Film shows war’s China legacy

Documentary portrays suffering from arms Japan left

by Tomoko Otake

The listless face of a 27-year-old woman tending cafeteria tables all day long, seven days a week. The incessant, violent coughs of a retired doctor who has not had a good night’s sleep in 17 years.

A documentary film on Chinese who have died or incurred postwar health problems after being exposed to artillery and poison gas shells left behind in China by the Imperial Japanese Army illustrates the suffering — and dark past that haunts the two nations — 59 years after the war.

“The abandoned weapons issue has extremely high public interest in China, but is little known in Japan,” said freelance director Tomoko Kana, who recently completed the 90-minute film “Nigai Namida no Daichi kara” (“From the Land of Bitter Tears”).

“The way Chinese people feel about this issue is very similar to how Japanese feel about North Korea’s abductions of Japanese,” she said.

Kana, 33, chronicled the agony of people whose fates were changed by chemical and other weapons left behind by retreating Japanese troops at the end of the war.

Japan estimates 700,000 poison gas shells were discarded in China; Beijing puts the number at 2 million.

Kana said she decided to make the film after meeting 27-year-old Liu Min while touring China with friends last summer.

Liu, whose 40-year-old father was killed in 1995 when an abandoned artillery shell accidentally exploded in the city of Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, is one of 13 plaintiffs seeking compensation from Japan. Liu’s father’s limbs were blown off. He suffered massive burns and died 17 days after the blast.

Then a 19-year-old with hopes of becoming a schoolteacher, Liu has since been working at her relative’s cafeteria without rest. And her family has little prospect of paying off her father’s medical bills.

“I was shocked by the fact that a woman her age was suffering from the aftereffects of the war,” Kana said. “While I initially had no intention to make a film on this issue, once I learned of her suffering, I had no choice.”

Kana captured the emotional roller coaster Liu and three other victims from separate incidents has been on, including the scene of Liu giving a tearful hug to her mother while the mother burst into tears, confessing that it was she who pulled the plug on her husband.

The mother could not pay the medical bills and thus took him out of the hospital. He died the following day.

Kana’s camera also caught Liu and fellow plaintiff Li Chen flying to Japan to take in the Sept. 29 ruling at the Tokyo District Court, and their excitement after the landmark decision to award the plaintiffs a combined 190 million yen in damages.

Their elation abruptly ended four days later when the government filed an appeal against the ruling.

Kana directed, shot and edited the documentary herself, paying most of the 4 million yen cost. Her filmmaking was zealously covered by Chinese media, and she was featured last month on a 30-minute prime time program by China Central Television, the national TV network in China.

The appeals court case by the 13 plaintiffs, including Liu and Li, is pending before the Tokyo High Court. A third session is set for Sept. 13.