Ian Thomas Ash, the director of the documentary A2-B-C, announced in March that domestic distribution for his film about mothers and children in Fukushima had been withdrawn by the contracted distribution company.
Further details have now emerged over the reasons for the cancellation after Ash held an eloquent press conference at the FCCJ (video below).
In a nutshell, the distributor got wind that one of the subjects featured in the film was a “member” (which can mean several things) of Chūkaku-ha, and that the medical clinic featured (briefly and not named) in the film (the Fukushima Kyōdō Shinrōjo, or Fukushima Collaborative Clinic) is funded by the faction, and that Nazen, an anti-nuclear activist group with ties to the group, also organised screenings of the film (something anyone could do at that time).
The distributor panicked and withdrew distribution. Was this ignorance, prejudice — or censorship?
The film had already been attacked as “discrimination” by certain parties. Ties or links to an ultra-left and/or — in the police’s eyes — illegal militant group would also be fodder for further abuse. The fear of the distributors is understandable, which Ash makes clear in the press conference; they also have employees to consider. They were scared that the message and content of the documentary would be “contaminated” by any social stigma against the people now associated, directly and indirectly, to the film. Ash put out a disclaimer stating his neutrality, though he was also opposed to banning Nazen from holding private screenings, which was another proposed “solution” to the issue. The ultimate decision to stop the distribution completely was essentially a case of self-censorship.
But why should it matter if one of the subjects of the film is a member of Chūkaku-ha? Or even the LDP?
“If there’s a communist in the film, so what?” as the director himself says.
Journalistically, there’s an argument to be made that the affiliations of subjects should be explained (Ash did not know when he made the film), but why does it remove her validity to appear in the documentary, let alone the entire documentary’s right to be distributed and shown domestically? The film was not funded by the group — or any political group, it seems — and is intended a neutral documentary recording the personal situation for several families in Fukushima in 2012. (Disclosure: I have not seen the film.)
Let’s keep in mind that the annual Japanese police white papers still include their monitoring of the Japanese Communist Party, a fully mainstream entity for 60 years. Anyone who challenges the nuclear power industry in Japan is by default also challenging the state, therefore making them liable to surveillance by the security police.
The Chūkaku-ha faction of Kakukyōdō (also Kakkyōdō), the Revolutionary Marxist League, has been non-violent since some time in the 1990’s. The group now focuses on unionizing and labour-oriented campaigns. Its organ paper, Zenshin, which I read every week, openly covers developments with Nazen and the Fukushima medical clinic.
While, as far as I know, the group had no history of anti-nuclear power activism until 3.11, neither did practically anyone with the exception of some residents’ groups and perhaps the JCP. That’s what made 3.11 so special: it galvanised very different social groups for a common cause. Chūkaku-ha views the nuclear issue as part of its broader campaign against neoliberalism and capitalism. Detractors might well claim that the ageing former militants are merely jumping on the anti-nuclear band wagon but Chūkaku-ha has funded a lot of activities (e.g. the clinic) and organised annual demos in Koriyama, Fukushima, on the anniversary of the tsunami.
As the director states in the press conference, the clinic is notable for its size and independence. Its sources of funding or support may open it up to suspicion in the eyes of the authorities but if it is performing accurate checks for thyroid cancer on local children, only the most heartless of observers could criticise it.
Ash has received the distribution rights back and so private screenings of the film will hopefully resume soon. And of course, all groups, regardless of affiliation, will be allowed to hold screenings.