For the better part of a year, “Unbroken” has been unwatchable in Japanese theaters.
Angelina Jolie’s biopic of Olympic athlete and World War II POW Louis “Louie” Zamperini was originally set for release here by distributor Toho-Towa, following its world premiere in Australia in November 2014. But protests by rightists contesting the film’s historical accuracy and complaining about its alleged anti-Japanese bias persuaded Toho-Towa to put “Unbroken” on permanent hold.
Now indie distributor Bitters End has announced that it will release the film in February beginning with a run at Theater Image Forum in Shibuya. “We do not plan to make any cuts,” a Bitters End spokeswoman told The Japan Times. “We are also in talks with other theaters to show the film.”
Good for Bitters End, though Toho-Towa’s excess of caution was hardly unexpected — it’s built into the DNA of large entertainment companies, and not only in Japan. Another illustrative example is the cave-in by Sony Pictures to North Korean threats over the goofy Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy “The Interview.”
Looking back at uproars over foreign films similarly controversial in Japan, from the 1990 WWII drama “Blood Oath” to the 2009 dolphin-hunt documentary “The Cove,” it’s hard to find any responses more violent than loudspeaker noise-making, though I may have missed a swung fist here or there.
In this as in many things, Japan is a relative paradise on Earth. But the backers of “Unbroken,” contemplating their forever-vanished profits in East Asia’s second-largest film market, may not agree.