Japanese WWII vets ordered to stay on in China and fight alongside the Chinese nationalists in the post-1945 civil war take aim at a hot-button issue in “The Ants,” a documentary that will resonate throughout Asia and beyond. All the more powerful for its matter-of-fact helming, pic allows a sympathetic view of elderly men once trained to commit atrocities in the Emperor’s name. Docu fests should lap this up. In Japan, a theatrical release is skedded for June.
Helmer Kaoru Ikeya follows octogenarian, former private Waichi Okumura as he negotiates government bureaucracies and visits former battlegrounds in his dogged quest for evidence of Japanese military hypocrisy.
When Japan surrendered in 1945, approximately 2,600 soldiers were “volunteered” to remain in China’s Shanxi province to fight alongside Chinese Nationalists against Mao’s Communists. They returned home only years later.
Japan has consistently denied all knowledge of the soldiers’ orders and still refuses any compensation or acknowledgement, resulting in the vets suing the government and protesting against right-wingers (including current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi) who worship at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukune shrine, which honors war criminals.
Okumura’s quest takes him to China, where he unearths truths about the Japanese military, including the campaigning vets themselves. Sequence in which an ex-soldier reads off his own appalling wartime actions is powerful. Tech credits are solid.