There’s been a lot of talk about historical revisionism in Japan lately, given the history textbook controversy and other attempts by rightists to gloss over past aggression in favor of a Reaganesque, feel-good imagining of history.

Director Michael Bay and Ben Affleck

As such, it was rather interesting to see a trio of Americans — Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer and Ben Affleck — take a similarly ambiguous historical tack at a recent Tokyo press conference.

“It’s an honor to be invited to Tokyo,” was how Affleck started off. “I’d like to say how it’s caused me to reflect on what a wonderful relationship our two countries have now in light of a movie about a war that was fought 60 years ago, in part between the U.S. and Japan. And I’d like to say that we certainly made every attempt to be fair and honest and accurate and to represent the Japanese soldiers and government as having been put in a position where war was inevitable, by the U.S. and the political realities of the time. We hope that the Japanese audience here feels respected and understood.”

“Political realities.” Now those are weasel-words worth noting, because the film’s revisionist take on World War II is that the Japanese regime was forced, reluctantly, into attacking America. Director Bay put it baldly: “[The film] wasn’t supposed to be a history lesson. We gave the reason why the Japanese wanted to attack us — because we cut off their oil supply.”

True enough. Yet nowhere in the film is it mentioned why America enforced the embargo, little “details” like Japan’s invasion and brutal colonization of Korea and China, the Nanking massacre and a militarist regime that was committed to territorial expansion through force.

Affleck went on to describe the film’s theme as “how terrible a thing war was, no matter who you were fighting for.” Bay added that what he wanted to convey in the movie was “how courageous Japanese soldiers were, how dignified they were. They were doing something for their country.” Which meant, at the time, fighting in an army led by fascists who espoused an ideology of racial superiority. One wonders if Bruckheimer would allow the same moral relativism vis-a-vis the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Presumably, that wouldn’t be necessary, since the Germans have more or less come to terms with the past. Japanese audiences seem to need a bit of whitewash, though, and “Pearl Harbor” joins films like the “The Last Emperor” in making a few judicious cuts for local release. When asked about the cuts, Bruckheimer skirted the question, saying: “I don’t think there’s any picture I’ve made that we haven’t changed in some form before we released it in a foreign market. And also, it’s entertainment. We wouldn’t want any things we might say to offend people, so we made some minor dialogue trims.” Which presumably included Kate Beckinsale’s reference to “cowardly Japs,” which was excised for local release.

The question left unasked was, if this is deemed offensive, then what was it doing in the U.S. version in the first place? “Political realities” indeed.

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