Jolie's Unbroken coincides with Abe's re-election in Japan

Updated: 2014-12-29 04:36

By Chen Weihua(China Daily USA)

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The Hollywood movie Unbroken, produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, reached movie theaters across the United States on Dec 25, just a day after right-wing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to a third term.

The movie, based on the 2010 nonfiction best-seller of the same title by Laura Hillenbrand, tells the story of US Olympic runner and World War II bombardier Louis "Louie" Zamperini, who survived more than two years of horrendous torture in Japanese prison camps.

Jolie's Unbroken coincides with Abe's re-election in JapanIt was a powerful story, but there was no patriotic or heroic slogans from Zamperini. Instead, the movie tells that as a child, Zamperini, an Italian immigrant boy in California, was causing a lot of trouble for his parents by drinking, stealing, smoking and looking up women's dresses.

Zamperini, with little self esteem, was nevertheless trained by his elder brother Peter to become an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin Games.

During the war, Zamperini fought bravely in the air against the Japanese. When his already damaged B-24's engine failed, he and his two fellow crew members survived after the plane crashed into the ocean.

Only Zamperini and his crewmate Phil survived after 47 days floating at sea, where they were caught by the Japanese Army. Zamperini, played by 24-year-old British actor Jack O'Connell, suffered inhumane brutality, primarily from a Japanese head guard, Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe.

The movie flashes back and forth between Zamperini's childhood and Olympic days and the horrors of the prisoner camp. The episodes about Watanabe forcing every prisoner to punch Zamperini in the face and forcing him to lift a huge piece of wood are among the most torturous but also powerful moments of what is right and wrong in human nature.

The end of the movie is probably more stirring when Zamperini goes back to the US after the war; he chooses to forgive his wartime captors and meet them. But Watanabe refused to see Zamperini.

In 1998, Zamperini returned to Japan during the Winter Olympics in Nagano, running the torch relay.

Zamperini died on July 2 in Los Angeles at the age of 97.

The fact that the movie is based on a real story has made it a compelling presentation of Japan's WWII atrocities, which the current Japanese government has tried hard to whitewash.

Japan's invasion and occupation of its neighboring countries in Asia caused widespread suffering and loss during the war. Abe has questioned whether Japan's actions constituted an invasion, angering many in China, the Koreas and other countries.

Abe's government's view that the Japanese government and its Imperial Army during WWII were not involved in coercion of comfort women, who were forced into sexual slavery, is still the main issue why South Korea and China refuse to further improve ties with Japan.

Major US newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, also have run several editorials over the years, blasting Japan's revisionist approach.

Right-wing Japanese, the core political base for Abe, also have consistently denied the infamous Nanjing Massacre, when the Japanese Imperial Army slaughtered 300,000 unarmed Chinese soldiers and civilians in late 1937 and early 1938.

For Abe, it could be personal, because his grandfather on his mother's side, Nobusuke Kish, was a former Japanese prime minister who was once imprisoned as a "Class A" war crimes suspect after WWII.

The protests in Japan against the movie Unbroken and Angelina Jolie also reflect how difficult it is for some Japanese to recognize an infamous part of their history.

Time magazine published a story in September describing how American prisoners of war (POWs) once held by the Japanese during WWII demanded a formal apology from Japanese companies, which used them as slave laborers in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The article cited that of the 27,000 Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese, a shocking 40 percent died in captivity, according to the US Congressional Research Service. That compares with just 1 percent of American prisoners who died in German POW camps.

While WWII film and TV dramas about the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Army are many or sometimes too many in China, Unbroken tells a story that may not be familiar to many audiences in the US and other Western countries.

Many Chinese and South Koreans have questioned why the Japanese would act drastically different from the Germans in atoning for WWII atrocities. The denial has been a source of frequent confrontation for Japan with its two main neighbors, China and South Korea.

There is no doubt that Jolie will be warmly welcomed in China and South Korea, while some Japanese may want to consider her persona non grata.

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