A new anime film called Giovanni’s Island (ジョバンニの島) will hit theaters across Japan tomorrow. Here is the Japanese language trailer:
And here is an English language description of the movie, from the website of the New York International Children’s Film Festival:
Japan, Mizuho Nishikubo, 2014, 102 min
Recommended Ages: 12 to Adult (Subtitled)
NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE – Screening for the first time outside of Japan, Giovanni’s Island is the latest grand opus from famed anime studio Production I.G (A Letter to Momo, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade). Spanning multiple generations and locations, the film delicately weaves the complex true-story of two young brothers whose life on the small, remote island of Shikotan becomes forever changed in the aftermath of WWII.
Giovanni and Campanella, nicknamed after characters in the beloved Japanese novel Night on the Galactic Railroad, live a free-spirited island life, chasing each other along beach-side cliffs and endlessly dreaming about adventures on the Galactic Railroad. But when the Red army occupies their tiny island following Japan’s surrender, they are suddenly confronted with an influx of foreigners – including a peculiar and enticing new neighbor, the golden-haired Tanya, daughter of the Soviet commander. Learning about each other’s exotic and strange cuisines, music and language creates a quick bond for the children – even while the occupation brings on heavier implications for their families. An elegance and beauty permeates the hand-drawn animation and symphonic score of the film, creating a timeless drama where moments of emotional impact are tempered by animated flights of whimsy and fantasy, as the brothers prove much larger in spirit and strength than their rosy-cheeked, small frames would suggest.
Comment: The film deals more with the hardships of war than the horror – and there is no overt violence on screen. But there is a true to life sense of the loss of home and family, as the film shows how kids readily adapt to even the most difficult circumstances, the way they are asked to take on larger responsibilities, and how they are blameless for the difficult situations that adults sometimes create for them.
Judging from the trailer, it looks like it will touch on some serious historical issues. The territorial dispute over the “Northern Territories” of Japan continues with Russia to this day, and this movie will show some of the worst aspects of the Russian invasion. The Soviet military is shown taking away the children’s father to a labor camp, a fate shared by thousands of Japanese, many of whom were worked to death years after the war had ended. The Soviet Union forced Japanese residents of the island to leave and replaced them with Russian settlers, and the scenes of in the trailer of Japanese people crammed into a boat appear to show part of the ethnic cleansing campaign.
The Olympics were created with the intent of bringing the world together to celebrate peaceful athletic competition. However, for many countries it has become a opportunity to vent nationalist hate. Especially when South Korea, one of Asia’s most nationalistic countries, is facing off against Japan, a country that its schoolchildren are taught to hate and despise.
In the days leading up to women’s figure skating competition – which would once again see Korean Yuna Kim face off against Japanese skaters, 2channel and Japanese blogs were getting in on the hate-fest. They highlighted how the nationalistic South Korean media was aggressively “stalking” and insulting Japanese figure skater Mao Asada, doing stuff like bluntly asking her questions that implied she would fail in an attempt to mess with her mental state. Japanese netizens also expressed glee about Korean media reactions to a Russian figure skater who supposedly slighted Yuna Kim by telling Korean reporters that that she was not interested in watching the Korean skater’s past performances. They also focused upon examples of ugly Korean nationalism in other Olympic sports, such as the Korean threats against British speed skater Elise Christie.
When the competition actually began, Mao Asada performed very poorly at first, so she was out of contention for a medal. So Japanese netizens who disliked Korea were left to hope that Kim would be denied a gold medal.
Their wish came true. A Russian skater won the Gold medal instead, dashing Korean hopes. No doubt some Korean nationalist netizens are complaining somewhere online about unfair judging (an accusation that could be true, given past scandals that have shown figure skating to be a very corrupt “sport” – but if Korean fans are going to start agreeing that figure skating judging is biased, it also makes it possible to doubt the fairness of the amazing scores that Kim got in the past). Since their country lost to Russia, I imagine that most of the hatred will be directed at that country.
Since I cannot read Korean, and this is a blog about Japan, I will instead introduce how their Japanese counterparts have celebrated with online posts gloating about Kim’s misfortune. Here are a couple examples of stuff that has been popular with anti-Korean netizens.
1) Other figure skaters hate Yuna Kim
Screen captures after Adelina Sotnikova’s gold medal victory show her and bronze medalist Carolina Kostner being very friendly to each other. It looks like the other two friends, hugging and high-fiving, or maybe Kostner is just a very gracious about accepting her 3rd place finish. Yuna Kim is off to the side, looking like a loner who is either unfriendly towards her fellow skaters, and/or is disliked by them. (Maybe the screen captures were deliberately selected to leave out Kim’s more friendly side?)
Alongside the images from yesterday, Japanese netizens have also posted old video clips that supposedly back up the “nobody likes Yuna Kim” theory. The above clip is from 2010, and shows Kim awkwardly being left out of the other skaters’ group hugs.
Even little kids are shown to avoid hugs with Kim…
2) Korean fans de-face a Mao Asada banner
A screen capture from the NHK broadcast of the competition shows a Mao Asada banner that has literally been defaced by Korean fans. Somebody has placed a South Korean flag directly over Asada’s face. The placement is too perfect for it to be a mere accident.
3) It’s not all anti-Korean stuff
Amid the anti-Korean feeling of certain Japanese netizens, there are some examples of popular articles that were somewhat positive towards Korea. One article from Searchina notes that the Korean media criticized the manners of Russian fans, who apparently cheered and laughed when Mao Asada fell during her performance. Somebody also translated comments from Korean netizens who praised Asada’s second day performance, which was a career best for her.
On Wednesday morning, a 69-year-old Korean man threw a bag of feces at the Japanese embassy in Seoul. According to Jiji press, the man had been shouting “Dokdo belongs to Korea!” as he threw the bag.
The man was a former ward assemblyman for the Gangdong District of Seoul. Apparently he had prepared three bags of crap, but only had time to throw one before being detained by police. The one bag he threw did not manage to make it into the grounds of the embassy.
He allegedly said he did it as a warning to Japan. He wanted Japan to know that both the Liancourt Rocks and Tsushima are Korean territory. The man also demanded further Japanese apologies for Korean comfort women.
Police released the man after he paid a fine.
This is not the first time that Koreans have thrown feces at the Japanese embassy. Another man did the same thing last year, around the same time. Every February 22nd Shimane prefecture holds a “Takeshima Day” ceremony to remind people that South Korea forcibly occupied the Liancourt Rocks 1954, and that Japan still claims the rocks as territory. The small ceremony cause a lot of rage among Korean ultra-nationalists.
[Translation Note: The Japanese media has used the word "obutsu," which literally means "filth," but is usually used to refer to feces. ]
The Korean media has posted photos of American politician Tony Avella (Democrat – 11th New York Senate district) attending a press conference wearing a rather odd t-shirt.
The t-shirt says, “Yes! East Sea No! Sea of Japan,” referencing Korean ultra-nationalists’ campaign to make the entire world change their maps to reflect the Korean language name for the body of water between Japan and Korea.
Avella represents the Queens neighborhood of Bayside, an area with a large Korean population. His t-shirt show is an obvious act of pandering to Korean-American voters who support the anti-Japanese agenda of South Korean nationalists.
Last week, lawmakers in New Jersey and New York introduced bills aimed at adding “East Sea” to textbooks in their states. The move comes shortly after the state of Virginia passed a similar plan.
An article on NJ.com mentions the arguments in favor of the plan:
“We non-Asian Americans have very little knowledge of this body of water,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors, said. “When I spoke to the different Korean-American groups, they felt this should be a way to educate the non-Asian Americans as to what the history is, and maybe stimulate them to look into the history.”
For decades, the name of the sea — fraught with history — has been a delicate issue for South Korea and Japan.
South Koreans, who favor “East Sea”, say that calling it the Sea of Japan is “colonialist” and harks back to Japan’s brutal past rule of the Korean peninsula. They claim the name only came into popular use during that period.
Koreans have a right to feel resentment over the fact that their country was annexed by a foreign empire. The historical record shows that many Korean people suffered human rights abuses under Japanese rule. However, the historical record does not show that the usage of the name “Sea of Japan” on American maps was a product of Japanese imperialism.
By the first half of the 19th century, almost all maps printed in Western countries used the name “Sea of Japan.” Japan was closed off to the outside world until the 1850’s and did not start to become an Imperialist power until the late 1870’s. Foreign countries had already decided on their name for the sea prior to Japanese rule of Korea.
Claiming that “the name only came into popular use” during the period of Japanese Imperialism is simply untrue. It doesn’t reflect historical reality. Instead, it reflects modern day anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea. Some Korean nationalists dislike Japan so much that they cannot stand the idea of English language maps referring to the body of water as the “Sea of Japan.” A few, perhaps, absurdly believe that the name implies some kind of ownership of the sea, or somehow strengthens Japan’s arguments over the ownership of Liancourt Rocks. Korean nationalists want English-speakers, and the whole world, to use the term “East Sea” instead. After all, it’s directly east of Korea, so the name makes sense to them.
When liberal-minded Americans hear about countries that were once placed under the rule of foreign Imperialist powers, we tend to sympathize with the victim, and tend to assume that they are telling the truth. When a former Imperialist power tries to defend its past actions, we tend to take a negative view of such defensive behavior, especially when that former Imperialist power is Japan, a former enemy of American democratic values. In this case, Korean nationalists are taking advantage of the sympathy of well-intentioned but historically ignorant Americans.
American voters should not allow groups backed by foreign countries to re-write American school textbooks to reflect their nationalist grudges. Unfortunately, almost no lawmakers or voters in New York and New Jersery are going to care enough to do their homework about this issue, so the bills will probably pass, and politicians like Tony Avella will continue to champion the cause of ugly nationalism.