‘The Ants’: Doc­u­men­tary re­vis­its Ja­pan’s WWII atroc­i­ties

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Take­hiko Kam­bayashi

TOKYO — On Aug. 15, the 61st an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s World War II de­feat, Im­pe­rial Army vet­eran Waichi Oku­mura frowned when he heard of Prime Min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi’s visit to Ya­sukuni Shrine, where Ja­pan’s war dead are en-shrined.

Like a squadron of ants, he and fel­low sol­diers fought World War II as they were told, Mr. Oku­mura said. But he re­fuses to wor­ship at the Tokyo shrine, which also hon­ors 14 of­fi­cials con­victed by a post­war Al­lied tri­bunal as Class-A war crim­i­nals.

“Those who fought in the war of ag­gres­sion and died are not gods,” he said in a re­cent doc­u­men­tary about the war.

“The Ants” [“Ari no Heitai”], the story aboutMr.Oku­mu­raand fel­low sol­diers left in China af­ter the war, at­tempts to pre­vent war mem­o­ries from fad­ing into obliv­ion. The film came as many politi­cians, schol­ars and jour­nal­ists shrug off mem­o­ries of the war and as Mr. Koizumi’s visit to theshrineag­gra­vates Ja­pan’s re­la­tions with Asian neigh­bors and draws crit­i­cism from the United States.

The film, di­rected by Kaoru Ikeya, did not fea­ture celebri­ties or gen­er­ate a me­dia blitz as some na­tion­al­is­tic war movies have, but it played to packed the­aters in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, caus­ing man­agers to in­crease the num­ber of show­ings.

In hopes of sav­ing some of Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary might, 2,600 of the 59,000 sol­diers in Mr.Oku­mura’s di­vi­sion were or­dered to re­main in Shanxi prov­ince af­ter the war ended. They joined the Chi­nese na­tion­al­ist army of Gen. Chi­ang Kaishek, fight­ing the com­mu­nist army led byMao Ze­dong. Themovie sug­gests that Ja­pan vi­o­lated the Al­lied 1945 Pots­dam Dec­la­ra­tion, which called for Ja­pan’s un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der and the com­plete dis­ar­ma­ment of its mil­i­tary.

The film is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Mr. Oku­mura is one of the few for­mer sol­diers will­ing to speak out about Ja­pan’s wartime atroc­i­ties. Many are re­luc­tant to do so, and some glo­rify the war. A sense of guilt kept Mr. Oku­mura from dis­cussing the war with his wife be­fore he and the film crew trav­eled to China last year, he said.

Dur­ing the Chi­nese civil war, 550 of the re­main­ing Ja­panese sol­diers died and 700, in­clud­ing Mr. Oku­mura, were taken pris­oner by the com­mu­nists. Mr. Oku­mura came un­der mor­tar at­tack in bat­tle, was in­jured and lost all his teeth and the hear­ing in his left ear. Mean­while, the Ja­panese com­man­der, Gen. Raishiro Su­mita, left his men be­hind and re­turned home.

In the film, tes­ti­mony from sur­vivors on both sides re­veals a se­cret agree­ment be­tween Gen. Su­mita and na­tion­al­ist Gen. Yan Xis­han. The lat­ter asked Gen. Su­mita to leave Ja­panese troops in China to help fight Mao, ac­cord­ing to the film and ear­lier stud­ies, and is said to have promised to pro­tect the Ja­panese com­man­der, ac­cused of war crimes.

Com­ing home nine years af­ter World War II, Mr. Oku­mura was ap­palled to learn that the Ja­panese troops in China had been dis­charged from the mil­i­tary while fight­ing there and de­nied mil­i­tary pen­sions. Of­fi­cially, they were re­garded as “vol­un­teers” in the Chi­nese na­tion­al­ist army.

Mr. Oku­mura and oth­ers waged a le­gal bat­tle against the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to show that the mil­i­tary had kept them in China. De­spite the ev­i­dence he pro­vided, the Supreme Court re­jected the plain­tiffs’ fi­nal ap­peal in Septem­ber.

“Th­ey­complete­lyig­nored it,” Mr. Oku­mura said. “Oth­er­wise, they would have had to ad­mit Ja­pan’s breach of the Pots­dam Dec­la­ra­tion.” Mr. Oku­mura and the film crew trav­eled to Chinaand cov­ered more than 2,000 miles in 22 days. He man­aged to cross moun­tain­ous ar­eas lean­ing on his stick.

While painstak­ingly look­ing for ev­i­dence, Mr. Oku­mura also had to face his past and atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the Im­pe­rial Army. Like other re­cruits, hewas forced to stab an in­no­cent Chi­nese with a bay­o­net dur­ing train­ing be­caus­esu­pe­rior of­fi­cers wanted “to test his courage.” Inthe film, he re­vis­ited the site of his first killing, in Ningwu County, and prayed for the dead.

“We were turned into so-called killing ma­chines,” he re­called. “I want to re­veal howthe mil­i­tary de­prive­dus of our ra­tio­nal na­ture.” He also said that he acted as a lookout while fel­low sol­diers com­mit­ted rape.

Asked in the film whether he, too, had raped Chi­nese women, he re­sponded in the neg­a­tive. But he em­pha­sized that the is­sue was not “who did or who didn’t, but a prob­lem of the whole mil­i­tary.” Ina­com­pelling scene, a Chi­nese wo­man tells Mr.Oku­mu­ra­how­she­was kid­napped, con­fined and gang-raped by­sev­enJa­panese sol­diers and later by a Chi­nese of­fi­cer when she was 16. But she of­fered for­give­ness to Mr. Oku­mura for killing in­no­cent Chi­nese.

To­ward the end, the film sug­gests U.S. com­plic­ity in the is­sue. Mr. Oku­mura said he dis­cov­ered a let­ter in China from Gen. Su­mita telling Gen. Yan that he would re­turn to Ja­pan un­der an as­sumed name to meet with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme com­man­der of the Al­lied forces. Gen. Su­mita, whose son Satoshi later be­came gov­er­nor of the Bank of Ja­pan, went un­pun­ished.

The film showed that “the Al­lied pow­ers were ac­com­plices,” said Asaho Mizushima, a law pro­fes­sor at Waseda Univer­sity in Tokyo. “The Ja­panese sol­diers fought the com­mu­nists so the United States didn’t have to send its own troops.”

“They were the vic­tims of mul­ti­ple coun­tries and also vic­tims of the Cold War,” Mr. Mizushima said. “That war against China was the first Ja­pan fought af­ter World War II. As­many as 550 sol­diers were the first vic­tims. [. . .] The [Ja­panese] gov­ern­ment,how­ever,can­no­tad­mit it.”

“If they did, they would have to im­ple­menta­fun­da­men­tal­re­view of the na­tional gov­ern­ment in the post­war era. At stake is not only Ja­pan’s breach of the Pots­dam Dec­la­ra­tion but a ques­tion of war-re­nounc­ing Ar­ti­cle 9. Ja­pan was not dis­armed af­ter all, and the U.S. knew it. Mr. Oku­mura is a liv­ing wit­ness tothat.”

“The Ants” won the Hu­man­i­tar­ian Award for Out­stand­ing Doc­u­men­tary at the Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in April and may be en­tered at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in Park City, Utah.

“The film tena­ciously pur­sued what war is all about. Our gen­er­a­tion failed to do that, as we stopped dis­cussing it at a cer­tain level and put eco­nomic growth first. Ev­ery­body thinks so, I be­lieve,” said Kenichi Han­zawa, a sup­porter of the film who re­tired af­ter work­ing for ma­jor fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies. “This is prob­a­bly the last re­sis­tance from the war gen­er­a­tions.”

To­day, crit­ics say, more peo­ple dwell on chang­ing Ja­pan’s paci­fist post­war con­sti­tu­tion and de­fend the vis­its of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to Ya­sukuni.

They talk about such is­sues “with­out dis­cussing what the Im­pe­rial Ja­pane­seArmy­was all about in the war,” said Mr. Ikeya, the di­rec­tor of “The Ants.” The film tells you that “the war is not over yet. Once you go to bat­tle, the war won’t let you go un­til you die.”

Take­hiko Kam­bayashi / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Waichi Oku­mura spoke at Im­age Fo­rum in Tokyo, which is screen­ing the doc­u­men­tary “The Ants,” on Aug. 15, the 61st an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s de­feat in World War II.

Waichi Oku­mura (left) re­turned from China nine years af­ter World War II. This pho­to­graph from that era shows Mr. Oku­mura wear­ing a Ja­panese mil­i­tary uni­form and hold­ing a cap of China’s na­tion­al­ist army.

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