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Wednesday, December 24, 2014
'Unbroken' is an Unwelcome Film for Some Japanese
Jolie's film about the inhuman treatment of Allied captives in Japanese prisoner
of war camps during World War II, is angering some Japanese who are calling for
a boycott of the film in Japan.
The film, which opens Christmas day in the U.S., focuses
mainly on the story of Louis Zamperini, who survived more than two years of horrendous
treatment at the hands of his Japanese captors.
It is based on Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling book, "Unbroken," which detailed
Zamperini's life as an Olympic athlete, his wartime role as a bombardier on a
B-24 and his eventual capture by the Japanese after his plane was shot down.
Jolie and Zamperini
Zamperini, who died this past July at the age of 97, forgave
his captors for their merciless treatment of him and other POWS, but many
Japanese are still unwilling to admit the atrocities their troops committed
throughout Asia during World War II.
This is not the first time a film about Japanese atrocities has
sparked outrage in Japan.
In 1990, when I was the Chicago
Tribune's Chief Asia Correspondent, I wrote about a graphic Australian film
entitled 'Blood Oath.'
That film enraged
Japanese Nationalists who still deny that the Imperial Japanese Army committed
any wartime crimes--including the slaughter of some 200,000-300,000 Chinese
civilians and unarmed POWs in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing in 1937.
which was released in the U.S. under the title 'Prisoners of the Sun,' depicts the plight of Allied POWs from 1942
to 1945 on the Indonesian island of Ambon. Ambon was the site of one of Japan's most infamous prisoner of war camps.
Of the 1,150 Australian, Dutch and American POWs interned on the island, fewer
than 300 were still alive when British and Australian troops retook Ambon in
When they did,
they made the grisly discovery of 314 decapitated POWs in one mass grave--beheaded
by Japanese soldiers wielding razor-sharp samurai swords.
At the Australian
War Crimes Tribunal held on Ambon in 1946 about half of the 91 Japanese
officers and enlisted men accused as war criminals were convicted and given
death sentences or long prison terms.
Beheading of a Chinese POW
Japanese today don't even know that Japan fought a war against the United
States, let alone about what happened in Ambon," says Toshi Shioya, the
Japanese actor who portrayed a soldier convicted and executed for war crimes
committed on the Indonesian island of Ambon.
Shioya not only
acted in the film, but worked tirelessly to get it released in Japan.
the first film ever shown in Japan that actually portrays ordinary Japanese
soldiers as accomplices in war crimes," Shioya said. "We were lucky
to find a distributor willing to show the film because for many Japanese, this
was a shocking motion picture."
Unlike 'Prisoners of the Sun,' Jolie's 'Unbroken' is yet to be released in Japan.
And while some Japanese may decry the film's portrayal of Japanese cruel
treatment of Allied POW's, it is impossible to argue with the facts.
of Defense figures show that almost 40 per cent of all Americans taken prisoner
by the Japanese died in captivity while just 1 per cent of American POWs died
in Germany prisoner of war camps.
But unlike Germany, Japan's wartime iniquities
have gone largely unpunished. There have been no Simon Wiesenthals to hunt down
Japanese war criminals, and only a relative handful of Japanese military
leaders were put on trial for atrocities.
As a result, generations
of Japanese have grown up with only the sketchiest knowledge that Japan may
have done something wrong in the 1930s and 1940s and that the bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were considered by many to be justifiable retribution.
feeling still exists in places like China and Korea where the heavy boot of
Imperial Japan was most in evidence. In 1990, during a visit to Japan, then South
Korean President Roh Tae Woo received an apology for Japan's 35-year occupation
of the Korean peninsula from Emperor Akihito, the prime minister and
parliament. But for many Koreans, none of the apologies went far enough.
beings tend to be sensitive to and vividly remember their own sufferings,"
said Takashi Koshida, author of a two-volume work about the Japanese army's
activities in 16 Asian nations during the war.
Zamperini when liberated from Japanese POW camp
"In the case
of the Japanese, the sufferings were the atomic bombings, the air raids and the
military conscription. I would say it has taken almost 60 years for the
Japanese to realize that they were aggressors . . . and that they caused other
people to suffer."
One group of
Japanese for whom 'Prisoners of the Sun'
has particular significance is the Ambon Remembrance Society, an organization
of 100 Navy veterans who served as guards in the POW camp.
watched this film the first time I felt as though I had swallowed lead. . . . I
felt very heavy and dark inside," said Yoshiro Ninomiya, a former Navy
sub-lieutenant assigned to the camp.
Ninomiya, who is
the society's secretary-general, has seen "Blood Oath" five times,
and he said, "It has made me think about a lot of things (that happened on
Shioya has spent
long hours talking with former Japanese soldiers who served at the camp.
"One man still
has nightmares about what he did on the island," Shioya said. "This
man, who served a 15-year prison sentence after the war, told me of how one day
in 1943 he was ordered to decapitate three captured American pilots with his
sword passed through the neck of one pilot, photographs of the man's mother,
his wife and a baby fell out of his shirt pocket and lay on the ground staring
up at him. "He is still haunted by
that scene today."
Check out these links for a trailer on Prisoners of the Sun and a synopsis by imdb.