[Viewpoint]Fading memories of warThe film “Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen,” which was released in Seoul last weekend, is a film that shows how Japan celebrates the end of World War II this month. Saigo no Soukeisen is similar to Korea’s Yongojeon, or Yon-Ko Games, an annual sports contest between rival colleges - Yonsei University and Korea University.
The movie’s title refers to the annual sports competition between the two prestigious Japanese universities - Waseda University and Keio University. It is based on the true story of the last baseball game between the two, which was held right before the students were recruited to the army and dispatched to the Pacific War.
In April 1943, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology broke up a baseball league of six university teams because baseball was the sport of Japan’s enemy, the United States. The military abolished the recruitment exemption for university students in order to reinforce military forces and ordered all men over 20 years old to serve.
President Shinzo Koizumi of Keio University, who lost his first-born son in the war, proposed the last Saigo no Soukeisen to Waseda University. Waseda, at first, hesitated to respond to the challenge because of pressure from the military. After many twists and turns the last Saigo no Soukeisen was finally held at Waseda University on Oct. 16. The games’ slogan was “The proud march of students going to the battlefield.” Waseda beat Keio 10-1, but victory was not important. Waseda University students started to chant “Young Blood,” a Keio University cheer-song, and Keio University students responded by singing Waseda University’s school song.
After the game was over, the students were dispatched to the battlefield as special task force members, and many of them were sacrificed simply as bullet blockers.
This film is special because it boldly and vividly portrays the coldness of the military that randomly drove young people into war. The pain of families who had to accept family members’ deaths as “honorable deaths” for victory, and dismissal by military authorities of professors and scholars who opposed the war are also portrayed candidly.
The film’s echo of truth is not small. It is a pity, however, that a film is only a film. In reality Japanese society does not turn its eyes to the true reflection of the war and the people it sacrificed. Japanese people in the real world do not remember themselves as wrongdoers but as the victims of atomic bombs.
They designated the dates when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima, Aug. 6, and Nagasaki, Aug. 9, as days of peace, and the press focuses on the damage from atomic bombs by carrying special features. They only emphasize the message, “Nuclear weapons should not be used again.”
It is hard to find Japanese people who reflect on the moral implications of invading neighboring countries, colonizing them and starting a war. Films that glorify the Japanese military are produced, and the release of the documentary “Yasukuni,” which criticizes war, was postponed due to lawmaker censorship and protests by right-wing organizations.
Young Japanese students do not have the opportunity to properly learn Japan’s history of provocation and colonialism, and their nation’s obliteration of other people’s national identity.
History textbooks that distort the truth about such issues as comfort women passed Japanese government inspection, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is said to have sent circulars to local education councils encouraging students to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where memorial tablets of war criminals are enshrined.
The fundamental problem is that, with the passage of 63 years since the end of the war, the Japanese are forgetting the fact that Japan is responsible for the Pacific War through self-denial of its past history.
As the number of people who remember the real stories and can tell them to their offspring is diminishing gradually, the situation could get worse. Director Seijiro Koyama of the film Last Game: Saigo no Soukeisen says he belongs to the last generation that remembers the war as he was born in 1941. In an interview with the Japanese press before the opening of the movie, he said, “Seeds of war can grow anywhere, anytime. Nevertheless, 10 years from now, the number of people who can testify about the war will disappear altogether.”
Japan is a country where proper reflection of history is disappearing and stubborn claims and distortions of history by senseless leaders prevail. Korea is watching the situation in its neighbor with concern.
*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.