March 27, 2008 / 8:59 AM / 11 years ago

"Yasukuni" director voices fears after HK film award

Men dressed in Japanese imperial naval uniforms march with imperial Naval ensigns, also known as the Rising Sun, at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours wartime leaders convicted by an Allied tribunal as war criminals, along with millions of war dead, on the 62nd anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, in Tokyo August 15, 2007. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A documentary on Tokyo’s Yasukuni war shrine won a best documentary award at Hong Kong’s international film festival, but the film’s Chinese director said he feared pressure to bar the film’s Japan release would build.

The film “Yasukuni” by Chinese director Li Ying probes events and visitors at the venerated shrine, seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. The Shinto shrine commemorates Japan’s 2.5 million war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Despite Li’s attempts to depict Yasukuni in a “neutral” light, the film has already spurred controversy in Japan, with one theatre operator, T-Joy, deciding to scrap plans to screen the documentary citing potential “trouble.”

Li said he expected such pressure — often instigated by right-wing politicians and ultra-nationalists — to grow ahead of the film’s planned release in Japan next month.

“At the moment, we feel threats and pressure. Whether or not other theatres can withstand the situation until April 12 is difficult to say,” he told Reuters in Hong Kong.

“Yasukuni” picked up the best documentary humanitarian prize at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on Wednesday, with the jury praising the work for its courage in taking on a “controversial subject and reveal its unexpected depths.”

“Whether we’ll be able to successfully release the film is a very delicate and tense issue ... so with this prize, I hope it will give us some impetus,” the 44-year-old director added.

Li, who has been resident in Japan for 19 years, said his 2-hour work was inspired by a need to understand Japan’s struggle to confront its wartime past.

“There’s a kind of post-war amnesia in Japan, and they haven’t dealt with this issue responsibly,” said Li, who added he hoped to screen his film in China this summer.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Alistair Scrutton

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