Right-wing groups threaten Japanese filmmakers

Wed Feb 20, 2008 2:43am EST
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By Scott Roxborough

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - The director and producers of a documentary about Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are among the 2.5 million venerated souls, have received multiple death threats from right-wing groups that want to prevent the movie's local release.

Japan's Dragon Films has decided to move its Tokyo offices and are taking steps to protect its staff after anonymous death threats against the company, its personnel and Li Ying, the Chinese-born director of "Yasukuni."

"The threats began about two months ago, when we started press screenings of the movie in Japan," Li told The Hollywood Reporter in Berlin, where "Yasukuni" screened at the Berlin International Film Festival's Forum sidebar. "The threats have gotten worse and worse as we have gotten closer to the Japanese theatrical release of the film in April."

Li spent 10 years researching and shooting his documentary, which looks at the controversy surrounding the shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including a handful of top war criminals. For many, the site is a symbol of Japan's militaristic past, and it has become a rallying point for the far right.

"Yasukuni" was a hot seller at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea last October, and received rave reviews when it screened at Sundance last month.

Li said the Japanese embassy in Berlin has expressed its concern following the threats. Ulrich Gregor, the founder and former director of the Berlinale Forum, provided some moral support Wednesday, told the director to "not be afraid, just go ahead and do it (release the film)."

Gregor compared Li's position to that of German directors in the 1960s who turned their cameras on the dark history of the Nazi period.

"It isn't easy, but you have to confront the past and examine the past to know who you are," Gregor said. "It is never too late."   Continued...

<p>Japan's lawmakers visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo August 15, 2007, to mark the 62nd anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>