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Don't try filming at Yasukuni Shrine

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By Jesse Veverka

There’s no question about it. Yasukuni Shrine instills a certain fascination. For some it’s morbid curiosity, for others it’s incredulity. But for documentary filmmakers like me, it’s simply a matter of wanting to know why so many people seem to think it’s so darn important.

You see, since March 2008, I have been working on my first feature-length documentary. It’s called "China: The Rebirth of an Empire." It’s about China’s 21st-century re-emergence as a great world power, and what that is going to mean for all of us. One of the places we visit in the film is Japan. You know, Japan. The world’s number two economy. Number one in Asia. About to be replaced in that regard by China. We were wondering how the Japanese felt about this, and if they were worried that China might still be harboring some resentment over that little incident that they don’t teach very much about in public schools, namely World War II.

Having spent some time in both China and Korea, I knew that there was a place called Yasukuni Shrine that was supposedly much reviled by the victims of Imperial Japan. Several Class A war criminals were enshrined there (whatever that meant), while various prime ministers continued to have the gall to visit. A little sore spot. Cause for diplomatic friction. National outrage. Revenge. Sounds perfect for a movie!

So my crew and I get our gear, including a heavy tripod, camera and a boom mic with one of those big fuzzy things on the end that looks like a giant cattail. Fantastic. This should be interesting. We arrive at the shrine. The weather is good; there are loads of tour groups with people speaking what sounds like Chinese and Korean—impassioned interviewees!

I recall there was a documentary that came out recently called "Yasukuni." I heard that it was pretty well received and that, contrary to a smear campaign, it was supposed to be pretty objective. In fact, the guys at Yasukuni Shrine—the guys in charge—were actually pleased with it. They thought it told their side of the story, although I also heard that when it first came out, they were pretty angry and that they tried to block its release. But they were happy now, and that’s what mattered.

With that in mind, my crew and I marched right up to the front of the shrine, set up the tripod, and extended the boom (with the big fuzzy thing attached). I was just about to yell “Action” when I heard that unmistakable “What the $#!% do you think you’re doing!?” (Even though this was spoken in Japanese, “What the $#!% do you think you’re doing!?” sounds pretty much the same in any language.) It was the guard. It seems we didn’t have permission to shoot there. Permission? But we thought this was a public space.

Actually it’s not. That’s a big misconception about Yasukuni. Despite the fact that its always in the news, despite the fact that prime ministers visit it on a regular basis, despite the fact that Class A war criminals are enshrined there (I’m still not sure what that means), and despite the fact that anyone can walk in, it’s actually private property. This fact is conveniently used to kick out pretentious wannabe Spielbergs like ourselves.

“But wait!” I say. “We are students, and we aren’t here to defame the shrine. Actually, we want to show that the whole controversy is overblown.”

We are told that we have to go speak to the director. I give him the same pitch, along with my business card. He asks what the movie is about. Well, China and, you know, politics and foreign relations. Politics? China? That has nothing to do with us! We’re a private shrine. Apolitical. We had a problem in the past with a filmmaker like you, claiming to be a student and then releasing an entire documentary about us without our permission. We can’t have that again. Get out!

And with that, we got the boot. Tripod, camera and boom mike with the big fuzzy thing and all.

About a year later, I had a chance to meet the assistant director of "Yasukuni" at a screening of his film. I told him about how we got thrown out while trying to shoot our own movie, because of some unnamed predecessor who, like us, thought that he didn’t need permission. After a little pause and a sheepish grin, he replied, “Oh, yeah, sorry about that!”

_Jesse Veverka is a film producer and co-founder of Veverka Bros Productions (www.veverkabros.com), with offices in Yokohama and Ithaca, NY.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)_

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

42 Comments
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This 'filmmaker" is a moron.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Rightists have no trouble filming in Yasukuni:

http://www.japanprobe.com/?p=12162#comments

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yep, been there. Done that. Went there a few years ago with my nice new shiny digital camera. Took some cool photos of the shrine, weapons, bombs and the local right-wingers. Got abused by them too. Stiff poop! They are just a bunch of pathetic wankers anyway. They are about as intimidating as Unpanman. Actually, Unpanman is more intimidating cause he can fly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

lucky this guy didn't get the crap kicked out of him by the ever-present rightist idiots or the police like they belted that group of Japanese peace protesters that visited the shrine a year or so back.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All successful documentary production starts with one simple but highly effective tool. Research. Might have been missed here?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The film maker is getting flack here from everybody because of his naive amateurish approach, I-can-do-anything-I'm-a-film maker attitude and utter lack of knowledge (gee..what's a war criminal?) and qualification to be making a "documentary" on the subject.

Yep, that's about it. Nothing to do with Yasukuni shrine whatsoever.

Why would someone filming non actors in a documentary film shout 'action'?

He bought a camera and now stands around like Look-at-me-I-am-a-filmmaker.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with the posters who noted that this is a terrible article, and that the author only succeeds in embarrassing himself. Jesse Veverka does a bangup job of proving that his documentary is shallow and ill-conceived, and that the shrine director made was wise to kick him out.

What exactly is Jesse attempting to accomplish?

There’s no question about it. Yasukuni Shrine instills a certain fascination...for documentary filmmakers like me, it’s simply a matter of wanting to know why so many people seem to think it’s so darn important.

Apparently, Jesse was going to ask people at the shrine why they think it is important. Later in his article he tells the director of the shrine that he believes the importance is "overblown":

“But wait!” I say. “We are students, and we aren’t here to defame the shrine. Actually, we want to show that the whole controversy is overblown.”

Yet Jesse cannot even tell us how this would fit into his documentary, which is

about China’s 21st-century re-emergence as a great world power, and what that is going to mean for all of us.

Since Japan is

About to be replaced in that regard [number one in Asia] by China. We were wondering how the Japanese felt about this, and if they were worried that China might still be harboring some resentment over that little incident that they don’t teach very much about in public schools, namely World War II.

Well, Jesse is apparently going to ask visitors at the shrine if they are worried about Chinese resentment, even though he himself thinks the Yasukuni shrine controversy is "overblown".

Very poorly thought out. I didn't even think it was worth saying so, but was moved by the kindness of others who did take the trouble to comment. Jesse is lucky he only got kicked out of a shrine. With writing like this, it is a wonder he has not been kicked out of school as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Stopped reading here. China will never overtake Japan. Wow, thats the biggest call I've heard in years. All those other >economists must be wrong!

How do you think we ended up in the global recession we're in now? Ever hear of Alan Greenspan?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Communicable diseases,Product piracy and infringements, Quality control >failures, Suppression of dissent and free thought, censorship and >disregard for human rights, air and water pollution, territorial >disputes with other countries,..... Sounds like Japan

Only to someone who lives on another planet. China excels in the above far beyond any other major country. Just ask any Chinese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow. This film-maker has really come under attack from the Japanophiles >on here! I for one am prepared to listen to all sides, no matter how >biased they may be, and make up my own opinions.

No you're very wrong. The film maker is getting flack here from everybody because of his naive amateurish approach, I-can-do-anything-I'm-a-film maker attitude and utter lack of knowledge (gee..what's a war criminal?) and qualification to be making a "documentary" on the subject.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Metropolis seems to be a great venue for inexperienced writers to embarrass themselves publicly - keep up the good work!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

burakumendes

I am pretty sure you mean Japan Apologists not Japanophiles, they can be but often are NOT the same thing.

This goof ball is being rightly slagged by everyone here, our views on yasukuni are irrelevant to this thread, in fact its probably the 1st yasukuni thread where the vast majority are in agreement.

Most here agree this guy is just plain ignorant & stupid! LOL

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jesse Veverka san,

I don't object to your idea of featuring Yasukuni shrine as a symbolic focal point to look at China’s re-emergence as a great world power in the 21st century. But the relationship between the two countries has a history of more than 1500 years, even almost 2000.

For a change of approach, how about taking up Koyasan the head temple of Shingon-Shu set up by the priest Kukai, for example, or Eiheiji Temple by Zen priest Dogen? The two temples are good instances of the great world power China giving influence on small uncivilized Japan. Esoteric Buddhism was introduced from Tang at the beginning of 9th century and Zen Buddhism from Sung in earnest from 12th century. But both dynasties as well as esoteric and Zen Buddhism perished in China. The offspring of the emperor who sent a greeting to the emperor of the dynasty before Tang still survives over here and the people often ask the priests to invoke divine help for their happiness and there are even those who sit in meditation for themselves in Zen temples too, just in the way as introduced originally. Isn't that any suggestion for re-emergence of China in the whole span of vicissitudes, a familiar theme in the Far East?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Communicable diseases,Product piracy and infringements, Quality control failures, Suppression of dissent and free thought, censorship and disregard for human rights, air and water pollution, territorial disputes with other countries,..... Sounds like Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Extremely naive to think you can just set up your tripods anywhere you like and start accosting people for interviews. Many years ago I was in the grounds of the Tower of London with the kids, enjoying a friendly chat with one of the Beefeaters. A group of students turned up with tripods and mikes with big fuzzy catstails on them and before they had time to set up shop the Beefeater descended on them and demanded to see their filming permit. They didn't have one, and were unceremoniously asked to leave the premises. My friendly cuddly Beefeater had turned into a very imposing figure who could have probably belched flames if the students hadn't beat a quick retreat.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

****So my crew and I get our gear, including a heavy tripod, camera and a boom mic with one of those big fuzzy things on the end that looks like a giant cattail. Fantastic. This should be interesting. We arrive at the shrine. The weather is good; there are loads of tour groups with people speaking what sounds like Chinese and Korean—impassioned interviewees!

Wow - This guy seems to think that, simply by waltzing around with some funky filming equipment, hes going to be warmly accomodated - even at a place such as Yasukuni. Hes also assuming a lot in expecting the Chinese and Koreans to open up to him too. If he shows people the same attitude that he displays in this article, they`d be likely to tell him to p*** off and mind his own business.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All those other economists must be wrong

Who believes in economists? and Think-tanks?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Despite what everybody believes, Yasukuni is not a private space. The actual official memorial to Japanese war dead is somewhere else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wrong. No matter how we wish China would never overtake Japan, or even the U.S., the sheer economic forces percolating alone will ensure China will make Japan almost irrelevant. Not to mention all the other forces. Even the U.S. senators and think-tankers gave the same opinion. Japan right now is just lost in their own fog. The people alone have no strong identity like the Koreans or Chinese. As much I don't like China, we have to face it, Japan is making itself irrelvant, and it's their own fault. In fact, Japan is now showing to be highly reliant on China for all things. China is a giant dragon, and the soon we realize and stop dreaming that it won't happen, the better we can gauge the signs of what's about to happen. Yes, this whoever Jesse guy is a typical moronic idiot for a "documentary" filmmaker??? But he's got a point about Japan becoming less important.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, Jesse writes an article for metropolis in hopes of promoting his production company and instead gets ripped to shreds by the people here. I filmed a short visual documentary last year at Yasukuni on the 15th of August, but I didn't bring a boom mic with a 'fuzzy thing': just a handicam and small tripod were good enough to capture the scene without attracting too much attention. Why would someone filming non actors in a documentary film shout 'action'?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In War anything goes ! You MUST have an "AGENDA"Let the dead stay dead ,Go to the chinese/n.korean border and set up shop !!!Bon Voyage!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ithaca, the home of Cornell, but somehow I don't see a relationship here. The townie were never consider to bright. Anyway, it does not matter if something is public or private; you NEED PERMISSION. Try filming on the boarder of China and North Korea and see what happens. Class A war criminal....try googling it. Or how about looking it up in Wiki. Try Kempeitai or Warfen SS since they are consider similar. Just to let you know Japanese War Criminals are not consider criminals in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow. This film-maker has really come under attack from the Japanophiles on here! I for one am prepared to listen to all sides, no matter how biased they may be, and make up my own opinions. The controversy over this private shrine just illustrates how there will always be tension until all parties (namely China and Japan) start being open and honest to their citizens about their shameful episodes in their histories.

Stopped reading here. China will never overtake Japan.

Wow, thats the biggest call I've heard in years. All those other economists must be wrong!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have a feeling that even if Yasukuni Shrine was public property, they'd still find some way to kick film makers out

Wrong feeling. You just have to go through the proper channels, procedures and get accredited. Search "Yasukuni August 15th" and you get dozens videos. A good example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVBZ3CcOUE

There are much more difficult places to get a media permit and you would be surprised about the examples. Hachiko square is notoriously difficult for example. But Japan is still relatively easy (and cheap!) compared to for example New York and Washington. That's for documentary film makers or photographers. Not movies where you might have to close down roads - a big no-no in Japan.

The skill to get things done, get the arrangements and permission is what makes a producer. That takes tremendous skill with people, tenacity, and patience - all qualities Jesse Veverka obviously doesn't have. You also have to be very well informed about your subject. Research can take years. Jesse is - as he described himself above "a pretentious wannabe" with an attitude. Ignorance and arrogance won't get you far - in any business.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

TokyoRoughGuy, I don't think you are being realistic. China will >overtake the US, too.

China has already overtaken us in Communicable diseases,Product piracy and infringements, Quality control failures, Suppression of dissent and free thought, censorship and disregard for human rights, air and water pollution, territorial disputes with other countries,.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

About to be replaced in that regard by China Really? You think so?

China will overtake the US, too. Haha ha!

China is "China". Nothing will change.

Jesse your project is useless; try thinking of another way to make money and fame.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have a feeling that even if Yasukuni Shrine was public property, they'd still find some way to kick film makers out

0 ( +0 / -0 )

TokyoRoughGuy, I don't think you are being realistic. China will overtake the US, too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Several Class A war criminals were enshrined there (whatever that meant)

Try reading a book.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan. The world’s number two economy. Number one in Asia. About to be replaced in that regard by China.

Stopped reading here. China will never overtake Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It’s called “China: The Rebirth of an Empire.” It’s about China’s 21st->century re-emergence as a great world power, and what that is going to >mean for all of us.You know, Japan. The world’s number two economy. >Number one in Asia. About to be replaced in that regard by China.

Jesse, not only do you totally suck at working with people to get permission to film, but I seriously suggest you do some real studying of both economics and geopolitics. China's dream of owning the 21st century economically has stopped, it's carrying on by sheer force right now but signs of a slow down are now evident. As for China "replacing" Japan, do tell us when the CCP intends to step down or otherwise declare that they are giving up their authoritarian dictatorship for a democratic system where the Chinese people actually have some say in who runs their country. THe P.O.V. that you're coming from is almost a decade old now.

We were wondering how the Japanese felt about this, and if they were >worried that China might still be harboring some resentment over that >little incident that they don’t teach very much about in public schools, >namely World War II.

They do teach it in public schools Jesse; even the text version that China complained about states that Japan was the aggressor in WWII. The complaint was that it didn't go into deep enough detail of all the bad things they did.You know far too little about the issue to be "making a documentary". If I want to see a film about Yasukuni I'll see that one done by the Chinese director.Here's an idea Jesse, take your crew to Tianamen Square and count how long it takes for you to get thrown out of the place.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about doing a little pre-produciton.

Jesse Veverka is a film producer and co-founder of Veverka Bros Productions (www.veverkabros.com), with offices in Yokohama and Ithaca, NY.

LOL!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jesse,

Hahahahaha you are just stupid beyond belief what a twit! LOL

Small hint for ya & this applies in many many places on the planet, YOU CANT JUST WALTZ UP WITH A FILM CREW, TRIPODS, BOOM MICS ETC & then be surprised when you get yr A$$ kicked out!!

Oh & btw yr breaking of the RULES just may have got you enshrined at yasukuni(whatever that means LOL what a moron!)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I knew that there was a place called Yasukuni Shrine

Need to do some homework before doing a documentary. Has an office in Yokohama :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What a moron. Did he equate his project to something like taping his son during graduation with a camcorder???

He should also try to see what happens if he brings a crew to Tienenmen Square and tries to film without permission.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yasukuni is a symbol and symbols are for the simple minded.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I read about Nori-P's condo on the news a lot, maybe I should waltz in there with a film crew and start filming? Who would have thought that private property owners wouldn't like film crews traipsing in and setting up tripods and boom mikes without permission?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

it’s actually private property

Duh!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@ Jesse Veverka

Don't try filming with that approach anywhere!

Reading your essay you seem to be an amateur blessed with naivity or you simply choose to ignore the procedures of film making and media productions. Both will result in exact the experience you describe almost anywhere. If you try to build up a tripod on any shrine or temple grounds - or Hachiko square for that matter for film/media productions you need a permission. Just like most other places in the world including and especially in New York. Try to walk into a church or a synagoge with your attitude and start filming.... You will be thrown out immediately, no matter your 'good' intensions. You know, there are film commissions even in Tokyo who will tell you about the procedures to follow - just like at home. This is why professionals use a location manager or fixer. If you want to avoid that because it is alot of paper work and often costs time and money to get the permits you have to work guerilla style with a minimum of equipment. That's what real pros do. Getting permissions is the key in todays media business and that needs effort, tenacity, lots of time and patience. Anybody can buy a HD camera and start filming. Your lament has nothing to do with the Yasukuni issue in particular. It just describes a 'film crew' with an attitude whose members don't know what they are doing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Doesn't know what class a war criminals are? I can see there wasn't much in the way of research done.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i'm going this weekend and will take a leak on something sacred

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ok, I won't

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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