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Asia’s Monarchies: Japan cover photo

Asia’s Monarchies: Japan 2016

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Film Ideas, 308 North Wolf Rd., Wheeling, IL 60090; 800-475-3456
Produced by Joshua Whitehead for Off the Fence B.V.
Directed by Joshua Whitehead
DVD, color, 88 min.

High School - General Adult
Government, History, World War II

Date Entered: 07/05/2016

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

Asia’s Monarchies: Japan is the first in a projected series of five films on Asian monarchies. The “emperor myth” is a chief component of Shinto, Japan’s former state religion, the first emperor, Jimmo, being thought a direct descendent of the sun god. The divinity of the Emperor was not questioned until the end of World War II, when Emperor Hirohito was forced to renounce his divinity as part of peace terms negotiated with the U.S. and its allies. State support for Shinto was abolished following the War, though there are still right-wing Japanese who support a form of emperor worship, especially as it is interpreted for warfare or national military service. The newsreel-like format of the film lends itself well for providing a comprehensive approach to materials in several formats along with contemporary expert commentary.

One controversy for the Japanese monarchy is the role of the Emperor, once the chief priest of Shinto, in the remnants of that religion, and also the Emperor’s role in a democratic government established following World War II. Similarly, a conflict between the role of the Emperor as leader of imperial forces in the war, and his Shinto priesthood converges on the enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni shrine, the memorial to Japanese war dead. A final complication is that only a male heir may succeed to the imperial throne. How does that fit with a modern democracy?

Asia’s Monarchies: Japan is highly recommended. It is clear that the filmmaker feels that the continuance of monarchies in Asia is in question. How they evolve or fail to evolve in the future will impact those countries and how those countries interact with the global economy. The promise of another four films on Nepal, Bhutan, Brunei, and Cambodia should be of great interest to teachers of government, history, politics, and social sciences.