Yasukuni: The movie
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 15, 2008
HERE’S A CASE in which some politicians are getting it right, but for all the wrong reasons.
The case involves the incipient controversy over the documentary film Yasukuni, directed by Li Ying and slated for release on 12 April. The film has become controversial because to make it the producers received a 7.5 million yen subsidy (slightly less than $US 73,000) from the Japan Arts Council, an independent administrative body under the jurisdiction of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. One condition for receiving a JAC film subsidy is the absence of intent to deliver a political message. Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party think the movie fails to meet that condition, and the party’s Research Commission on Culture and Tradition plans to look into the subsidy system.
The movie, which was 10 years in production, focuses on a master swordsmith who made the so-called Yasukuni sword on the shrine grounds. The Japan Arts Council subsidy comes from a special fund that uses money provided by the Japanese government.
An association of young LDP members, chaired by lower house representative Inada Tomomi, asked the Agency for Cultural Affairs whether the financial support was appropriate. This prompted the distributor, Argo Pictures, to hold a “special emergency screening” for members of both the ruling and opposition parties, and about 40 showed up to watch.
After the screening, the LDP association met at party headquarters with a different group of young LDP parliamentarians with a long and cumbersome name that doesn’t translate comfortably into English but clearly expresses their aim of encouraging politicians to visit the Yasukuni shrine.
They certainly didn’t like what they saw. Some who attended the meeting objected to the use in the film of statements by two plaintiffs in a suit against former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro for visiting the shrine. The plaintiffs charged in their suit that the prime minister’s visits were unconstitutional.
Further complicating matters is the additional condition that only Japanese films are eligible for subsidies. Upper house MP Nishida Shoji wondered whether the film met that condition because it was a joint production with a Chinese company.
Ms. Inada later commented:
“I don’t feel like critiquing the content of the film because the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but I have doubts that a government-affiliated organization should be providing subsidies to a film that deals with the political topic of the Yasukuni Shrine.”
Incidentally, both the Japan Arts Council and the Agency for Cultural Affairs think they followed the proper procedures for the grant, though a spokesman said there were bound to be different views on the film because it was a documentary.
Of course their views can be dismissed out of hand: they’re trying to justify their decision regardless of the merits of the case because they have to justify their existence. If they don’t have any largesse to hand out for film-making, there’s no reason for them to have a job.
The Real Issue
It’s reasonable to assume that Ms. Inada and the other Diet members who object to the funding do so because they disagree with the opinions they saw expressed in the movie. But would they be as anxious to make this an issue if the people making comments on Yasukuni visits in the film were supporters of those visits?
The opinions–whatever they are–shouldn’t make any difference either way. Those who oppose the Yasukuni visits should also be at the front of the line objecting to any government subsidies for the movie. The failure to object on principle lowers the debate to the level of cheerleading for the home team, which misses the point.
It’s a shame that Ms. Inada didn’t take that thought about Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression further, because that’s the crux of the matter.
The reason the government isn’t supposed to fund political opinions in a movie—or any medium at all—is because it violates the right of free speech and expression for any taxpayer who disagrees with that opinion.
The right of free speech includes more than the right to be able to stand up in a public place and say the government is wrong.
It also includes the right to keep one’s mouth shut and not express any opinion. Presumably, many of the people who would object to politicians visiting Yasukuni would also object to, say, the Tokyo Metropolitan District’s policy of having school teachers sing or play the national anthem. Some school teachers have been suing the TMD government because they think the policy deprives them of the opportunity to exercise their rights by forcing them to express what they don’t believe in.
Is it wrong to make a person sign a loyalty oath? If so, it’s just as wrong to force taxpayers to subsidize political opinions they dislike. After all, the taxpayers don’t have any choice in whether they have to pay the taxes, from which government agencies receive their funds, and the uses to which those agencies put those funds.
In this case, the government is forcing some people to pay for the expression of a political opinion with which they disagree. There are many things a government has no business doing, and that’s just one of them.
It’s unfortunate, but the most important argument in this debate is the one you’re least likely to hear.