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Frustrated Japanese Revise Past

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In some ways, Japan is still fighting World War II.

This summer the battle is being waged in movie theaters, where film buffs can revisit the postwar trial of Gen. Hideki Tojo, the architect of Japan's militarism. "Pride, the Fateful Moment" portrays the general as a loving family man, devoted to emperor and nation, and the victim of a vengeful victor's justice engineered by the US.

The film has been roundly criticized by the Chinese government for its "whitewash" of history. It downplays the Nanking massacre, in which the Japanese Army killed as many as 300,000 people, Chinese historians say.

In Japan, the film has been endorsed by members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. More tellingly, it has become a resounding success. Despite foreign and domestic complaints about the film's revisionism, moviegoers have made it the country's most popular film.

"Pride" is the latest sign of a growing frustration in Japan about the way the war is seen, the endless apologizing the country is asked to do for the war, and how that still shapes the country today. The film's timing and popularity point to a political and social shift that has profound implications for Asia and the United States.

On a popular level, guilt is giving way to indifference and aggrieved pride, while politicians and academics are pushing for a reevaluation of the war.

"Pride" is part of a movement to foster patriotism in young Japanese by showing them, in the words of one proponent, a "correct" version of history. For Asian nations that have long warned about the dangers of a nationalistic Japan, these are troubling words at a troubling time.

In the last few years the disastrous Kobe earthquake, a terrorist gas attack on Tokyo's subways, soaring teen violence, and economic recession have left Japan demoralized and primed for a movement that can make it feel good about itself.

At the same time, a series of political missteps have left the Socialist Party, Japan's traditional watchdog on war-related matters, powerless to counter a campaign to introduce a more palatable history designed to foster greater national pride.


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