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Japan Film Revives Memories of Wartime Atrocities


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Reported by Yahoo! News, Dec. 10, 2001:

Japan Film Revives Memories of Wartime Atrocities

By Tim Large

TOKYO (Reuters) - One Japanese war veteran confesses to 328 murders. A former army sergeant describes throwing babies onto camp fires for laughs. Another says he raped and killed a woman, then carved up her body to feed to his troops.

Those are some of the macabre confessions in a controversial documentary that promises to stir up painful memories of Japan's World War Two aggression and raise tough questions about individual responsibility for wartime atrocities.

Elderly veterans and curious youngsters were among the crowd at Japan's first public showing of ``Japanese Devils,'' a three-hour mea culpa in which 14 former imperial army soldiers recall their brutal role in their country's war against China between 1931 and 1945.

``Once you've killed your second or third, you stop thinking about it,'' Yasuji Kaneko, a former army corporal, tells the camera, describing how he grew numb to slaughter after bayonet drills using live Chinese prisoners tied to stakes.

``It was ultimately about competition,'' another veteran says, reeling off a litany of horrors that included burning Chinese babies just for fun. ``So how many you killed becomes a standard of achievement.''

The documentary has been shown at film festivals around the world, notching up prizes for director Minoru Matsui in Germany and Portugal.

But its screening on home soil threatens to hit a raw nerve in a country where frank discussion about wartime atrocities remains largely taboo, and a backlash from right-wing activists is a real possibility.

The arts cinema in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district that is showing the film said it received phone threats prior to the opening.

The theater braced for trouble from members of right-wing ''uyoku'' groups, who typically cruise the streets in black vans blaring militarist music or stage noisy kerbside demonstrations from atop flag-draped trucks.

``So far there's been no problem, but who knows what will happen?'' Katsue Tomiyama, the cinema's president, said.


The 14 former soldiers interviewed in the film recount in harrowing detail personal experiences of killing, burning, rape, torture and live vivisection, mostly after Japan plunged into full-scale war against China in 1937.

They also describe a brutal military culture sustained by extreme peer pressure, routine acts of cruelty and a doctrine of racial supremacy that they say turned some ordinary conscripts into merciless butchers.

``If I were in their place, or you were in their place, we might have done the same thing,'' director Matsui told a news conference after a recent press screening.

One former sergeant major, Masayo Enomoto, says he became so inured to murder -- and so steeped in the idea that the Chinese were sub-human -- that he thought nothing of chopping up a rape victim, cooking her flesh and serving it to his hungry troops.

``Killing lots of people also proved your loyalty to the emperor,'' says Yoshio Tsuchiya, a former second lieutenant.

Yoshio Shinozuka, a former corporal with the infamous Unit 731 that conducted gruesome experiments on live prisoners, says: ``We referred to these people as logs.''

``Japanese Devils'' gets its name from the expression coined by the Chinese to describe the Japanese invaders.

Though the veterans' accounts sometimes sound almost clinical, they are underscored by a feeling of remorse that they say has translated into a sense of duty to pass on their stories.

``I will bear witness with as much detail as possible to the young generation,'' one former soldier says, explaining why he took the unprecedented step of confessing all before the camera.


Many among the 70 or so people who attended the premier were clearly affected by the film, though responses varied.

``I actually had that kind of experience myself,'' a 77-year-old war veteran said, coming out of the theater with tears in his eyes. ``I was in China, in Nanking. I was wrong.''

Asked if the kinds of atrocities detailed in ``Japanese Devils'' were common, he said: ``They really were. Japan did terrible things.''

Takahiro Suzuki, 23, turned up with his girlfriend because he thought it ``sounded interesting.''

``Other countries have done much worse things than Japan,'' he said. ``Why are the Japanese always singled out as the bad guys?''

That was a message echoed by several audience members. Some simply said: ``War is terrible.''

Matsui said his main reason for making the 10 million yen ($80,300) documentary was to counter what he called Japan's tendency to ``sugarcoat'' history.

``We haven't really gone through the process of reflecting on and recognizing what happened during the war,'' he said.

Japan has long been accused of glossing over its wartime past by its Asian neighbors. Deep-smoldering anger over the issue periodically erupts into full-scale diplomatic rows.

Ties with China and South Korea (news - web sites) were strained earlier this year over the approval of a new history textbook written by nationalist historians that critics say whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also inflamed emotions by making a controversial visit in August to a shrine that honors convicted war criminals among Japan's war dead.

``Young Japanese know what the atrocities were,'' said Yamanashi Gakuin University historian Nobuko Kosuge, who has written extensively on the question of Japan's responsibility.

``But they don't always know the 'whole history' -- that Japan invaded China and fought with the Chinese Army, or that Japan colonized Korea and the people suffered for so long.

``Because they don't know the past, they can't understand international sensitivities of this kind.''

Those sensitivities have come to the fore in a string of compensation cases, with victims -- forced laborers, sexual slaves and former prisoners of war among them -- demanding that Japan pay for past wrongs.

Nearly all such lawsuits have been dismissed on the grounds that the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty officially resolved all issues relating to compensation.

Pushed by international opinion and prodded by its own conscience, Japan has in the past decade apologized through various formulas for its wartime atrocities and harsh colonial rule of Asia.

The apologies, while dismissed by critics as insincere and insufficient, helped spark a nationalist backlash manifested in the textbook debate, with some voices berating what they see as Japan's ``masochistic'' view of history.

``The biggest reason for making the film was to preserve a record,'' producer Kenichi Oguri said.

``After making it, we held a preview. Some young people said they didn't even know Japan had fought a war with China.''

Oguri said he hoped to persuade television networks to air the documentary, but that all proposals so far had been rejected.

Copyright Yahoo! Daily News
I was very surprised that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited our national war memorial during his visit to Australia earlier this year.

I suspect there would have been little or no coverage of him paying his respects to Australian war dead in the Japanese domestic media.

For those who don't know, it was not just the Chinese and Koreas who were badly treated by the Japanese during WWII. Many thousands of Australians died in the forced labour camps while they were POW.

Even though Japan is Australia's largest export market, there is still an ill feeling about what was done to our people. What really makes it worse is that so few Japanese even know about what happened during WWII.
Charles Lindberg's war diary describes(1944.Aug) that Australian pilot told him they kicked Japanese POWs out from flying air planes. But the pilot reported his commander "Japanese did harakiri"

Australian gov made Japanese gov promise to cover up abuses against Japanese POWs.

Let me say same thing,so few Australians even know about what really happened during WWII.
Hi, and welcome to the forum!

It's a known fact that the winner dictates history.

I recommend everyone to read John Dower's "War Without Mercy", he scrutinizes a few war myths like the one that Japanese soldiers preferred to sacrifice their lives instead of surrendering to the enemy. Dower claims that they simply refused to surrender in the face of the fact that U.S. Marine Corps officers were ordered not to take prisoners.

War is dirty, and the Geneva Convention is just a piece of paper.
Japan Film-> War Atrocities

_) Obviously Japan WW-II was a hideous monster

_) But, my point is that this has become a "political" weapon used over and over again by; Koreans, Chinese, comfort women, American soldiers, and British soldiers. Most, but n-o-t all, groups use this as a "publicity" stunt to gain attention and try to grab a bucket of money.

_) The whole issue is becoming a "mute" point. The 1951 treaty did resolve some of these issues.

_) I just feel that Japan and Germany were defeated and the punishment was done, AND IS OVER !

_) No country, except Japan, has suffered a nuclear attack, this was severe punishment as one can get. Two Japanese cities were hit !!!

There are issues to deal with on World-War-II, but its becoming an overstated issue.
The documentary sounds very interesting and I have to agree with the director's comment re: the tendency to "sugarcoat" history (although this is by no means unique to Japan). Every nation in the world to some extent or another throughout the course of human history has seen its fair share of wartime attrocities. I think it important such issues be documented for future generations lest we are doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers...
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