Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Emperor’s New Movie

When drafting my WWII Political Leaders Opinion Survey, I thought a lot about Hirohito, Emperor Shōwa of Japan. Unlike the rest of the list, he stayed in power well into my childhood. However, his personality cult never really got developed here in the States, so many of us American kids don’t even think about him personally when it comes to remembering World War II history. Maybe the Japanese were viewed as a collective enemy with a faceless leader. Or maybe the ACLU’s presence made the press fearful about turning him into a caricature. At any rate, more and more voices are now speaking about Hirohito’s legacy, his crimes against humanity.

If I had to choose the best documentary ever made, I’m sure that Nanking (site, imdb, netflix) would make it to the final round. Many reviewers use “disturbing” for art as a positive accolade, which I generally find disturbing. However, it’s probably the best word available in this case. Based on Iris Chang’s whistle-blowing book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, this film made me wonder how these events could’ve remained silenced for so long.

Recently, there’s appeared another film about Japanese involvement in World War II. Independent filmmaker Akiko Izumitani decided to research the war on Chinese civilians and other little-known incidences for her documentary Silent Shame (site, imdb). She even managed to get some veterans to share their stories, something that probably took an immense amount of courage on their part since they risked shaming their families and comrades. When one mentioned that his mother had told him that the emperor was God, I decided my history textbook wasn’t completely lacking in information. The dictator's assumed divinity was about all its authors thought was worth mentioning.