In Japan, ritual is tangible, and respect is as necessary as food and water. In their absence, the social contract erodes, and violence can result. This is evidenced in the most dramatic terms at Yasukuni, Japan’s Shinto shrine to 2.46 million soldiers who have died in the name of the Japanese emperor. Here honor meets history in daily gatherings of worshippers, visitors, and, increasingly, protesters.
To many in Asia, Yasukuni represents Japan’s militaristic past. Some, like South Koreans and Taiwanese, want their ancestors removed because they were forced to serve the emperor. Others believe the soldiers who were convicted of war crimes should not be honored at the shrine. For many Japanese, however, all the soldiers are heroes and their memories revered. The controversy has swept Asia, where South Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, and others carry the traumatic memories of such events as the massacre of 300,000 Chinese in Nanking, and the Japanese history of dominating countries in the region.
For award-winning, Chinese-born filmmaker Li Ying, “Yasukuni is like a stage, and all these people reveal themselves upon it.” In this bold cinematic observation, Li combines stunning archival footage with vérité interviews and scenes of the oldest living swordsmith crafting his last ritual sword, or <i>yasukunitou</i>, for the shrine. Throughout, he explores the meaning of war, honor, memory, and oblivion at this most important Japanese shrine.
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