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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 June 7 - 13  > During wartime Japan, film critic braves gov’t control over film production
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2017 June 7 - 13 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

During wartime Japan, film critic braves gov’t control over film production

June 7, 2017
The Abe government intends to bulldoze through the anti-conspiracy bill in the current Diet session. The bill is criticized for bearing striking similarities to the notorious wartime Public Maintenance Order Law which cracked down on public liberties. During the era of that oppressive law, there was a film critic who braved the government control over film production.

Iwasaki Akira began his career as a film critic in 1927. Two years later, he was engaged in the foundation of the Proletarian Film Federation Japan. He served as federation chair for four years from 1930.

In July 1937, the Imperial Japanese government launched a war against China. Aiming to promote the production of movies which justify the war and contribute to the mobilization of public support, the Home Ministry planned to introduce a law related to movie production. A bill for the new legislation was submitted to the Imperial parliament in March 1939 and enacted one month later. The film law came into effect in October that year.

Although the government explained that the film law was set up to develop Japan’s film industry, the law contained various restrictive measures such as a restrictive licensing system for the production and distribution of movies, pre-censorship of scenarios, and a registration system for actors, directors, and camera operators. Furthermore, the law included a ban on any form of disrespect to the Emperor. The law played a role in government control over movies which were viewed by 400 million people a year at that time. It also used the cinema as a tool to instill loyalty to the Emperor and mobilize the people for the war of aggression.

Iwasaki in March 1939 wrote an article that was published in the Asahi Shimbun, objecting to the film bill. Pointing out that compared with the “abstract” definition for criminal activities, penalties for violations are too “specific”, Iwasaki criticized the bill for criminalizing artistic freedom in movie production. He expressed his concern that a license system for the movie production would deprive filmmakers of their independence and exclude independent film production companies from the industry. He also said that a registration system would not guarantee a stable life to people related to film production, including actors and film directors.

Just after the enactment of the bill, in an article on the Asahi Shimbun dated April 11, Iwasaki said that the film law will kill the creativity and spontaneity of filmmakers.

Iwasaki was arrested in January 1940 on a charge of acting against the Public Maintenance Order Law. On the following year in December, he was sentenced to a suspended two years’ imprisonment and ordered to give up writing.

Iwasaki’s brave fight to protect freedom of film production is worth remembering as the Abe government is high-handedly pushing forward a policy to turn Japan yet again into a war-fighting nation.
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