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.

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