A Tokyo movie theater will screen movies this month about the death penalty and host guest speakers to stimulate debate about a practice that most developed nations have abolished.
“Death Penalty Movie Week” is scheduled for Feb. 14 to 20 at Eurospace in Shibuya and features eight movies, some of them homegrown but others foreign.
The festival’s title is “Can One Person Bring Another to Justice?”
It aims to explore the sin against society of taking someone’s life in vengeance.
The movies include the 1959 Japanese film “I’d Rather Be a Shellfish,” which depicts a barber falsely charged with killing a U.S. captive during World War II and sentenced to death. Another is the 1984 Japanese movie “Heaven Station,” about the first female death row inmate hanged in Japan after the war.
Also showing is the 1999 American movie “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.,” which profiles a technician who developed execution devices such as electric chairs and lethal injection machines, and “Camp 14: Total Control Zone,” a 2012 German documentary featuring a North Korean political prisoner who was born and grew up in a re-education camp.
The event is the fourth of its kind. It will feature talks by guest speakers, including lawyers and journalists, according to the organizer, Forum 90. Four movies will be shown per day.
Also appearing is Iwao Hakamada, a former death row inmate who was released last March after spending nearly 48 years in prison following a court decision to reopen his case. He will visit the theater with his activist sister Hideko Hakamada on Feb. 15 following a screening of the 2010 Japanese film “BOX: The Hakamada Case.”
The movie focuses on a judge who sentenced Hakamada to death over the 1966 murder of four members of a family. The judge later said he believed Hakamada to have been innocent but was unable to prevent a guilty verdict being passed.
The organizers say they hope the festival will help sway those who may already be questioning the value of the death penalty.
“We expect those who wonder whether the death penalty should be maintained or not and those who are hesitant to attend anti-capital punishment rallies to watch these films,” said Masakuni Ota, a member of Forum 90.
The group has separately been helping a private fund that supports exhibitions of paintings and writing by condemned prisoners.
During one such exhibition in Tokyo last September, which drew around 4,000 people, visitors left the organizers with notes about their impressions.
While some said they felt unsympathetic toward death row inmates being encouraged to draw and write, one visitor said the exhibition had forced a change of mind.
“I was pro-capital punishment (until seeing this), but I have become aware that human beings are attractive. It’s shocking, but I now believe we had better not keep the death penalty,” the visitor commented.
Ota said, “We hope the upcoming screenings will also lead the visitors to think about the death penalty, as the exhibition did.”
The past three “Death Penalty Movie Week” events attracted some 3,800 viewers in total.
A government survey last month found 80.3 percent of people in Japan are in favor of the death penalty, down from a record 85.6 percent in the previous survey in 2009. The respondents may have been affected by the court decision to reopen the Hakamada case, observers say. Opponents of the death penalty criticize the wording used in such surveys.
According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, more than two-thirds of all nations had abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as of the end of 2013.
In contrast with this global trend, Japan has hanged 11 inmates since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government came to power in December 2012.
Submitting a written request for Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa in November to suspend the execution of death row inmates, the JFBA said some nations abolish the death penalty in spite of apparent public support for it.
“Britain abolished capital punishment when 81 percent of its citizens supported it, France did so despite 62 percent support, and the Philippines terminated it despite 80 percent support,” the request said. “South Korea has suspended executions (since 1997), although 66 percent of its citizens support it.”
Japan was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee last July to “give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty.”
For further information on the screenings, call Eurospace at 03-3461-0211 or check its website.
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