Freedom-of-expression gantlet

Four movie theaters in Tokyo and one in Osaka have decided not to screen “Yasukuni,” a documentary on Japan’s war shrine. Rightist groups protested against the planned screenings with vehicle-mounted loudspeakers and harassing telephone calls. Most movie theaters cited possible inconveniences to the audience and local communities as the reason for their decisions. Regrettably, their decisions restrict freedom of speech and expression. The film cannot be seen in the capital. About a dozen cinemas in other areas including Osaka plan to screen it.

The situation reminds one of the refusal early this year by Hotel Shin Takanawa in Tokyo to let the Japan Teachers’ Union (Nikkyoso) use a large room for its study meeting in defiance of a Jan. 30 Tokyo High Court injunction.

The movie was directed by Mr. Li Ying, a Chinese movie director who has lived in Japan for many years. He spent 10 years making the documentary, which shows visitors to the shrine holding different views on the war and the shrine itself, and a swordsmith who made “Yasukuni Swords.”

A Liberal Democratic Party Lower House member who thought the movie might not be politically neutral had questioned why the filmmakers received a subsidy from an organization under the Cultural Affairs Agency’s jurisdiction. She told the agency she wanted to see the film, and an unusual invitation was eventually extended to all Diet members for a March 12 preview.

The Directors Guild of Japan, of which Mr. Li is a member, issued a protest, saying the behavior of some Diet members who had called for the preview would hinder efforts to screen the movie and would put psychological pressure on movie directors. The Federation of Cinema and Theatrical Workers Unions of Japan said the preview was tantamount to pre-censorship.

The LDP member says she doesn’t want freedom of expression and political activity curtailed. If she is serious, not only the film industry but also lawmakers should take concrete action to ensure that screenings occur. Police should promise to get tough with any party who tries to physically obstruct screenings.