.
In “Unbroken,” Japanese characters do little but grunt, scream, punch and kick.
Still, the film ends on a reconciliatory note, showing an elderly Zamperini proudly carrying the torch for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and Japanese on the streets cheering.
As a young man, Zamperini competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a runner, and had hopes of attending the following games, set to be held in Tokyo. But then the war started, dashing his dream.
After seeing “Unbroken,” Katsuyuki Miyata, a member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, said that the closing scene was the best part of the film.
“I’d heard it was an anti-Japanese movie,” Miyata said. “But it was a good movie.”