Canceled ‘Shusenjo’ Festival Screening Sparks Freedom of Speech Outrage in Japan

Leading Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (“Shoplifters,” “The Truth”) has criticized the decision by the little-known Kawasaki Shinyuri Film Festival to cancel a screening of “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue.” He argues that it is a freedom of speech issue.

The film is a year-old U.S.-Japanese documentary about the foreign women who provided sexual services to the Japanese military during World War II. It previously played at the 2018 edition of the Busan festival in Korea, where many of the women came from.

Organizers cancelled the screening under pressure from the city council, which underwrote $55,000 of the festival’s $119,000 budget. They said that they were concerned about a lawsuit filed by several of the film’s interviewees against Japanese-American director Miki Dezaki. Speaking to the press on Monday festival head Shuji Nakayama said that the decision was made out of consideration for “safety and management risks.”

At a Tuesday festival screening of his 1999 film, “After Life” Koreeda said from the stage that giving into pressure and canceling the screening “means the death of the festival.” “If they keep doing this kind of thing filmmakers of principle will no longer participate,” he said.

Earlier, Wakamatsu Production, the production company of late maverick director Koji Wakamatsu, withdrew two of its films from the festival in protest. Kazuya Shiraishi and Junichi Inoue, director and scriptwriter respectively of one of the cancelled films, “Dare to Stop Us,” said in a statement that the festival’s decision was “nothing less than the murder of free speech.”

Shusenjo” opened theatrically in Japan in April 20. But in May, a right wing group began working to halt screenings. In June, five of the film’s interviewees filed suit in Tokyo District Court against Dezaki’s production company, and sought $119,000 in damages.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Did 'Little Women' Leave Modern Water Bottles in the Background of a Scene?

    Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” appears to have left behind a couple of little mistakes – namely a black Hydro Flask and a Poland Spring water bottle. Self-proclaimed “Little Women” superfan Madelyn Rancourt, who claims to have seen the movie seven times in theaters, exposed the flaw to the internet via TikTok on March 26. @madelynrancourt [...]

  • Coronavirus Covid-19 Placeholder

    Movie Theater Owners Create $1.25 Million Fund for Employees in California, Nevada

    The National Association of Theatre Owners of California/Nevada has established a $1.25 million relief fund to assist employees of member theaters who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “As we all know, our industry is dependent on our employees for survival, and we want to do what we can to assist them during [...]

  • Clover

    'Clover': Film Review

    The mobster comedy is by now such familiar terrain that it ought to have its own nickname (mobcom, obviously), and that familiarity does not make breathing new life into the subgenre easier. Alas, there isn’t much fresh air to be had in “Clover,” Despite a capable cast and reasonably energetic execution from director Jon Abrahams, [...]

  • Blow the Man Down Amazon Studios

    How Amazon's 'Blow the Man Down' Filmmakers Captured an Intricate Mood

    Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy spent eight years working on the script for their feature film debut, Amazon’s “Blow the Man Down,” about a pair of sisters who go deep into the underbelly of their New England hometown to cover up a crime. But the filmmakers’ relationship dates back further than that — to [...]

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping

    China’s President Calls for Cinemas to Remain Shut as Entertainment Goes Back Into Lockdown

    Chinese president Xi Jinping indicated that cinemas should remain shut while on a tour to Zhejiang province that otherwise signaled Beijing’s desire to get its economy back on track post-coronavirus, state media said on Wednesday. His comments come as China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has ordered entertainment venues across the country that had just [...]

  • Comedians Live Streaming Self Quarantine

    How Comedians Are Adapting to Entertain Fans While Self-Isolating

    On March 11, comedian Jim Gaffigan was in Bogotá, Colombia, in the midst of his worldwide Pale Tourist tour when he received a call from his manager that Argentina was closing its borders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and his upcoming show there was canceled. He had a choice: fly to São Paulo, Brazil, for [...]

  • Curveball

    'Curveball': Film Review

    Farce is not a genre we commonly associate with the Germans, but then, as “Curveball” reminds us at the outset, this wildly atypical Teutonic satire — which plays like a cross between “Wag the Dog” and “Dr. Strangelove” in its portrayal of incompetence at the highest levels — is “A true story. Unfortunately.” More mea [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content