HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Seven decades have yet to ease the bitterness surrounding wartime Japanese troops’ occupation of the Chinese city of Nanjing, but they have inspired a raft of new films due out this year.
On the 70th anniversary of the 1937 invasion, at least six movies recounting the fall of China’s wartime capital — then called Nanking — to invading Japanese soldiers are in various stages of production or will be completed in the next 12 months in the United States, China and Hong Kong.
China says Japanese troops slaughtered 300,000 men, women and children, while an Allied tribunal after World War Two put the death toll at 142,000 and found evidence of 20,000 rapes.
Some Japanese rightists historians say the numbers are exaggerated, estimating 20,000 soldiers and civilians were killed. Others deny a massacre happened at all.
“Nanjing stirs up passions because, like the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide or the Cambodian killing fields, it is an affront to human dignity,” Professor Phil Deans, an expert on Sino-Japanese relations at Temple University in Kyoto, said.
The first film on the block was “Nanking”, a U.S.-produced documentary detailing the conduct of Japanese troops through eye-witness accounts and grainy historical footage to depict what one Chinese survivor called the Japanese army’s “three alls” policy: kill all, burn all, loot all.
The film’s creators hoped their work wouldn’t open old wounds but promote a pacifist message between China and Japan.
“Predominantly, this is an anti-war movie, not an anti-Japanese movie,” the movie’s producer and AOL vice-chairman Ted Leonsis told Reuters in July when it premiered in Beijing.
Richard Kwang, producer of an upcoming Hong Kong movie “Nanking Xmas 1937”, said his project wouldn’t dwell on the darker aspects of humanity, but on the “selfless love” of the Western missionaries who chose to stay behind to help survivors.
“You won’t see a lot of heavy stuff, not a lot of violence being shown. We are telling the story through the eyes of the Western missionaries with the massacre as the backdrop,” he said.
Kwang said he hoped to sign up A-list actors for the film — which would be in English — suggesting a high degree of interest among foreign audiences in the occupation.
Other films in the works include a joint Chinese, American and British production based on the late Iris Chang’s bestselling book “The Rape of Nanking” called “Purple Mountain”, while Canadian film-maker Bill Spahic plans to tell Chang’s life story in a documentary due for release in December.
Chinese director Lu Chuan meanwhile, has received approval from Beijing to begin filming “Nanking! Nanking!”.
But in a sign of continued divisiveness over the topic, a Japanese documentary backed by nationalist figures will deny that any massacre took place.
Director Satoru Mizushima told Reuters early this year that the film “Nanking” was full of “lies and fabrications” and it was easy to deploy “made-up facts” and “faked photographs”.
A group of conservative lawmakers in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party also denounced “Nanking” as a fabrication.
This is not the first time a film showing the 1937 Nanjing occupation has caused controversy in Japan.
In 1988, the Japanese distributor of the Oscar-winning film “The Last Emperor” removed a 30-second clip showing old newsreel footage of Japanese soldiers committing atrocities in the city.
“The revisionist historical position has strengthened in the last decade,” said Deans, the Sino-Japanese expert.
Deans noted the recent resignation of Japan’s defense minister Fumio Kyuma — who broached a taboo wartime issue by appearing to condone the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II as inevitable.
By contrast, Deans added: “No one resigned because they said the Nanjing massacre never happened”.