The historical Chinese movie "Tokyo Trial" debuted in movie theaters across China last Friday. It recounts the trial of top Japanese war criminals at the International Military tribunal for the Far East nearly 60 years ago. This is the first time that China has brought this topic to the silver screen. The movie's accurate rendering of history and its fine artistry has won it wide acclaim. Some even call it a movie no Chinese should miss, even if it is not easy viewing.
The Tokyo Trial took place after World War II ended. It lasted two and a half years, from May 1946 to November 1948, about half a year after the start of the Nuremberg Trials in Europe. All Japanese Class-A war criminals were tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. The prosecution team was made up of justices from 11 Allied nations. Seven of the war criminals were hanged after the trial, including Hideki Tojo, the prime minister of Japan during the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941.
This is not an easy part of history to remake into a movie. It could have easily become a dry documentary. Fortunately, the movie is anything but dull. It not only accurately recounts what happened during that trial, but also successfully profiles a Chinese judge who maintained China's dignity and status on the international stage with his patriotism and wit. It lays bare the untold sufferings of the Chinese people during the Japanese Aggression in the 1930s and 40s, but also reveals the pains the war brought to Japanese civilians through the sufferings of an ordinary Japanese family.
Director Gao Qunshu says through the movie, he wants to tell people the truth about the trial and invite them to ponder war and conflicts.
"Some people try to distort the facts about the Tokyo Trial and that part of history. However, through investigating historical documents and diaries of those who participated the trial, one will learn both the procedures of the trial and the method in which the trial was conducted were all compatible with international law. That means the trial was fair. The movie will help correct some of the intentional distortions of history made by some people. In the meantime, it is also a contemplation on war. What we want to say through the movie is regardless of whether a war is just or unjust, it is the general public who always suffers the most. War can only bring death and destruction. We are against war and long for everlasting peace."
Gao Qunshu says to research authentic historical scenes, he referred to numerous copies of firsthand footage of the trial, including varied video versions shot by the Japanese and Dutch press. He found a valuable trial diary in Japan, which recounts its heated debates. As a result, in the movie, even the details of the actors' costumes and gestures at the tribunal strictly follow historical evidence. Ninety percent of the movie was shot in English and Japanese as it was in the trial.
In addition, a lot of historical footage of the atrocities the Japanese committed during its aggression of China were also woven into the movie, including the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. During the Tokyo trial, the massacre was treated as one unique example of the atrocities the Japanese army committed in Asia. Numerous eyewitness accounts of the massacre were provided by Chinese civilian survivors. Yet, even today, the horrific events have never been emphasized in Japanese history textbooks.
The movie's cast is star-studded. It includes several veteran actors and actresses from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The film also involved Japanese, American and Canadian actors.
Renowned Hong Kong actor Damian Lau starred as Mei Ruao, the only Chinese judge among the 11 at the tribunal. In the movie, the trial was mainly recounted through him. In history, he was an eloquent and patriotic man who received an overseas education and could speak fluent English. Although Damian Lau has created numerous glorious images of judges during his acting career, he found the role as Mei Ruao the most challenging.
"Mei Ruao is a person with a strong sense of ethics and national pride. He represented his country at a significant international affair. He had to shoulder great responsibility as well as a lot of pressure. If he did not harbor strong emotions and a patriotic heart within his bosom, he could hardly successfully overcome the many difficulties before him and fulfill the mission given by the country. He was cool-headed and witty throughout the trial. I tried to master his inner world through these aspects. I really respect him."
Another veteran Hong Kong actor, Kenneth Tseng, played one of the two Chinese prosecutors, Xiang Zhejun, who waged heated debate with the Japanese war criminals and their lawyers. In the end, he succeeded in bringing them to justice.
Talking about his role, the veteran actor, who has starred in numerous Hollywood movies, expressed his respect to his own role. "He tried hard to bring the war criminals their due punishment. He was an ardent patriotic. I really respect him."
So far the movie has received wide acclaim from historians and international law experts, as well as those in the movie industry. In addition, owing to its prime historical value, the China National Film Museum and Nanjing Massacre Museum also have plans to include the film in their collections.
Commercially, six main theater chains in China have joined for the first time to screen this film. Several Japanese cinema chains have also bought the rights to distribute it overseas.
Kang Xuejun, manager of the Star City Cinema in downtown Beijing's Oriental Plaza, gives us more information about the movie at his cinema.
"The movie's been publicly shown at our movie theater since Friday, like everywhere else in Beijing. Shanghai began screening it half a month earlier. The feedback is rather good. I've watched the movie. The actors' performances are good. I believe a lot of audiences will be interested in the subject because we have very few movies on the same subject. The movie will run in our theater until next month."
So far, there are no reports on the movie's box office returns. However, some worry one potential drawback for domestic viewers might be the heavy concentration of foreign-language conversations in the movie.
Nonetheless, many believe this movie is worthy for all Chinese to watch. Here's Damian Lau, who played the major role of the judge.
"I hope more young people will watch this movie. I hope they can learn from this part of history that regardless of what country they come from, all human beings should work hard to make themselves outstanding. A person should try to bring honor to his or her country and people."
Famous Taiwan heartthrob Ken Zhu, who plays the role of a Chinese journalist in the movie, echoed his sentiments.
"Maybe this movie is not an entertaining film, but it's a movie that all Chinese should watch because it retells historical facts all Chinese should know."
Chinese people are not the only ones who should watch it. Japanese people should as well. A recent survey shows 70 percent of Japanese adults don't know any details about the Tokyo Trial, while 19 percent haven't even heard of it.
Let's remember director Gao Qunshu's words. This movie is a call for peace, yet history should never be forgotten.
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