Review by: Mountain Monkey
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Gallery Theatre at the National Museum of Singapore was almost at capacity for the screening of this documentary and for good reason too. Despite some minor shortcomings, Japan Lies was simply one of the best films to be screened at the 2013 Japanese Film Festival.
Effectively a two hour overview of the life and works of 90 year old photojournalist Kikujiro Fukushima, the documentary is at times humorous, gut-wrenching but always candid and brutally honest. Fukushima is little known outside of Japan, but his life story and the stories of his subjects are tied together by a universal struggle — for justice and truth, love, even for life itself.
As Fukushima noted, at his age, dying alone is a given; but before he dies, he wants to continue ‘sticking it to’ the Japanese establishment for their deceit through the decades. Since his visit to Hiroshima after the atomic bombing in 1945, Fukushima has steadfastly documented in over 250,000 photos how the Japanese government covers up ugly truths that they do not want the Japanese people and outsiders to see — the suffering of A-bomb victims, the clearing out of Korean slums in Hiroshima, the struggles of student protestors in the 1960s, even farmers literally fighting against the building of Narita airport in the early 1970s.
This is the directorial debut for Saburo Hasegawa, who memorably piggy backs Fukushima up to his third-floor office at the beginning of the movie. Perhaps because the documentary was meant for domestic Japanese consumption, not much background information is given for historical events that Fukushima documents with his camera. For example, little detail is given for what the students were so valiantly protesting for in the 1960s.
What Hasegawa has produced though, is a remarkable film about a resilient spirit, who has been punished throughout his life for being honest to his profession as a journalist, and for bringing to light what the powers-that-be prefer to keep buried.
Fukushima continues to work to this day as a photojournalist, drawing the dots between historical events like the Hiroshima bombing and the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi — in a poignant scene, Fukushima draws on his life experience, noting that the discrimination against A-bomb victims at Hiroshima is happening again to exiled residents of Fukushima prefecture.
Japan Lies is an important film that is well worth seeking out not just for followers of journalism but for anyone interested in good cinema and universal struggles.