The Forgotten Films That Helped Reset Sino-Japanese Relations


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Fifty years in the past today, on Sep. 29, 1972, representatives from Japan and China signed the Japan–China Joint Communiqué, normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries after a 20-year break. Six years later, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between Japan and China laid down the political and authorized foundation for a fair nearer cultural, economic, and political relationship.

But in the 1970s, the success of this rapprochement was removed from assured. Realizing the promise of a reset took years of labor by dedicated individuals in a extensive range of fields. Perhaps no trade higher exemplifies this than film — and no film better exemplifies the challenges of reestablishing cultural contact between China and Japan than “The Go Masters.”

“The Go Masters” — the Chinese title, “Yi Pan Meiyou Xiawan de Qi,” literally means “An Unfinished Game of Go” — was initially proposed as a home manufacturing by Chinese filmmakers, with work on the script beginning in 1978, just two years after the tip of the Cultural Revolution. The movie centered around the tale of two go gamers, one Chinese and the opposite Japanese, whose friendship is thrown into turmoil on a number of events on account of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s.

After studying the unique script, Xia Yan, the Chairman of the China-Japan Cultural Exchange Association and China Film Association, instructed that it’s made a joint international production. The subsequent year, Wang Yang, head of the Beijing Film Studio, requested famend actor Zhao Dan to find a appropriate manufacturing associate on an upcoming visit to Japan. Zhao found a receptive audience in Tōkō Tokuma Co, Ltd., a subsidiary of certainly one of Japan’s largest media companies. Producers at Tōkō Tokuma selected a Japanese director and screenwriter, Nakamura Noboru, who in flip instructed well-known actor Mikuni Rentaro be cast opposite Zhao.

Although Zhao’s visit was successful, things began to go awry almost immediately. Both Zhao and Noboru Nakamura passed away early within the production process. Zhao would get replaced by actor Sun Daolin, whereas duty for bringing “The Go Masters” to life would eventually fall to director Satō Junya.

A Japanese poster for the 1982 film “The Go Masters.” Courtesy of the author

Although not the first alternative, Satō might have been the perfect director for this experiment in Sino-Japanese joint movie manufacturing. His 1976 crime drama “Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare” (“You Must Cross the River of Wrath”) was one of the first Japanese films to be formally screened in China after the top of the Cultural Revolution. It thrilled Chinese audiences hungry for model new films, sparking a nationwide film craze and turning its lead, Morioka, performed by actor Ken Takakura, into a pop icon. So, when Nakamura passed away from sickness in 1980, Satō, already intrigued by the reception of his earlier movie in China, was a logical alternative for his replacement.

Almost instantly, Satō proposed main modifications, including depicting the horrors of the Japanese invasion head on, rather than making the struggle a mere background detail. “If you’re going to write about this chapter of historical past, you can’t avoid the struggle,” he later explained. “Everybody, whether they needed to be or not, was all ultimately concerned within the warfare. Friendship and romance could now not exist — they all ended in tragedy.”

A day after the film’s launch, a Japanese right-wing activist attempted to stop a Tokyo screening by setting off the theater’s fire extinguisher system.

To this end, Satō invited two editors from Japan to come back work on the script produced by the Chinese screenwriters Li Hongzhou and Ge Kangtong. The Japanese and Chinese manufacturing groups agreed on three basic rules. First, the central theme and ideas of the script wouldn’t change; the film’s function was to describe the friendship between the people of China and Japan as nicely as Chinese go players’ spirit of determination. Second, the main characters’ personalities shouldn’t be basically altered, but particulars might be adjusted or fleshed out if they had been at odds with the characters’ respective cultural backgrounds. Third, the script should not be geared just toward Chinese and Japanese audiences. Rather, its themes must be universal.

Once these fundamental ideas were hammered out, the group started working on rewrites. The original script devoted a lot of ink to describing how the older technology of Chinese go players labored to revive the group amid the chaos of warfare, with only a few scenes relating to Japan. The rewritten model positioned the primary target of the story on the two protagonists’ cycle of tragic separations and joyous reunions during the struggle years. The unique version’s description of the event of go in China during the 1950s was omitted.

Filming on “The Go Masters” formally started in Kamakura, Japan, in January 1981. Though the movie nonetheless revolved across the relationship between two go players, the historical context of the Japanese invasion was woven heavily into the rewritten plot. What might need been a one-sided story of perseverance turned an exposé of the horrors of warfare and the story of a friendship between two ordinary individuals caught within the center.

On August 26, 1982, “The Go Masters” had a test screening in Tokyo’s Hibiya neighborhood. More than 1,000 individuals — together with then Minister of Foreign Affairs Sakurauchi Yoshio, Minister of Health and Welfare Morishita Motoharu, and the former Prime Minister Miki Takeo — had been in attendance. On Sep. 15, the movie hit theaters in both China and Japan. It would go on to win the 1983 Japan Academy Prize for Best Film, the 1983 Golden Rooster Award for finest picture in China, and the Grand prix des Amériques at the Festival des movies du monde in Montréal, taking in a couple of billion yen on the Japanese field office within the course of.

Left: A photo of director Sāto Junya; Right: A newspaper report about a right-wing activist’s attempt to prevent a Tokyo screening of Sāto’s film by setting off the theater’s fire extinguisher system, published in the “The Asahi Shimbun,” September 1982. Courtesy of the author

Left: A photo of director Sāto Junya; Right: A newspaper report a couple of right-wing activist’s try to stop a Tokyo screening of Sāto’s film by setting off the theater’s fire extinguisher system, printed in the “The Asahi Shimbun,” September 1982. Courtesy of the author

Not everybody was wanting to see “The Go Masters” succeed, however. A day after the film’s release, a Japanese right-wing activist tried to prevent a Tokyo screening by setting off the theater’s fire extinguisher system. After being arrested by the police, the activist confessed that his actions have been taken in protest at the film’s depiction of the Nanjing Massacre, during which Japanese soldiers killed tons of of thousands of civilians after taking the town — a taboo subject in Japan.

Satō dismissed the Japanese right wing’s attempts to cover up the country’s crimes. “We made a film like this exactly in the pursuits of accurately reflecting historical past,” he said in a later interview. “It’s unacceptable to close our eyes and intentionally keep away from the truth. It’s solely on this method that a real mutual understanding can type between China and Japan — an understanding that’s important to any lasting friendship.”

“The Go Masters” would not be Satō’s last foray into the Chinese market. Roughly 5 years after “The Go Masters” hit theaters, he adapted “The Silk Road” from Inoue Yasushi’s novel “Tun-Huang” (also Romanized as “Dunhuang”). Despite the brief interval between the two films, cooperation between the two international locations had made notable strides in the intervening years. From March to October 1987, the crew scouted for filming areas across the site of the actual Dunhuang ruins. To make the film look as practical as potential, not only did the manufacturing group reconstruct the ancient metropolis of Dunhuang nearly to scale, but in addition, with the help of the People’s Liberation Army-backed August First Film Studio, they secured the companies of a major number of active-duty People’s Liberation Army troopers as extras.

A Japanese poster for the 1988 film “The Silk Road.” From Douban

A Japanese poster for the 1988 movie “The Silk Road.” From Douban

Its grandiose battle scenes and unique portrayal of northwestern China helped make “The Silk Road” the highest-grossing Japanese movie of 1988. It gained 10 awards on the 12th Japan Academy Film Prize ceremony, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Male Lead, and Best Cinematography. The film’s affect was such that, in August 1988, when then Prime Minister of Japan Noboru Takeshita visited China, he made a special journey to see Dunhuang. Even the newly invested Emperor Akihito mentioned he was impressed by the movie in an early 1989 interview with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

On the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, Satō’s call for mutual understanding rings more true than ever. Although there’s now nothing particularly unusual about Chinese and Japanese manufacturing companies, actors, and filmmakers leaping from one country to the other, the tensions that derailed that Tokyo screening of “The Go Masters” have by no means absolutely gone away. To borrow a phrase from the film’s Chinese title, the reestablishment of peace and friendship between these two nations is itself an unfinished game of go.

Translator: Lewis Wright; editors: Wu Haiyun and Kilian O’Donnell: Portrait artist: Zhou Zhen.

(Header picture: A poster for the 1982 movie “The Go Masters.” From Douban)


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