TOKYO (Reuters) - Three cinemas in the Japanese capital have scrapped their plans to screen an award-winning documentary on Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored, cinema officials said on Monday.
The decision leaves Tokyo without a theatre planning to show the film, which won a best documentary award at Hong Kong's international film festival last week.
The film "Yasukuni," by Chinese director Li Ying, probes events and visitors at the shrine, seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan's past militarism. The Shinto shrine venerates Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including convicted war criminals.
Director Li, who said he had received threatening phone calls telling him not to release the film in Japan, has said he attempted to offer a neutral view in "Yasukuni."
Officials at the Tokyo cinemas said they had not come under pressure from particular individuals or groups.
"We made the decision because showing the film could cause trouble or disturb neighboring commercial entities," said an official at Ginza Cinepatos, on a smart shopping street in central Tokyo.
Another cinema in Osaka also decided to cancel its plan to screen the film, Kyodo news agency said.
Li said he expected pressure -- often instigated by right-wing politicians and ultra-nationalists -- to grow ahead of the film's planned release in Japan next month.
A group of about 40 lawmakers from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party had requested a pre-release screening of the film because they feared it could contain "distorted content." The film was partly financed by a unit linked to Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs.
"The director and the producer does have a certain perspective, but I think that this film has power in itself," LDP lawmaker Tomomi Inada, who had seen the preview, told reporters last week.
Later on Monday the Directors Guild of Japan lodged a protest against the lawmakers for requesting a preview of the film and then trying to suppress it.
"While they say these actions were not meant at all to restrict freedom of expression and screening, it is evident that they will... psychologically suppress free and creative activities of movie directors who express ideas," the guild said in a statement, according to Kyodo.
Li, who has been resident in Japan for 19 years, said his two-hour work was inspired by a need to understand Japan's struggle to confront its wartime past.
Sino-Japanese ties have warmed over the past one year and a half after a chill during the 2001-2006 term of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made repeated visits to Yasukuni shrine.
Reporting by Teruaki Ueno; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani