Kawasaki Film Fest Cancels "Comfort Women" Doc Screening, Other Films Pulled in Protest

'Shusenjo' Still - Publicity - H 2019
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The film on the contentious issue stemming from the treatment of women in occupied Korea by Japanese Imperial troops was due to be screened at the Shin-yuri Film Festival, but a lawsuit against the filmmaker and concerns about protests led the local government to pressure organizers.

The cancelled screening at a film festival in Kawasaki of a documentary about the wartime "comfort women" issue has led an independent Japanese studio to pull two of its films from the event in protest.

The documentary Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue was due to screen at the Shin-yuri Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4 in Shin-yurigaoka, just south of Tokyo. It premiered at Busan last year.

The film, by Japanese-American Miki Dezaki, interviews commentators and experts on the contentious issue of whether women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The controversy continues to dog relations between Seoul and Tokyo. (South Korean films and guests are notably absent from this year's Tokyo International Film Festival as a trade dispute with its roots in forced wartime labor continues to rage on.)

Nationalist commentators in Japan, who typically claim all such women were prostitutes, were interviewed for the film but maintain they thought it was a student graduation project and didn't expect it to be released commercially. Although they signed consent forms, some are currently suing the filmmaker, alleging they were tricked.

The lawsuit caused Kawasaki city government to warn the festival that screening the documentary could lead to it being sued. The local government supported this year's festival, the 25th edition, to the tune of around $55,000 (¥6 million).

"The festival is organized by mostly volunteers, and we made the decision considering safety and management risks. Given that the festival is financed by taxpayers' money, it was unavoidable to have a different judgment from a private theater," said festival head Shuji Nakayama, according to Kyodo News.

The decision to halt the screening in turn saw two other films pulled from the festival by Wakamatsu Productions, the studio founded by late outspoken director Koji Wakamatsu, calling the action "murdering freedom of expression."

In August, an art exhibition in Nagoya featuring a statue symbolizing "comfort women" was shut down after a backlash, including someone threatening to carry out an arson attack similar to the one that had killed at least 36 people at Kyoto Animation the previous month.

The government also withdrew funding for the exhibition, but it reopened this month following a legal challenge.