- Title: JAPAN: Movie portraying a 'human' Emperor Hirohito opens
- Date: 10th August 2006
- Summary: TOKYO, JAPAN (AUGUST 6, 2006) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF MOVIE THEATRE 'GINZA CINEPATHOS' PEOPLE LINED UP OUTSIDE THE MAIN THEATRE DOORS QUEUE OF PEOPLE WAITING TO BUY THEIR TICKETS MAN BUYING TICKET MOVIE POSTER FOR 'SOLNTSE' ('THE SUN') INTERIOR OF MOVIE THEATRE AS THE MOVIE BEGINS
- Embargoed: 25th August 2006 13:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Reuters ID: LVA7R3Z6PAM77FVX753EDD84DP7F
- Story Text: Hundreds of people lined up on Sunday (August 6) at a small theatre in downtown Tokyo to see the long delayed opening of a movie depicting a 'human' Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese soldiers fought in World War Two.
The movie opened in Japan on Saturday (August 5), 18 months after its release elsewhere in the world despite fears of right-wing anger.
Revered as a god until Japan's defeat in 1945, Hirohito is still a sensitive topic in ultra-conservative circles -- so much so that the identity of the actor playing him was kept secret until the movie's release in last year.
"Solntse" or "The Sun" won plaudits for Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov at the Berlin Film Festival but has had little mainstream publicity in Japan.
The film's distributor said he had to overcome concerns about pressure from right-wing groups and conservatives proud of an imperial family they say stretches back more than 2,000 years.
"Just because of the fact that this movie is about Emperor Hirohito, I think many people thought that getting involved in the movie would put themselves in danger they would face some sort of invisible violence. That's why it took such a long time for this movie to be shown in Japan," said Michio Koshikawa, president of the film's distributor "Slow Learner".
The movie opened in only two cinemas, one in Tokyo and one in the city of Nagoya, central Japan. But distributors said it could eventually run in as many as 25 theatres as audience reaction has been so far very positive, despite the lingering taboo on the subject.
"I think people have a lot of opinions on this issue. But this movie isn't at all critical and I think its well done," said 36-year-old company employee, Sadao Nozu.
Even imperial well-wishers such as Yaeko Takizawa said the movie was positive and brought about the need to reconsider the issues surrounding the Imperial Household.
"I think the issue is an issue that should be thought about once more," she said.
But there is precedent for concern.
The mayor of Nagasaki, which with Hiroshima was hit by an atomic bomb in August 1945, was shot and wounded by rightists in 1990 after saying Hirohito bore some responsibility for the war.
But the fear of possible violence is far away from even those who acted in the film.
"Violence (from right-wing protesters) is frightening. However this movie does not portray Emperor Hirohito negatively. It is just reconstructed fiction by the Russian director based on facts," actor Shiro Sano, who played the part of the emperor's Grand Chamberlain told Reuters in an interview before the release.
Hirohito's role in wartime decision-making has never been fully pursued in Japan, scholars say, largely due to a decision by U.S. occupation authorities to keep him on the throne and turn the emperor into a symbol of a newly democratic Japan.
Hirohito's death in 1989 lifted that taboo and many younger Japanese no longer give much thought to the royal family, but pointing a finger at the emperor is still something mainstream politicians are unlikely to do.
In the movie, which focuses on the emperor's isolation toward the end of the war, Hirohito is portrayed by actor Issey Ogata as a human figure who insists he's no different from other people.
But reviews also say he is also shown as timid and child-like, a characterisation that could prompt controversy.
Director Sokurov said his goal for the movie, the third in a series about powerful 20th century figures such as Hitler and Lenin, was to look at Hirohito's humanity.
Hirohito became the focus of renewed attention last week after a brief by a courtier revealed that he stopped visiting the Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead because he was displeased that wartime leaders convicted as war criminals were honoured there.
The royal family has also grabbed headlines because Princess Kiko, wife of one of Hirohito's grandsons, is expecting a baby that could be the first male heir born in more than 40 years.
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