Kaoru Ikeya The Ants

Kaoru Ikeya The Ants
Waichi Okimura was a very unlucky man. Not only did he have to participate in Japan’s brutality in WWII but after the war, he was recycled, so to speak, as a Chinese soldier fighting the Communists on behalf of Chiang Kai-shek. This documentary records, with quiet dignity, his attempts to have this dirty dealing and betrayal acknowledged by the Japanese government, who always claimed that the soldiers were there "voluntarily.”

The apparently futile battle in the courts (with various dead ends, detours with other veterans and a trip to the scene of his crimes in China) is recorded with surprising serenity by director Kaoru Ikeya, who is more interested in the process of national memory (and forgetting) than the shock and awe of outrage. One scene has Okimura describing his plight to a group of appalled high school students, another has the subject looking on forlornly as he’s denounced by a demonstration of far-right whackos.

But the centrepiece of the film is the Chinese visit, with the scenes of atrocities he witnessed and participated in, capped off by the account of a woman who was raped by cruel Japanese troops. The apparent tranquillity of the film keeps us from losing sight of the information being buried — inundate us with horror and we wouldn’t connect the dots from events to suppression, and the lingering effects of the trauma.

There are times when Ikeya works this angle a little more than he should, and the film could use a smidgen of heat that doesn’t come from ridiculous conservative loons. But for the most part, it’s a powerful and necessary corrective to the hyped-up Oliver Stone version of history. (Vagrant)