From the “The Dirty Dozen” (1967) to “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), cinema audiences in Japan have flocked to theaters to watch Americans and Germans killing one another.
Such films continue to enjoy popularity. During the weekend of Nov. 29-30, the Brad Pitt World War II drama “Fury” was rated Japan’s second most popular film at the box office, raking in ¥200,960,300 from 155,667 admissions on 332 screens.
This coming August will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, and you won’t need to consult a crystal ball to predict that while Hollywood blockbusters might be in short supply, Japan’s print and broadcast media will be serving up lots of material from a variety of perspectives.
Actually, several magazines have already jumped the gun and begun running war-related stories from December of last year.
In observance of the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Flash (Dec. 23) tracked down veterans of the Imperial Japanese Navy to ask about their experience.
A pilot aboard the aircraft carrier Hiryu — Takeshi Maeda, now age 93 — recalls hitting the 33,590-ton battleship USS West Virginia with an 800-kg torpedo, one of seven that struck the ship.
“I still remember it clearly, as my bombardier told me the right moment to release the torpedo,” Maeda says. “Looking backward as we flew past the West Virginia, we saw a brown geyser of water shooting up, signifying a direct hit, and we shouted in triumph.”
That triumph proved short lived. In testimony, perhaps, to the futility of war, the West Virginia was salvaged, refitted and returned to action. It was anchored in Tokyo Bay on the day of Japan’s surrender.
Flash also noted that some 6,500 visitors turned out at the Super Arena in Saitama from Nov. 21 to 24 to see one of only five known Zero fighter planes still in flying condition.
In its January issue, monthly magazine Bungei Shunju put out a 540-page expanded edition containing testimonies and reminiscences of 70 people — one for each year of the postwar period.
The first entry was by Taro Kimura, the eldest son of Gen. Heitaro Kimura, a subordinate of Gen. Hideki Tojo who from August 1944 until the war’s end served as commander of the Burma Area Army.
On Dec. 23, 1948, Gens. Kimura, Tojo and five other Class-A war criminals were executed by hanging.
Speaking out to the media for the first time, Taro Kimura, now age 83, recalls learning of his father’s death sentence from news on the radio, upon which he felt “like having been drenched with ice water.”
“Initially the families of Class-A war criminals did not expect them to be consecrated (at the Yasukuni shrine), nor did they make any such request,” Kimura relates, adding, “when we received notification of the consecration, which took place when Nagayoshi Matsudaira, a former navy man, was head priest, it was natural for us to feel grateful.”
Kimura nonetheless appears troubled by the controversy over Yasukuni, which has been challenged not only by foreign governments but also by the families of Japanese Christians and Korean nationals enshrined therein. Meanwhile, proposals for an alternate monument have gone nowhere.
“There’s no change in my yearning for some means by which the Emperor and Cabinet members would be able to worship the war dead in public,” Kimura says.
Bungei Shunju also features remarks by Kotaro Hirota, grandson of diplomat and former Prime Minister Koki Hirota, who was also executed in 1948. The execution remains controversial because Hirota was the only civilian among the seven. He strongly opposed Japan’s military incursions in China.
Kotaro says he was never bullied or stigmatized for having been the grandson of a Class-A war criminal. He nevertheless harbors strong opposition to his grandfather’s Yasukuni enshrinement.
“If our family had been consulted beforehand regarding enshrinement in Yasukuni, we would have refused,” he writes. “From time to time I have gone to worship there. But I don’t feel my grandfather is enshrined there. I can’t believe he’s together with those generals with whom he constantly contended. His graves are in his home town of Fukuoka and in Kamakura.
“If it were possible, I’d like his Yasukuni enshrinement to be annulled. When it’s all said and done, that’s my true feeling.”
Another, more recent milestone that will be observed on the 17th of this month is the 20th anniversary of the disastrous Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in Kansai.
Sunday Mainichi (Jan. 4-11) notes that the mostly elderly residents of Canal Town, a housing tract adjacent to JR Hyogo Station, might soon be receiving eviction notices.
“When the quake struck, I thought I was going to die. But now at this age I’m being told to vacate,” is the way an 82-year-old woman puts it. She was one of some 7,000 low-income households to whom subsidized housing was made available following the disaster. Now 20 years later, that arrangement is about to expire.
The city of Kobe is reportedly arranging for the neediest cases, such as people over age 85, to stay put. Other nearby municipalities and Hyogo Prefecture are confronting the problem in different ways. Some operators of buildings that took in homeless residents are in agreement with letting them stay, as current housing demand has been slack.
Twenty years have gone by in a blur. Sunday Mainichi’s writer wonders if, in 2031, the indigent residents of Tohoku will find themselves facing a similar housing situation.