Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura denied Tuesday that ruling party lawmakers’ actions have led cinemas not to screen a contentious documentary film on the war-related Yasukuni Shrine, and culture minister Kisaburo Tokai expressed regret over the theaters’ restraint.
The cancellations drew protests from media-related organizations on the same day in the hope of improving the situation, with one group saying the demand by lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party for an unprecedented preview of the film may be regarded as “political intervention.”
Machimura, an LDP member, told reporters in the afternoon: “I don’t think it has led (cinemas) to refrain from screening. I’ve heard cinemas had different reasons.”
As of Monday, five cinemas in Tokyo and Osaka had changed their original plans and decided not to screen “Yasukuni,” by Chinese director Li Ying, on April 12, meaning the film will not be shown in the capital.
The operator of one of the Tokyo theaters said it decided not to show the movie “out of concern that it could cause inconvenience to neighboring commercial facilities.”
The Mass Media Information and Culture Union issued a protest Tuesday, stating: “This is an unusual situation in which political pressure and hindrance by rightist groups is about to thwart film screenings and a movie is about to be crushed. It’s absolutely unforgivable.
“The Japanese film industry is faced with a humiliating situation, which underlines Japanese society’s abnormality,” it said.
Issuing a separate statement Tuesday, the federation of cinema and theatrical workers’ unions urged movie companies and theaters to secure screening opportunities.
“Freedom of expression is being trampled down,” the federation said. “We hope filmmakers show their courage and spirit as movie people.”
The Cultural Affairs Agency, which requested a preview by the distributor for lawmakers, has been blamed for the situation, since political groups opposed to the film started pressing cinemas not to screen it after the preview.
In response, Tokai said, “We only conveyed lawmakers’ requests to the filmmaker, and the company sent out preview invitations at its own discretion.”
The preview was conducted at the request of LDP members who feared the film, which was granted subsidies by the agency, might not be politically neutral.