New film has Japan vets confessing to Nanjing rape

Japanese activist Tamaki Matsuoka captures veterans admitting their crimes on camera

By Min Lee

Published March 31, 2010 12:13PM (EDT)

For years, Japanese activist Tamaki Matsuoka tried to counter denials of her country's notorious wartime massacre of civilians in the city of Nanjing with books and photo exhibitions. Now the retired teacher says she has indisputable proof of the atrocities: Japanese veterans admitting on camera they forced themselves on Chinese women and mowed down Chinese refugees with machine guns.

Matsuoka was angered by accounts in her country's textbooks that whitewashed the crimes committed by Japan's Imperial Army during World War II. Her documentary, shown for the first time outside of Japan at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on Sunday, attempts to set the record straight.

Matsuoka isn't a professional filmmaker, but "Torn Memories of Nanjing" breaks new ground with interviews of both aggressors and victims -- an elderly Chinese woman tearfully giving details about being sexually assaulted as a girl then a Japanese veteran admitting that he enjoyed rape.

The former soldiers even describe in detail the routine -- holding victims down as a team, checking their private parts for sexually transmitted diseases and drawing lots to decide who would go first. Few veterans showed any remorse. Out of the 250 former soldiers she interviewed, only three expressed regret for their actions, Matsuoka said through a translator.

"Chinese and Japanese perceptions of this war are totally different. That's why this documentary is called 'Torn Memories of Nanjing.' My mission is to help more Japanese people learn the facts," Matsuoka told The Associated Press in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Japanese troops began a rampage -- known in the West as the "Rape of Nanking" -- in December 1937 that many historians generally agree ended with the slaughter of at least 150,000 people and the rape of tens of thousands of women in Nanjing, then the capital of China's Nationalist government. Nanking is the old spelling for the city now called Nanjing.

Japan has fringe groups that deny any atrocity took place, saying the supposed massacre is a fabrication of the communist government. But earlier this year, a report written by Japanese and Chinese historians appointed by their governments confirmed that rapes and a massacre had taken place.

Matsuoka spent more than a decade interviewing hundreds of Chinese victims and Japanese veterans. She wrote newspaper articles, compiled her interviews in books, held photo exhibitions showing the atrocities and brought victims to Japan. And capitalizing on years of careful relationship-building with the veterans, she persuaded some of them to speak on camera.

She has embraced a frustrating and often unpopular cause. She has been harassed by those who continue to deny the killings. They have protested at her events and even have shown up at her school before she retired three years ago. The demonstrations have tapered off, but Matsuoka says she is still cautious, moving to a better-guarded housing complex and storing her interview footage with friends.

"But I've never thought about giving up," she said.

By Min Lee


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