Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Whitewashing the Past: On the Manga and Animè Front

In Japan, the conflict over history and militarism has extended into the world of manga and animè, with Hayao Miyazaki recently drawing fire for his recent public remarks on the subject, and for his most recent feature film, The Wind Rises, which deals with the subject of the World War II era.

Less publicized, but perhaps even more telling, is the fight over the classic manga, Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa's autobiographical story of growing up in Hiroshima during and after the city's destruction by an atom bomb (which was made into a noted movie in 1983). Long controversial because of its uncompromising depiction of the bomb's dropping, and its references to atrocities by Japanese military forces during the war, the education board in the city of Matsue decided to pull it from the libraries of primary and junior high schools on the grounds that the atrocities mentioned in the story "did not take place"--a decision equivalent to pulling a World War II novel because it shows atrocities by the German army on the grounds that no such thing took place.

The local controversy became a national controversy when Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura supported the decision--unsurprisingly given the ultra-rightist and militarist leanings of a government seeking to abolish the clause in the Japanese constitution outlawing war, and whose Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, has openly called for the emulation of Hitler's tactics in revising Germany's constitution during the early 1930s to that end.1

The decision, of course, was met with considerable public opposition, as described by Dan Kanemitsu, and I am pleased to be able to say that the attempt at censorship has been rescinded. I am less pleased to say that the board has covered its retreat with talk of a procedural error (though it does indeed appear that the proper procedures for such a decision were flouted).

I am also less than pleased to report that Deputy Prime Minister Aso has refused to resign over his comments--which are, incidentally, very far from being the first resignation-worthy thing to have come out of the mouth of this notoriously ill-spoken politician. Instead he remain in his job and the public eye, reminding us all that even in the supposedly meritocratic modern world persons who appear unable to competently read their own language can hold the highest office in a G-7 country if they come from a sufficiently wealthy and powerful political dynasty.

And of course, this will not be the last attempt by a lunatic fringe that seems less and less fringe to try and get its public to drop inconvenient pieces of the twentieth century down the Memory Hole. Not in Japan, and not anywhere else.

Whitewashing the Past
The Hayao Miyazaki Controversy
My Posts on Shintaro Ishihara

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