If 2006 was a year when Hollywood warmed up to China as a locale for romantic period pieces and action extravaganzas, 2007 could be the year of the Japanese invasion epic, and it’s already looking ugly. The Rape of Nanking, a co-production between the Jiangsu provincial government and a US studio, is starting production. Supposedly based on the late Iris Chang’s historical account of the atrocity, the film will seek to give victims the "Schindler’s List" treatment, according to one official. For that lofty goal they might have done well to hire someone other than Simon West, director of noisy, no-brow slam-bangers like "Con Air" and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (think of him as Michael Bay lite), to helm the project. I’m sure it will be tastefully done.
There will be several other movies about the massacre coming out this year (I was approached last night by someone looking for Western extras for a ballroom scene in one of them), the 70th anniversary of the invasion. Some may prove useful, others less so. But perhaps none will be quite as tasteless or inflammatory as Japanese director Satoru Mizushima’s planned "The Truth About Nanjing", which he says he hopes will prove accounts of the event to be grossly exaggerated by the Chinese government:
"This will be our first effort to correct the errors of history through a film," director Satoru Mizushima said at a Tokyo hotel, joined by a group of conservative lawmakers and academics who support the project.
China’s Foreign Ministry responded, basically, that it knows quite well what happened, thank you very much, and it is up to Japan to admit it when it feels it is ready to grow up. The most telling bit, however, was the following:
Ms Jiang added, however, that the controversy would not derail the latest bilateral talks aimed at improving ties due to end at the weekend.
"China and Japan have both attached great importance to the dialogue, and the two sides will exchange views on mutual relations and issues both sides are concerned about," she said.
So have relations moved beyond easily wounded pride and overreaction to the same old slights? Maybe. We’ll know more when we see which films make into general distribution on the mainland.