I must nominate Hotel Rwanda as my Movie of the Year. I know that it was officially released last year, but it only came to Australia this year. I rank it right up there with two of my other favourite movies, The Killing Fields and Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies).
These movies deal with incredibly disturbing subject matter: the effects of war on a civilian population. Each movie took its own approach to the topic, but they all masterfully captured the despair and suffering that people go through. What I also like about these films is that they have dealt with incidents which were either ignored or forgotten by people in other countries. Hotel Rwanda covers the Rwandan genocide of 1994, The Killing Fields is set in the Khmer Rouge dominated Cambodia of the 1970s, and Grave of the Fireflies is about Japan during World War II.
Hotel Rwanda and The Killing Fields both deal with civil war. Who cares about that? After all, it’s not in my backyard. Most of the countries in Africa are in some sort of war, yet the West currently seems more concerned with Pope John Paul II’s funeral or Prince Charles’s wedding. In the case of Cambodia, Vietnam (with diplomatic support from the USSR) turned out to be the Good Guys (funnily enough), invading the country and deposing the Khmer Rouge with popular support (despite their misgivings about the Vietnamese). The USA, Thailand and China actively worked to support the Khmer Rouge. Did we hear about any of this on television? Is it in any school history books? Nope, it’s as (self) censored as the Japanese occupation of Korea is in Japan.
The Rwandan genocide was yet another shameful event in world history. The United Nations and economically developed countries had the power to intervene and halt the bloodshed, yet they didn’t. The US had been in Somalia only a couple of years prior, but I guess Rwanda wasn’t important since it it didn’t lie on any major shipping lanes. The UN itself, France and other countries also deserve much of the blame.
Grave of the Fireflies is somewhat different, yet the same. Firstly, it is animated. This is no children’s movie, however, even if the two protagonists are children. I don’t think more impact could have been achieved if it were a live action film. Grave of the Fireflies covers yet another ignored event in world history: the effects of World War II on the Japanese population. It is natural to ignore the aggressors (or even applaud their suffering), particularly ones as brutal as the Japanese in WWII, but it is important to remember that they are just as human as everyone else. Many Germans consider the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a war crime, but did you know that the firebombing of Tokyo caused more damage and loss of life than the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which BTW were dropped on non-industrial residential areas)? I won’t get into the debate over whether such attacks were truly necessary (it was a war, after all), but we shouldn’t forget the human suffering which took place as a result, regardless of whom it is.