Son traces his father’s footsteps in wartime propaganda films
Shinichi Ise spent 30 years tracing his father’s footsteps during the war, who showed propaganda films in Indonesia, a country occupied by Japan during the Pacific War.
His latest documentary, “Ima wa Mukashi” (Now is the past), explores the meaning of documenting war, moving back and forth between war and the present.
“You can make the past your present by oscillating between memory and recordings,” said the director. “I hope the public can feel the power of documentary cinema.”
Ise, 72, has built his reputation making documentaries on people with disabilities, dementia and pediatric cancer.
His father, Chonosuke Ise (1912-1973), was sent to the Java branch of the film company Nihon Eigasha (Nichiei) as a military reporter between 1943 and 1945.
The editor known for documentaries such as “Sakuma Dam” and “Nihon Bankokuhaku” has made propaganda films to promote the ideals of the Greater East Asian co-prosperity sphere.
Nichiei’s Java branch has produced around 130 films.
“Good Children of East Asia”, “Tonari Gumi” and other works aimed to introduce Japanese language and customs to the Indonesian people, while the “Romusha” series aimed to mobilize laborers to work on civil engineering projects.
The films were stored in audiovisual archives in the Netherlands, which occupied Indonesia after the war.
Having learned that his father’s films were still left behind, Ise started working on the project 30 years ago to get a feel for how a filmmaker must have felt playing a role in the war.
He reissued the films reproduced in the Netherlands to incorporate the images into his latest work.
Watching scenes of Muslims being forced to bow towards the Tokyo Imperial Palace, he got the impression that the propaganda films were nothing more than “fake massifs”.
“But you can see someone slacking off while everyone else is working methodically or someone else seems distracted,” Ise said. “What’s important is how you see the pictures.”
Ise visited the island of Java twice during the filming process.
An old Indonesian man, who was punched by a Japanese soldier during the war, still remembered Japanese words like “You idiot!” What’s wrong!”
Ise found a relief mounted on a wall of a building previously used as Nichiei’s film studio, showing a Japanese soldier stomping on an Indonesian worker and about to hit him in the face with the butt of his rifle.
“I felt like I was faced with the fact that the Indonesian people have not forgotten Japanese brutality,” Ise said.
Her father left home when Ise was 3 years old. After his father divorced his mother, Ise had little contact with him.
Ise said it was all the more reason for him to give himself a lot of leeway to think of his father through the pictures.
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