Among the former Axis powers Japan continues to have the greatest difficulty confronting its World War II legacy. Whereas Germany and Italy have largely looked back on their fascist eras with self-criticism and remorse, Japan and its leaders still refuse to acknowledge the imperialistic misadventures and war crimes committed under Prime Minister Tojo, especially those concerning the invasion of China and the infamous Rape of Nanking. Even Japanese school textbooks redact mentions of these atrocities—in the Land of the Rising Sun silence and revisionism are official policy.
In his new film Yasukuni Chinese director Li Ying locates the physical and spiritual embodiment of Japan’s relationship to its own history at the Yasukuni War Shrine in Tokyo, where the souls of the 2.46 million soldiers who died fighting for their country are said to dwell. The Shinto monument has garnered controversy since the end of World War II for enshrining convicted war criminals and listing Taiwanese and Korean men conscripted into service against their will as among the honored dead; furthermore its auxiliary museum frames Japan’s role in WWII as defensively justified, serving as a reminder of the country’s resilient militarism and jingoism. National pride dies hard: last spring current prime minister Taro Aso came under fire from Japan’s left and the international community for praying at the shrine.