Yasukuni Explores Persistence of Pathology


Li Ying’s Yasukuni begins with Japanese men reading long speeches in memory of the heroic dead of World War II, and the quick revelation that, in Japan, there are still those who view the conflict with the same implacable righteousness some Southerners bring to the “War of Northern Aggression.” Yasukuni is a shrine, established in 1869, housing no less than 2.5 million Japanese war dead, and arguably an ever-present incitement to militarism. Amid the xenophobic speeches and ritualistic commendations at the site, relief comes from the Taiwanese petitioners who don’t want their conscripted ancestors to be buried next to war criminals; two men who show up in protest, only to be chased by an angry crowd who tells them to “go back to China,” even after they explain that they’re Japanese. There are others protesting the “myth” of the rape of Nanking and asking for signatures for their own petition. Until its final reel—an angry war montage set to Górecki that tips the movie’s hand unnecessarily—this is basically a blackly amusing two hours about the persistence of pathology. The documentary’s cultural impact is lost in translation—Yasukuni initially had trouble getting shown at all in Japan—but the skill of the enterprise isn’t.