Monday 12 August 2002

Riben Guizi

G. Allen Johnson’s review of Minoru Matsui’s Riben Guizi (Japanese Devils) begins:

It was never a secret that Japan’s militaristic regime during the 1930s and early ’40s was among the most brutal in human history - except to the Japanese people, who were largely oblivious, thanks to their government’s propaganda. Whereas many of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis didn’t come to light until after the German surrender in World War II, Japan’s M.O. was well-known to the rest of the world ever since its invasion of Manchuria in the early ’30s.

It is something the nation - which has not had an official military since World War II - still struggles with today, and especially today. Recently, Japan’s wartime activities have stirred fresh controversy because official history books taught in schools do not mention the atrocities.

I’ll refrain from writing more about Japanese attitudes to the Pacific War until I finish watching Matsui’s documentary.

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I remember going to Tokyo Disneyland back in 1985. Instead of a Hall of Presidents, they had some sort of animatronic History of Japan, narrated by a couple of kids and a cartoon crane. We sat in the back and listened in on English-translation headphones.

It was pretty interesting, but once they got past the Meiji Restoration, the history became more of a gloss. The entire 20th century was covered with the crane saying something like, "The past 100 years have been a time of great change and challenge for Japan!" Pretty telling, I thought. I had an English translation of a Japanese history textbook that did something similar, presenting the "era of the militarists" as an unfortunate, cursory historical digression meriting only brief it was the Taft presidency or something.

Posted by Josh on 12 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This is the most powerful treatment of the Japanese atrocity issue in China that I have seen. The scariest thing is that in interviewing the soldiers involved they are so dispassionate about it all, at times like cheeky boys who have got away with stealing the candy. But instead they have murdered and raped their way across China. It is a powerful piece of film making and a credit to Minoru Matsui for having the fortitude to put it together.

Phil Bradley

Posted by Phil Bradley on 21 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Phil, since writing this post I've seen Riben Guizi and I had exactly the same response as you. Only once or twice in nearly three hours did I feel that one of the soldiers experienced even a twinge of regret. I intend to watch the film again soon and then write another post about it.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 21 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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