The Yasukuni shrine, built in 1869, is a Shinto place of prayer in Tokyo. In Asia the shrine has become a political issue, since soldiers from all Japanese wars are recorded in the register of souls there - including some convicted war criminals. The place and its visitors are the focal point of this documentary. Nationalist demonstrations, protests, a violent altercation with a young Japanese peace activist, and the visit by the former prime minister Koizumi Junichiro, all presented without commentary, shed light in multiple ways on how Japan is dealing with its history. The leitmotiv of the film is an old sword smith´s work in the shrine's interior. In the end, he presents the finished sword in his hands, singing "Ode to the Japanese Sword."
The film by Chinese director Li Ying is a sensitive, critical, and respectful examination of Japanese history and culture. By editing his footage with archival material from the wars, of Kendo warriors, and of the Yasukuni shrine itself, Yasukuni - using the music of Henryk Górecki's elegiac Third Symphony, which was composed for the 50th anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Poland - becomes a gripping and multifaceted document of the psyche of a nation.
Production: Dragon Films Inc., Tokyo; Beijing Film Academy
Youth Studio, Zhong Kun Film Inc., Beijing
Camera: Hotta Yasuhiro, Li Ying
With: Kariya Naoji, Sugawara Ryuken, Gaojin Sumei
Format: 35mm, Color and black-and-white
Running time: 123 min.