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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.

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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.

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