Photo/IllutrationAudience members watch Tamki Matsuoka's “Taiheimon: Missing 1,300 people” during a special film festival dedicated to the Nanking Massacre, held in Osaka in November last year. (Tetsuya Kasai)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OSAKA--In a rare project shedding light on the 1937 Nanking Massacre from both sides, a retired elementary school teacher here has produced a movie documenting testimonies of former Japanese soldiers and Chinese survivors.

Despite a possible backlash, Tamaki Matsuoka, a 68-year-old resident of Osaka’s Abeno Ward, hopes to screen her film in theaters across Japan for Japanese to face up to history. Many Japanese politicians have expressed doubts that a massacre occurred in the city, drawing harsh criticism from Beijing.

“We must keep attempting to learn about what actually occurred during the atrocities, because the victims will never forget their suffering,” Matsuoka said. “For Japanese to share the pain of the victims is the only way to build a true friendship and peaceful relations between the two countries.”

The 75-minute documentary, titled “Taiheimon: Missing 1,300 people,” features Matsuoka’s interviews with more than 20 former Imperial Japanese Army soldiers and Chinese survivors of the atrocities during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Taiheimon, or Taipingmen in Chinese, is a historic gate in Nanjing where some 1,300 Chinese prisoners of war were allegedly “disposed” at the hands of Japanese troops during the atrocities.

Matsuoka has conducted hearing accounts of survivors of the incident in China since she first visited Nanjing in 1988 and has also interviewed former Japanese soldiers who were engaged in the 1937 Battle of Nanking starting from 1997.

After the furious battle, the Japanese troops allegedly slaughtered a large number of Chinese POWs and civilians.

Japanese historians typically estimate the figure at between 40,000 and 200,000, while China has claimed that 300,000 Chinese were killed during the massacre.

In the film, one of the Chinese survivors testifies to Matsuoka that she was raped three times by Japanese soldiers and then stabbed with a bayonet and says she still wants an apology from the Japanese government.

In comparison, some former Japanese soldiers deny in front of her camera that they participated in or witnessed a massacre.

During her investigation, Matsuoka studied the so-called “Nakajima diary,” which was written by Kesago Nakajima, the commander of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 16th division, during the war.

In the diary, the commander reports that one of his company commanders tasked with defending the Taipingmen gate “disposed” approximately 1,300 Chinese POWs.

During interviews with Matsuoka, three former members of the 16th division testified that they engaged in the genocide, including one who said he and his colleagues “burnt and buried” Chinese POWs.

Two current residents of Nanjing whom she interviews in the movie say they have been told firsthand accounts of the atrocities from a survivor, a former Chinese soldier, who used to live in the area near the gate.

He told them that Japanese soldiers forced him and his fellow POWs to stand in line outside the gate and then raked them with a barrage of gunfire. He survived by hiding beneath a pile of dead bodies and covering his face with other victims’ blood.

“Taiheimon” made its big-screen debut at a special film festival in Osaka in November last year dedicated to works documenting the Nanking Massacre, which was organized by Matsuoka and other activists.

She now plans to look for theaters across Japan willing to screen her film.