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Japanese movie-goers are finally getting a chance to see Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s prisoner of war drama, despite heated protests from nationalists in the country.
The film was released in the U.S. and other international markets a year ago, but it was abruptly pulled from Japanese screening schedules after right-wing activists successfully pressured local distributor Toho-Towa to delay its release indefinitely.
But Japanese indie distributor Bitters End now plans to open the film on a single screen in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in February 2016.
Jolie’s second feature as a director, Unbroken tells the true story of the Olympic runner and WWII air force pilot Louis Zamperini, who spent two years enduring torture and starvation in Japanese prison camps after his B-24 bomber crashed into the Pacific in 1943. It is an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.
Japan’s rightwing reacted to the film’s international release with an online campaign calling for it to be banned.
Activists claimed the movie’s depiction of a sadistic prison guard played by local pop singer Miyavi was racist and historically inaccurate.
Ironically, many of the objections to the film were themselves inaccurate, given that the rightwing activists were attacking a movie they hadn’t had a chance to see.
Hiromichi Moteki, head of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, a nationalist pressure group that led the campaign against Unbroken, told THR that his organization objected to portrayals of Japanese soldiers carrying out acts of cannibalism on prisoners of war.
“There is no history of cannibalism in Japanese culture. And there is no mention of it in the book that the film is based on,” Moteki said. “This film is stupid, fabricated and humiliating to Japanese people.”
In fact, the book does contain claims of cannibalism, but Jolie’s film didn’t adapt those sequences.
Jolie repeatedly called for the film’s release in Japan.
“We were very conscious of showing all sides of the war, including the bombing of Tokyo,” she told USA Today last December. “But this is Louis’ experience and he … had a very difficult time as a POW. So we want to pay respect and show that all people suffer in war.”
The fringe views of Japan’s vocal far-rightwing often wield a disproportionate degree of influence over the country’s politics and popular media.
Unbroken isn’t the first foreign film to have its release hindered by nationalists. In 2010, cinemas canceled plans to screen The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about a Japanese dolphin hunt, when nationalists pledged to disrupt the screenings.
The film was later shown after influential media figures and the Directors Guild of Japan demanded it be rescheduled on grounds of free speech.
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