War pics triumph at Japanese B.O.

Ikeya docu shoots down opposition

“Ari no Heitai” (The Ants), Kaoru Ikeya’s documentary about a Japanese soldier who was forced to fight in China for three years after the end of WWII, is playing to packed auds at three cinemas in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

At Theater Image Forum in Tokyo, pic scored 2,578 admissions in its first week, increasing to 2,727 in its second — a high per-screen average for Image Forum’s 108-seat and 64-seat theaters.

Distrib Ren Universe plans to roll out the docu to screens in Kyoto, Sapporo and Okinawa, as well as screen it in public auditoriums and other venues around the country. It has already been screened at fests in Hong Kong, Melbourne and Canada and is skedded for fests in Fukuoka and Nagaoka.

“We’re getting more younger people than older ones,” said Ren Universe PR rep Seiko Ogura. “They want to find out the truth about what happened during and after the war.”

Pic follows former Imperial Army soldier Waichi Okumura as he travels to his old battlegrounds in Shanxi Province, where he and 2,600 comrades fought alongside Chinese Nationalist troops until 1948, in violation of Japan’s unconditional surrender agreement at Potsdam. In the pic Okumura confesses to his own atrocities against the Chinese people.

“Ants” follows the smash success of Russian helmer Alexandr Sokurov’s “The Sun,” a drama about Emperor Hirohito in the dying days of WW II that has packed houses since opening in Japan on Aug. 5.

Rightists reportedly object to the pic’s less-than-reverent portrayal of the Emperor by comedian Issey Ogata, but feared attacks on theaters have yet to materialize.

Revisionist WWII pics are not the only ones drawing crowds: Producer Haruki Kadokawa’s “Yamato,” a flag-waving epic about the sinking of a famed Japanese battleship at the war’s end, scored nearly $44 million at the B.O. following its December release.

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