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Tuesday, April 7, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Japanese Film Shows Tojo As Hero -- World War Ii Leader Acted In Self-Defense, Movie Studio Claims

AP

TOKYO - Yuko Iwanami was 10 when the Allied war tribunal hanged her grandfather, Gen. Hideki Tojo, for leading Japan in World War II.

For half a century, her family kept a white box filled with the general's possessions from his Tokyo prison cell: two pencils, a cigarette box and a lock of his hair.

Iwanami, now 60, brought that box with her to a news conference yesterday to announce the release of "Pride," a movie about Tojo's trial and execution in 1948. She said the film finally challenges the image of her grandfather as a villain.

"The truth was erased" during the American occupation of Japan after its surrender in 1945, Iwanami said. "My grandfather was not as bad as people say he was."

By releasing "Pride" on the 50th anniversary of the general's execution, the film's studio, Toei, is betting the movie will stir public controversy in Japan, where discussion of the war is often avoided. The company spent $11 million, three times its usual movie budget, to bring the trials to life with meticulous sets and well-known actors.

Tojo became Japan's prime minister in October 1941 and gave the go-ahead for the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. He stepped down in 1944 to take responsibility for the fall of Saipan, which put Japan within range of U.S. bombers.

Toei said it wanted to correct the perception that Tojo was a militarist aggressor. The general, it said, was actually a peaceful man who took Japan to war in self-defense.

"I've seen enough movies about all the bad things Japan did (during the war) to make me burp," said actor Masahiko Tsugawa, who plays Tojo. "No one says that Japan did something good."

Among those good things, said Tsugawa: Japan liberated Asia from the control of Western colonizers.

Explaining the carnage that Japanese soldiers wrought on the local people, Tsugawa said: "No war lacks slaughter. The atomic bombs (dropped by the United States on two Japanese cities) were also slaughter."

All 28 defendants were found guilty of crimes such as conspiracy to wage aggressive warfare. Tojo and six others were executed. Most received life sentences.

Although "Pride" may raise eyebrows abroad, historians said the idea that neither Tojo, nor anybody else, was responsible for the war is quietly held by many Japanese. The war is commonly viewed as an unavoidable calamity, like an earthquake, that suddenly struck Japan.

"It would be much more controversial to say that Tojo bore responsibility for his role in the war or that the Japanese people bore responsibility for going along," said Marcia Yonemoto, a professor of Japanese history at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Still, she said, "It'll be interesting to see if the movie spawns debate like Oliver Stone's `Platoon,' " which prompted many Americans to re-examine the Vietnam War.

Director Shunya Ito said he hopes "Pride" will spur Japanese to regain a sense of self-reliance that he said vanished when Tojo died.

"Tojo stood up and faced the court alone," Ito said. "I wanted to show how he fought with pride."

The Japanese of today, actor Tsugawa added, have grown soft, bowing and scraping to foreigners and relying on the United States for defense.

"It's time for Japan to become an adult," he said.

Tsugawa said that his greatest hope for the movie is that it will inspire Japan's politicians to demand a retrial for the Tokyo tribunal's defendants.

"But most wouldn't have the courage," he said.

"Pride" will open at Japanese theaters next month, with U.S. actors Ronny Cox ("Total Recall") and Scott Wilson ("G.I. Jane") playing Tojo's defense lawyers. Toei said it hopes to release the film in the United States.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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