A Tokyo movie theater on Saturday became the first in the nation to screen the controversial documentary “Yasukuni,” drawing hundreds of viewers throughout the day despite drizzling rain.
People started arriving at Cine Amuse in Shibuya hours before the first screening, but despite expectations, no rightwing protests or speaker trucks were seen in the area.
The theater will show “Yasukuni” eight times a day on two screens, one with English subtitles, until Friday, and more than 20 other theaters nationwide will follow suit, distributor Argo Pictures said.
The 123-minute film tells the story of Yasukuni Shrine by focusing on the annual surrender day celebrations that take place there each year and the people who attend them. The Shinto shrine is dedicated to Japan’s war dead and served as its spiritual pillar during the war. Class A war criminals are enshrined there as well.
The documentary shows footage of festivities recorded at the shrine on Aug. 15 during one of Japan’s surrender day anniversaries marking the end of World War II, and is interspersed with interviews with related people and footage from the war.
Overall, viewer opinions of “Yasukuni” were positive.
“The movie was good because it made a series of very good reports to try to get very close to the truth,” said Noboru Toike, a 50-year-old university lecturer from Kawasaki who came to see it because he is interested in the Imperial system.
“(The film) dealt with some muddy things that Japanese people think about, but without looking away from them,” he said. “My understanding (of the shrine) was deepened.”
Etsuko Ishizaka, a 58-year-old housewife from Tokyo, said she thought people should see the film.
“Yasukuni shrine is romanticizing” the war, she said. “There is a possibility that contemporary children might wage another war. I want many young people to see it.”
Shinichiro Hanada, a 47-year-old Tokyoite, initially had doubts about the filmmaker’s intentions but said he liked it overall.
“I hope the people who saw this movie will deepen their debates on the issues of Yasukuni, enshrining (Class A war criminals), the Constitution, and the issue of defense,” Hanada said.
“I felt something intentional in (the director’s) editing of the final scenes — Emperor Showa, and presumably the Nanjing massacre,” he added.
Other viewers, including Hiroshi Kawahara, the head of the nationalist group Doketsusha, were reportedly displeased by “Yasukuni.”
“The film is anti-Japan, and an insult to Yasukuni and our devotion to it,” Kawahara told the Associated Press. “But Yasukuni’s dignity cannot be shaken by a film like this.”
The film shows people shouting “Tenno heika banzai!” (“Long live the Emperor!”) and an American holding the Stars and Stripes. Some Asian youngsters are shown protesting the war-dead commemoration ceremony and getting beaten up as a voice in the background yells, “Chinese go home!”
Despite the shrine’s earlier requests to delete and alter “misrepresenting pictures,” the distributor screened the film as scheduled.
“We received the film ‘Yasukuni’ (from the producer) because there is no problem with screening . . . We will just screen it using the normal procedure,” a company official said. “For example, (we) are not being called by the court to be told to delete or not to screen.”
The distributor’s president, Yutaka Okada, said the day one was a success.
“I am very glad that (the screening) started without trouble, anyway,” Okada said in front of the theater.
Security at the theater was tight before the screening began, Okada said.
“I think we will be able to continue to screen (the film) smoothly now,” he said.
Yasukuni Shrine has claimed that Chinese director Li Ying did not follow due process when filming inside its premises and said that some of the contents misrepresent the facts.
The shrine renewed its displeasure after the screening.
“It is extremely regrettable that the film, which could cause misunderstandings of this shrine, was screened,” the shrine said in a statement. “(We) will continue to ask (the filmmaker) to delete and correct problematic pictures, so that untrue things will not spread with the screening of this movie,” it said.