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‘Unbroken’ May Not Play in Japan

Angelina Jolie’s WWII drama “Unbroken” opened near the top of the U.S. box office, earning $47.3 million from its Christmas Day bow through its first weekend. In Japan, however, the pic is not scheduled for theaters, for reasons that Toho-Towa, which releases the movies of “Unbroken’s” U.S. distributor, Universal, declines to detail although it says it is still working on getting a release for the film. “We decide to distribute films on a case by case basis,” a spokesman says.

Clearer is the vitriolic response to the film from the Japanese right, including the many so-called “Net uyoku” (Net rightists), who may not belong to any organized group, but make their opinions known on 2channel and other popular Internet message boards and blog sites.

The film, which stars Jack O’Connell as WWII bombardier Louis Zamperini, features scenes of the captured hero being tortured by a sadistic Japanese army guard played by local pop star Miyavi. “The depictions of hard-to-believe inhuman acts make this an anti-Japanese film by definition,” wrote one post. Opined another: “Angelina Jolie puts on her ‘business smile’ and says ‘I love Japan’ when she’s here, but back in her own country she makes a fake ‘I hate Japan’ movie.”

Another distributor can buy the rights for a Japanese theatrical or home-vid release, but no local buyers have expressed interest.

Other foreign films that have incurred the wrath of rightist rage in Japan also have seen local distributors drag their feet on a theatrical release. A case in point is Australian documentary “The Cove,” a 2009 documentary by Louie Psihoyos that criticized the slaughter of dolphins by fishermen in the Western Japan port of Taiji. The pic’s scheduled June 2010 release in Japan was delayed by rightist protests, including loud demonstrations at the office of the local distributor, Unplugged. However, after prominent media figures, as well as the Directors Guild of Japan, charged that the cancellations amounted to the suppression of free speech, the film was finally shown both in theaters on a limited basis and online via the Nico Nico Douga video portal site.

Filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda, a Japanese documentary filmmaker based in New York, also has experienced right-wing hatred for his award-winning observational documentaries, including his “Campaign” duology that skewers Japanese-style politics.

“I get attacked by Net uyoku calling me a traitor, a left winger, a spy from China or Korea,” Soda says. “I’m sure this sort of thing has a chilling effect on not only the film industry, but also on the culture as a whole. I’m not surprised when some filmmakers, production companies or distributors self-censor their films to avoid being attacked.”

Or simply decline to distribute certain films altogether.

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