Posted:Nov 4, 2022

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Censors Yuki Iiyama's Film Touching on Korean Massacre

Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Human Rights Division censors artwork touching on the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake. Tokyo Art Beat reports on the incident related to the exhibition “We Walk and Talk to Search Your True Home” by Yuki Iiyama, currently being held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Plaza. (Translated by Alena Heiß)

Press conference. From left: Nodoka Odawara, FUNI, Yuki Iiyama, and Masaru Tonomura

Discrimination by government authority: Contemporary artwork featuring the 1923 Massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake

On October 28, a press conference was held at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to discuss the censorship of “In-Mates” by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division. The discussion was moderated by Nodoka Odawara (sculptor and critic), and featured speakers were Yuki Iiyama (artist), FUNI (rapper/poet), and professor Masaru Tonomura of the University of Tokyo.

The speakers addressed an incident entitled “Censorship of artwork touching on the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division.” The incident started with Yuki Iiyama’s exhibition “We Walk and Talk to Search Your True Home” held from August 30 to November 30 under the sponsorship of Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Plaza, a facility managed and operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Promotion Center as the designated administrator. An artist talk and screening of Iiyama’s filmIn-Mates” (2021) was planned as a special event for this exhibition, but the screening was banned by the Human Rights Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Speakers expressed their concern regarding the decision of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to “cover the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake,” claiming that this is “discrimination and censorship by the Human Rights Division.” A press conference was held to bring this issue to the attention of the public (quotations are from the press conference materials).

Exhibition view of Yuki Iiyama's “We Walk and Talk to Search Your True Home” at Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Plaza

Yuki Iiyama’s “In-Mates”

“In-Mates” is a 26:46 minute video work. The following is a summary quoted from the introduction by Nodoka Odawara.

“In-Mates” is a documentary-style film inspired by the medical records of patients admitted to the Oji Brain Hospital (Tokyo), a psychiatric facility that was destroyed in the bombing of Tokyo in 1945. The hospital kept records of two Korean patients who were admitted between 1930 and 1940 and died in the hospital.
The work is based on the interactions between two Korean patients recorded in the clinic's medical records and depicts the rapper, poet, and 2.5-generation “Zainichi” Korean resident FUNI's attempt to express their struggles through words and performance.
In the film, FUNI and Iiyama also listen to lectures on psychiatry and history to deepen their understanding of the historical background. The lectures on history were given by professor Masaru Tonomura.
Iiyama previously created works related to psychiatry and her own family, the rights of people with disabilities, and the history of Koreans living in Japan. Therefore, this is a very important work focusing on the issues of disability and race since before the war.

Yuki Iiyama “In-Mates” online edition, 2021, 26:46 min, Still: Shingo Kanagawa

The film was created at the request of the Japan Foundation for the online exhibition “11 Stories on Distanced Relationships: Contemporary Art from Japan,” but in 2021, the foundation refused to screen the film. In a letter to Iiyama dated March 29, 2009, the Japan Foundation stated that the reason for the cancellation was that the film “contained violent remarks and scenes that could lead to unproductive discussions over historical awareness.”

The censorship “wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike”

In the press conference, each speaker presented their opinions and expertise on the following topics: 1) intervention in art by public authorities (Iiyama), 2) hate speech regulations (FUNI), and 3) the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s historical awareness (Tonomura).

Iiyama explained the background and circumstances of the cancellation of the screening of “In-Mates” and the talk event programs, which were submitted to the Human Rights Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on April 25, 2022.

Noteworthy is an internal email (dated May 12, 2022) sent by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division to the Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Promotion Center, a designated manager of the Human Rights Plaza. The email raised concern about the needed caution in case of screening.

In the film, Iiyama interviewed Masaru Tonomura, an expert on the history of Koreans in Japan, who said, “It is a fact that the Japanese killed Koreans.” In response, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division stated the following as the first concern: “Regarding the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake, within the interview, (Tonomura) says that it is a fact that Japanese people killed Koreans. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has not commented on this historical awareness.” In addition, referring to an article in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which stated that the Governor of Tokyo did not send a eulogy to the memorial service for the Korean victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake this year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government expressed “concern about the use of a video which states that the Korean genocide is a ‘fact,’ despite governor’s position.”

The second point of concern is the rap lyrics by FUNI. The response states: “Depending on perspective, the lyrics can be seen as ‘hate speech.’ We understand that he is a Korean resident and that the video in its entirety is not a hate speech, but depending on how the audience perceives it, it may be seen as an act that ‘provokes’ discrimination against foreigners. As the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is taking measures against hate speech, we have concerns even if it is a ‘fictional’ song.”

The third point is that “the film gives an impression and emphasizes the aspect of the ‘difficult life of Zainichi Koreans in Japan,’ which is often associated with the perception of history, the problems of the ethnic groups, the problems of Japan, etc. For this reason, we think it is necessary to consider that the participants may not like these aspects of the video, and we need to take the necessary measures.”

In response, the staff in charge of planning the exhibition contacted Iiyama and discussed the possible difficulty of screening the film and Iiyama’s intentions. The Human Rights Division then provided the Human Rights Promotion Center with a document stating that the screening was impossible based on their “final opinion” and “decision” and asked the staff to contact Iiyama.

Although it was not stated in the document, it was based on the internal email sent on May 12, and the “concerns regarding Koreans residing in Japan at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake,” and true reasons were shared between the staff members. However, The Human Rights Division notified that the only reason for non-screening was the one indicated in the document. The staff informed Human Rights Division that they could not accept it due to its high possibility of censorship, but the concerns were not answered.

On August 12, a meeting was held between the executive secretary and executive director of the Human Rights Promotion Center, Iiyama, Tonomura, and FUNI. The Human Rights Promotion Center informed Iiyama that Tokyo Metropolitan Government has suspended the screening due to “concerns regarding FUNI’s rap music qualifying as hate speech,” along with the fact that “this is a film about Koreans in Japan, not about mental disorders or psychiatric treatment.” However, the “concerns regarding Koreans residing in Japan at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake” mentioned in the email were not raised, nor was any explanation given.”

Iiyama claims that up to the present, she has not been able to directly exchange opinions with officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division. “I have requested that the reason for the screening ban should be clearly stated in writing so that the source can be identified, but this request has yet to be answered,” says Iiyama.

Yuki Iiyama

Iiyama further pointed out that this case is “censorship and incitement to discrimination by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” At the press conference, she shared the following observations:

“This incident wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. I believe that the governor’s attitude of not sending a eulogy to the memorial service for the Korean victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake over the past years is a denial of history and an incitement to discrimination. This kind of ‘racism from above’ caused the Tokyo Metropolitan Government employees to internalize discrimination and structured discrimination in its administrative organization, enabling the ‘decisions based on racism/denial of history’ such as this one, ‘because the Governor of Tokyo does not acknowledge the massacre.’ The internal email dated May 12 demonstrates this very thing.”

Iiyama also pointed out that racist groups continue to use hate speech against Zainichi Koreans, the harassment and assault of Korean school students and arson incidents in the Utoro area of the Zainichi Korean community are never-ending, and that the Internet slurs are only contributing to the spread of such incidents. She continued, “Politicians neglecting and even inciting discrimination are largely responsible for the perception that crimes and violence against certain ethnic groups are ‘acceptable.’ Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government must acknowledge that the governor’s attitude incites discrimination and leads to the incitement of discrimination within the government”.

Based on this, Iiyama requested that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government take the following measures:

・Allow the screening of “In-Mates” and a talk event with the cast.
・Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike must acknowledge that her actions have incited prejudice and discrimination among Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials. The government office must also investigate the circumstances that led to this incident and explain them to the public. In addition, Tokyo Metropolitan Government must resume sending eulogies to the memorial service for the Korean victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake.

From left: Yuki Iiyama, FUNI, and Masaru Tonomura

Rapper and poet FUNI shared his experience of hate speech as a 2.5-generation Zainichi Korean living in Kawasaki and discussed his performance in “In-Mates.” He explained that research on mental hospital records led to his mental breakdown, which resulted in the expression “kill every last Korean” in this film. However, he emphasized that “the intention of my performance is not to advocate hate speech,” which can be understood by the audience if they watch the entire film. He also suggested that the concern expressed by the Human Rights Division regarding his phrasing, which “could be perceived as hate speech,” is not a true reason for canceling the film’s screening.

Tonomura warns that current politics “may have lost the ability to confront history.”

He explains, “The persecution and massacre of innocent Koreans after the Great Kanto Earthquake is a well-known historical fact. It is also written in the ‘Tokyo Hyakunenshi (100-Year History of Tokyo)’ published by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The book describes how ‘If a person’s face looked Korean or their words were unclear and hard to understand, they were turned over to the police in the half-dead state, or in some cases, they were slaughtered without even telling the police.’ The massacre is also mentioned in the junior high school history textbooks that have passed the textbook certification process. However, it seems that the decision of the Human Rights Division and the Human Rights Promotion Center to ban the screening of Iiyama’s film is a question of the inability to speak about this historical fact.”

He added, “I am not sure how exactly Governor Koike views the Korean massacre, whether she does not recognize it as a fact, or what is the reason behind the decision of not sending the eulogy. That is why we want to discuss it”.

What is next?

From now on, Iiyama and others are planning to (1) collect signatures on, (2) submit a request to the Governor of Tokyo and the Tokyo Human Rights Division, and (3) submit a petition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. The petition demands that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Division apologize for justifying discrimination against Korean residents in Japan and that the “In-Mates” screening and talk be held as initially planned. Members are also spreading the information on the internet through the related hashtag.

Natsuko Fukushima

Natsuko Fukushima

Editor-in-Chief at Tokyo Art Beat. After working for a music magazine and the "Bijutsu Techo," she took up her current position in October 2021.