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October 14, 2004

Nanjing Massacre Manga Pulled

This distressing story from Japan's manga industry broke over several days time, starting with reports of complaints last week and finally culminating in news yesterday that publisher Shueisha has apparently bowed to the pressure of a group of right-wing Japanese assemblymen and other various complaints, including a couple of hundred phone calls, and pulled the story "Kuni ga Moeru" (The Country is Burning) from the pages of its Weekly Young Jump magazine. The serial is by veteran cartoonist Hiroshi Motomiya, the popular artist who created the "Salaryman" manga and mentored, among others, Sho Fumimura.

Here is the story's description from the publication's web site (a page that was not surprisingly off-line early this morning).

"Can the flow that has been erred by humans be corrected by humans?" The story begins with this question raised by the main character, a young commercial bureaucrat Yusuke Honda. The story is set in Japan in the early Showa Era (late 30's), beginning with the unprecedented financial crisis to the rise in military power without a full recovery from the recession. Depicted in the story is the life of Yusuke Honda, who tries to maintain his integrity as a human in this tumultuous era.

Hiroshi Motomiya presents this historical spectacle to every Japanese of the 21st century.

At the heart of the controversy is the story's treatment of killings at Nanjing in 1937, logical subject matter for a strip dealing with the life of a bureaucrat during that tumultuous period. As reported in English-language Asian news sources, the actual objection raised in this case was that the Massacre was depicted as if it had actually happened. While most of the ongoing controversy between Japanese and Chinese center around how many people were killed during that time, some cling to the belief the incident failed to happen at all and that evidence to the contrary may have been doctored -- a construction of "logic" familiar to western audiences, albeit concerning a different set of historical events. A further claim made was that visual reference used by the artist was faked, or at least could not be confirmed not to be a fake.

"Kuni ga Moeru" had been running since 2002, failing to disturb any member of the magazine's low seven-figure weekly circulation until last month.

From an artistic standpoint, whatever legitimate historical controversy might exist provides fuel to but does not mitigate the issue of whether a respected, established artist should be able to deal with the subject through his art in the manner he deems appropriate. However my lack of immersion in Japanese politics, culture and art might lead me to judgment that lacks perspective and nuance.

Message board discussions of the incident can be found by scrowling down from the Japan Today story and also here.
posted 11:21 am PST | Permalink

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