A documentary featuring one of Japan’s former army personnel has become the latest target of anti-Japanese sentiments on Chinese social media, with many criticizing the protagonist’s role in the Sino-Japanese War.
Thousands of individuals have descended on the review platform Douban, leaving unfavorable ratings for the 2017 documentary “Life is Fruity,” which depicts the idyllic life of Shuichi Tsubata and his wife in their twilight years. Tsubata, the late 90-year-old architect who briefly served in Japan’s navy, has been widely criticized for his contributions during the Sino-Japanese War that killed and injured millions of Chinese between 1931 and 1945.
The rating spree on Douban started after a user posted details about Tsubata on the site over the weekend. As of Tuesday, nearly 20,000 people had given the documentary the lowest rating — one out of five stars — causing its total score to fall from 9.3 to 8.7 out of 10 in just a few days.
Many users on Douban have accused Tsubata of designing fighter planes for Japan and ignoring the suffering of Chinese people.
“I had watched the film many times before and felt comfortable, but did not expect the protagonist to be a ‘war criminal,’” a Douban user wrote on Monday, changing their rating from five stars in March last year to two stars.
Other Japanese war movies such as “Porco Rosso,” “Grave of the Fireflies,” “The Wind Rises,” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” are also under fire. Some of the films had previously been screened at domestic state-backed film festivals, including “Life is Fruity,” which was screened at the Asian Film Festival organized by China Film Administration in 2019.
The Chinese nationalist rhetoric online has surged amid the 76th anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese War. In recent weeks, social media users have also taken aim at Japanese athletes during the Tokyo Olympics, accusing them of unfair competition, while Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan faces a domestic boycott after photos of him posing at a controversial shrine honoring Japanese war criminals surfaced online.
Meanwhile, not everyone panned “Life is Fruity” and its protagonist, with some arguing Tsubata did not even visit China during the war and retired from the navy shortly after being forced to join in 1945. Supporters also rushed to rate the film at the highest score on Douban in defense of its artistic value, arguing that it’s irrational to express patriotism and remember history through hostile ratings.
“Do not let narrow nationalism shackle the spiritual wealth of human beings,” one Douban user wrote. “The creator had a nationality, but his thoughts are without borders.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Visual elements from Douban and People Visual, reedited by Ding Yining/Sixth Tone)