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15 Seconds Over Tokyo

February 07, 1988|Michael A. Hiltzik\f7 , Tokyo \f7

"The Last Emperor," Bernardo Bertolucci's 2 3/4-hour epic about Aisin Gioro Pu Yi, the last emperor of China and a one-time puppet of Japanese occupation forces, opened in Tokyo to largely positive reviews and an enthusiastic box office. But the furor over its missing 15 seconds continues.

Before screening the film, the Japanese distributor, Shochiku Fuji Co., unilaterally cut about 40 seconds of integrated newsreel footage that referred to atrocities committed by the Japanese army when it marched into Nanjing, then China's capital, in 1937 (China contends 430,000 people were slaughtered). After fighting the cuts, Bertolucci removed about 15 seconds as a "gesture" after being subjected to what he described as "insistent pressure" from the distributor.

Some typical critical reaction: "This is shameful reality in Japan--a culturally undeveloped nation," remarked the Weekly Yomiuri magazine. In the Asahi Shimbun, critic Yoshio Shirai called the episode "particularly vexing" because the cuts were "made voluntarily by people who ought to defend freedom of expression."

Protest even came from China--not exactly censor-free itself. The official New China News Agency remarked that the excised scenes would have reminded the Japanese audiences "not to forget the lessons of the war of aggression and confirm their determination to strive for peace."

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