National

Japanese-American director of 'comfort women' documentary sued by interviewees

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

A group of seven Japanese intellectuals and activists has sued the director and the distributor of a documentary film that covers the political debates over “comfort women,” demanding the screenings be terminated and seeking compensation totaling ¥13 million.

The term comfort women is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II. The film is titled “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue.”

The plaintiffs, including scholar Nobukatsu Fujioka, journalist Yoshiko Sakurai and lawyer Kent Gilbert, allege that director Miki Dezaki used videos of their interviews for a commercial film in violation of written agreements.

The documentary features the plaintiffs’ interviews alongside opinions of Japanese scholars who support South Koreans’ arguments that the women were forced to work as “sex slaves.” Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have denied that the women were forcibly recruited by Japanese authorities and argued they were not sex slaves.

Following the news conference, Dezaki issued a statement saying he would respond to the accusation as soon as he sees the contents of the lawsuit.

“This movie means a lot to us and we want as many people as possible to watch it,” Dezaki said.

According to the lawsuit, Dezaki approached the plaintiffs in 2016 when he was still a graduate student at Sophia University in Tokyo. The plaintiffs claimed they had only agreed to share their views for Dezaki’s academic research, and the film, which portrayed them as “history revisionists,” also violated their portrait rights and copyrights.

“We believed that we were being interviewed for his master’s degree video,” said Fujioka, vice chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, during a news conference at the Tokyo District Court after filing the lawsuit.

“I didn’t expect that he was planning to make profits from screening it,” Fujioka said.

The documentary has been screened at 46 theaters across the country.

About 30 scholars, politicians and activists from Japan, South Korea and the United States were interviewed for the documentary.

Shunichi Fujiki, who is also among the plaintiffs, admitted to having congratulated Dezaki on his accomplishment after the director informed him that the movie was submitted to a film festival in Busan, South Korea. Fujiki now claims that Dezaki breached the statement of mutual agreements he signed and his comments were used out of context.

Meanwhile, Tony Marano, a YouTuber known as “Texas Daddy,” whose videos back Japanese conservative nationalist views, has claimed his videos were used in Dezaki’s film without consent.