TOKYO — Four theaters due to bow Argo Pictures’ controversial documentary “Yasukuni,” about the Japanese shrine that honors war dead including Class A war criminals, have pulled it from their April 12 skeds.
One is in Osaka and three are in Tokyo. Another Tokyo theater had earlied nixed the docu.
Theaters in Sapporo, Nagoya, Hiroshima and Fukuoka still plan to go ahead with screenings, however.
Shot over 10 years by Chinese helmer Li Ying, the docu has become a lightening rod for controversy both in Japan and Asia.
Scenes include protests by families of Asian war victims against former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the shrine.
Members of parliament, including those belonging to Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have questioned the use of Y7.5 million ($75,000) government coin to help finance the pic.
On March 12, Argo screened the pic for pols at the request of the LDP. One of them, Tomomi Inada, said on Friday that the government should not have backed the pic because its “neutrality is questionable.”
She denied that the LDP’s objections constituted censorship.
Staffers at Li’s Tokyo office received death threats after press screenings began late last year.
Argo issued a statement saying, “We perceive a danger to the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech in Japanese society.”
However, the distrib is still searching for theaters and hopes to have screenings in Tokyo.
The spokesperson added that Li is in Beijing after attending the Hong Kong Film Festival. “It’s a very difficult time for him,” she said.
The Directors Guild of Japan, of which Li is a member, issued a statement of support, decrying LDP pressure as an attempt to clamp down on freedom of expression.
Toei subsid T-Joy, which operates the Wald 9 multiplex in the Tokyo entertainment district of Shinjuku, was the first to pull the pic, on March 18.
A T-Joy spokesman said then that the pic “has a lot of controversy surrounding it. If an incident occurs, it will cause trouble and hardship to the other tenants in the building.”
A spokesman for Q-AX Cinema, one of the three in Tokyo to cancel most recently, gave a similar reason to reporters, saying the theater was acting to protect “the safety of its audience.”
The pic has already screened at the Berlin, Sundance and Pusan fests. Argo has no plans for alternative venues.