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Le Monde
Le Monde
2 Sep 2023

A man prays at a monument dedicated to Koreans who were massacred following the September 1, 1923 earthquake, which killed over 100,000 people in the destruction and resulting fires across Tokyo.

On Friday, September 1, the centenary celebrations of the earthquake that killed 105,000 people in Tokyo and the surrounding region will once again overshadow the other catastrophe directly linked to the quake: the massacre of Koreans, of people suspected of being Koreans, of political activists and of Chinese people in the days following the tragedy.

The enduring silence surrounding these massacres explains filmmaker Tatsuya Mori's difficulties in producing Fukudamura Jiken (September 1923), released on September 1. The feature film recounts a tragedy that took place five days after the earthquake: the murder of nine peddlers in the village of Fukuda – now Noda – in Chiba Prefecture (east of Tokyo). The peddlers belonged to the burakumin community, which was discriminated against as "impure." Hailing from Kagawa prefecture (west), they sold medicine along the Tone River. Mistaken for Koreans, they were massacred by around a hundred villagers because they spoke the Sanuki dialect.

As in his documentaries A and A2 about the members of the Aum Shinrikyo sect responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Mori focuses on the daily lives of the perpetrators of the massacre and the events leading up to it. "I wanted to show that good people can become guilty of the worst under the pressure of their environment. It doesn't just happen to other people. We all have it in us. The triggering factor is a feeling of insecurity that pushes people together, which can lead to tragedy. The Japanese, in particular, tend to operate like that."

Making the film wasn't easy, especially when it came to raising the necessary budget. A crowdfunding campaign generated 35 million yen (€221,000), half of the production costs. Actors also had to be found, as talent agencies are reluctant to let their clients appear in films dealing with sensitive subjects. However, the cast includes Arata Iura, a veteran of controversial films such as those about the Japanese Red Army. Actress Rena Tanaka joined the project because of the war in Ukraine. "I found similarities between the invasion of Ukraine and the Fukuda tragedy," she explained.

In 1923, in the panic following the earthquake, rumors spread that migrants from Korea, then a colony of Japan, had poisoned wells, started fires and provoked riots. At the time, Koreans had come to Japan to work in a labor-starved industry. Four years after the March 1, 1919 movement for independence, the Japanese authorities considered them dissenters and kept a close eye on them.

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