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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Official defends 'Yasukuni' screening for lawmakers

Staff writer

Defending the government's involvement in giving lawmakers an advance screening of a documentary on Yasukuni Shrine, a senior Cultural Affairs Agency official argued Monday it was appropriate to show Diet members a film partially funded by taxpayers' money.

His remarks immediately drew criticism from labor unions in the film industry. The National Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Cinema and Theatrical Workers Union of Japan said the agency's involvement in holding the March 12 preview of "Yasukuni" was effectively a form of "precensorship."

However, Akira Shimizu, the agency's arts and culture division director, told The Japan Times: "Diet members made a request (for the film preview) to study whether it was right to give subsidies (to the filmmakers). The administrative body in charge had to deal with" their request.

"I think (it was not wrong) for the agency to listen to the request by the Diet members, and to convey it to the film company," Shimizu said.

Earlier in the day, Shimizu met representatives from the federation of film labor unions. He confirmed to The Japan Times that he made similar remarks to them during the meeting.

"I am a little surprised because I expected he would express some regret (about the government's decision), but he didn't," Kunio Takahashi, president of the labor federation, said at a news conference after the meeting.

The movie is directed by Chinese director Li Ying. It shows visitors to the Tokyo shrine who hold different views on the war and the shrine itself, and is centered around a sword smith who makes "Yasukuni Swords."

The filmmakers received ¥7.5 million in grant money from the Japan Arts Council under the agency.

According to Shimizu, after a magazine reported in December that the film had "anti-Japan" content despite receiving the subsidy, lawmakers in February requested a preview.

The special showing demanded by the lawmakers — who are apparently critical of the movie — generated a great deal of negative publicity around the film, which apparently prompted five cinemas in Tokyo and Osaka to cancel their plans to screen it.

Shimizu said he failed to see a clear connection between the agency's involvement in the lawmakers' preview and the cancellations.

He said there was no reason to cancel the subsidy as the decision to grant the funds followed designated procedures.

The 123-minute film won a best-documentary award at the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival.

More than 10 theaters nationwide plan to screen the documentary in May or later.

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The Japan Times

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