“The Ants” – Japanese film confronts atrocities against China

Japan is famous for turning a blind eye to the sins it committed against innocent and helpless Chinese civilians during WWII, so it’s interesting to read about a new Japanese movie that explores the topic with merciless honesty. Even more interesting is the fact that so many Japanese are flocking to see it.

On the 61st anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, wider discussion of the conflict’s meaning to the nation is still controversial – and avoided.

But in a handful of theaters in Japan, “The Ants,” a recently released documentary about Japanese troops left in China after the war, is an attempt to remind Japanese of war memories many would rather not acknowledge.

The film, showing at theaters in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, has not gotten the national release and media blitz of war films that have taken a more nationalist tack. But it has played to packed theaters, prompting managers to add more showings.

From politicians to the major media, many here shrug off war memories, something that has cast a profound chill over Japan’s relations with neighbors that it once occupied. In anticipation of today’s anniversary, South Korea warned Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi not to visit Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni war shrine, where war criminals are memorialized. Protesters in Tokyo seconded that sentiment.

Some Japanese say their country has apologized for wartime atrocities and should not have to continue to do so. But amid rising nationalism and ongoing controversies over how Japan represents its history in textbooks, those apologies “lack substance,” charges Yoshifumi Tawara, of Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21 in Tokyo. “They don’t get the impression that Japan offered an apology.”

This intriguing article focuses on a Japanese soldier who, with his comrades, was ordred to stay and fight against the Chinese even after the war was over. He describes his own murder of Chinese civilians, remarking, “We were turned into a so-called killing machine. I want to reveal how the military deprived us of our rational nature.”

Quite a horror story. Whether this will generate a shift in the consciousness of the Japanese at a time when many appear increasingly under a nationalistic spell is doubtful, but it’s good to see that some have the courage to demand the truth. For all the terrible things about democracies like Japan and the US (and most developed democratic nations), it’s infinitely cool that they have the freedom to hold the mirror up to their own governments and expose the warts.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

Two other films that address the sorrows of war (though only obliquely to wartime atrocities – the films are much more introspective than that):

Kobayashi Masaki’s [i]The Human Condition[/i] and Ichikawa Kon’s [i]The Burmese Harp[/i]. Both are heartbreaking.

August 15, 2006 @ 7:54 am | Comment

Oh for god’s sake…this documentary is far from being the first of its kind. The uyoku (right-wing) is quite influential in Japanese domestic politics, and the Diet is pretty conservative overall, but most Japanese educators, artists, writers, filmmakers, etc are leftists and entirely cognizant of the darkest chapter in Japanese history.

August 15, 2006 @ 9:48 am | Comment

Eh, forget Little Spring. His term is almost over. In fact, Koizumi’s visit to the shrine might be the (next to last) straw to break the camels back. The Japanese public seems to be increasingly uncomfortable with the whole thing, and Koizumi’s stubborn return to the shrine might end up making his potential successors take a step back from the shrine issue.

Hey, one can dream, right?

August 15, 2006 @ 9:51 am | Comment

If it’s a parliamentary system, we aren’t necessarily talking about a majority, correct?

August 15, 2006 @ 10:32 am | Comment

More importantly, an issue like Yasukuni is never going to be more important than bread-and-butter issues.

ArabianNights, you’re an idiot if you think Japanese people should vote DPJ JUST because of the Yasukuni issue.

August 15, 2006 @ 11:23 am | Comment

“Japan is famous for turning a blind eye to the sins it committed against innocent and helpless Chinese civilians during WWII, so it’s interesting to read about a new Japanese movie that explores the topic with merciless honesty. Even more interesting is the fact that so many Japanese are flocking to see it.”

Perhaps people aren’t really turning a blind eye after all and it’s really just in everyone’s head ๐Ÿ˜‰ This movie is hardly the first of it’s kind, and there are more books and research done about this in Japan in Japanese then in any other language/country in the world combined. I remember reading a book about a soldiers experience in the Philippines a few years ago, one scene that stuck out was when the main character and his palls who got kicked out of the military while still in the Philippines because they were injured and the commanders couldn’t justify giving food rations to people who couldn’t fight would come across former villages and notice that all of the bodies had no ass, because that’s where the most meat was.

I think the difference you will find in Japanese war movies/books and Korean/Chinese ones is that the message in Japanese one’s is, “humans are f’cked up, war is bad, look what happened in this case for example” where as Korea and China works on the same topic will say, “look how f’cked up Japanese are, what a buncha bastards ey? Never forget how evil they are.”

I personally, would be called right-wing by most everyone on this blog, but I do not argue that things that did happen didn’t, I just argue about the details of how they really went down. Unfortunately, in the countries that are most upset, if you don’t exaggerate what really happened you’re nothing but a supporter of Japan. For me doing in on a blog, I get labeled a right winger, or people will tell me that I only do it because Japanese girls are easy or some stupid explanation like that.

Any way, there are posters for this movie all over my school. However that’s probably because some of the people that made it are from my school — they don’t just let people advertise their movies on campus.

August 15, 2006 @ 11:37 am | Comment

ArabNights, did you actually read my comment? Had you, you’d notice I was staying on topic about movies and other forms of media in Japan covering this type of story and what it means for Japan and the Japanese people, and you start blabbering on about white-washing and democracy? I’m skirting around nothing, you’ve just got your own agenda that’s all ๐Ÿ˜‰

FYI, democracy doesn’t have to mean popular elections for a President. Japan has no president, nor a popular election for it’s PM, neither do England, NZ or Australia to name a few.

And, I’ve seen that name ArabianNights before somewhere…

“Darin, don’t waste your time, please – “Arabian Nights” is trolling and all his posts were deleted. He always invokes Hitler and always deifies the CCP and makes Japan the root of all evil. His name is Joseph and one day, if he keeps pushing me (you should see how many comments he dropped throughout my site today) I’ll post his phone number here. I’ve tried to be civil, but he’s really pushing things.

– Richard”

Ahh that’s it. Sorry Richard, I wont reply to anything more he says in this thread.

August 15, 2006 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

ArabianNights, I know you’re a troll, but since you addressed me directly I feel I owe you a response.

The issue is more complex than how you framed it. Personally, I think the whole war criminals/revisionism brouhaha is actually a peripheral concern to the Japanese people. The Yasukuni shrine, as has been mentioned before, also houses over 2 million war dead, and I think many Japanese simply feel that to deny those millions dead their tribute on account of the 14 is unjust. Furthermore, since the 80’s there has been growing sense of Japanese national pride – accompagnied by the hope that Japan will come into its own as a “normal” country not subservient to the demands of other countrie (be they China’s, Korea’s, or the United States’) – so approval for the Shrine could simply be defiance against what they see as unreasonable demands coming from a hypocritical regime – quite independent of their attitudes on the war criminals themselves or on the matter of historical revisionism.

Compared to Germany’s policy of Vergangenheitbewaltigung (god I hope I spelt that right) – which promotes coming to terms with the past in a very upfront, public way, through the erection of monuments, mandatary education on the Holocaust, emphasis on the brutality and evil perpetuated by the Nazi regime, etc – the Japanese way of dealing with their past does seem at times evasive, less courageous. Perhaps it also has to do with the differences in culture. But still, to imply that the majority of them worship those war criminals and condone/glorify past atroticities is grossly overstating the case. Let’s look at the article, for example. It mentions that the documentary has not gotten national release – which could indicate that big-time distributors find it an unpopular and controversial subject – but on the other hand, it has played to packed houses – to no explosion of outrage or violence among its audiences (or at least none that was mentioned) which would indicate that the Japanese people are not blind to their past.

P.S. To Darin – you seem like a reasonable guy and it’s unfortunate people have jumped on you out of reflex for going against the orthodoxy. But there is a significant number of right-wing revisionists in Japan who are also…well, let’s just say cuckoo for cocoapuffs (i.e. the types who argue that Nanking was Communist propaganda, that ‘collateral damange’ wasn’t really so bad relative to China’s population density, etc), so I think you can’t blame people for being wary.

August 15, 2006 @ 2:18 pm | Comment

Sorry everyone, I had to delete all of our friend’s comments – and he left many others on other threads. He is determined to highjack every thread and irritate as many readers as he can..

August 15, 2006 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

Some”Jessica Copeland” poster has been all over mine.

I wonder how many trolls use that name?

August 15, 2006 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

Jessica is a guy who used to post under the name Really. He goes to SUNY and one day he’s going to get an angry notice from their webmaster.

August 15, 2006 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

Oh, more on Japan not really turning a blind eye to these types of things, or specifically the case of Japanese left in China after the war, there is a center to support said people and their children to readjust (or to adjust in the case of children) to life in Japan that includes language programs and things like that very close to my apartment. It doesn’t specifically say it’s for the soldiers but talks more about people left in Manchuria, but I doubt they turn away people based on said difference. The program was started after the normalization of relations between Japan and China — I wonder if it was impossible or overly complicated for those left behind to return to Japan before the normalization of relations… It wouldn’t be surprising to me if the Chinese government wouldn’t let them leave so they could count them as one of their many different โ€“ยฏโ€˜ยฐ’s.

August 16, 2006 @ 1:55 am | Comment

Hey… Half my comment disappeared… Links…

Here’s the centers page:


And a satellite photo for fun:


Grr, this is weird.. It’s not letting me comment. Just get a blank page :/ Hopefully one of these will go through…

August 16, 2006 @ 2:00 am | Comment

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