Mon, Jan 27, 2014 - Page 12 News List

On the ball

The baseball movie ‘Kano,’ set to be released at the end of next month, has fueled debate over Japan’s place in Taiwan’s history, culture and identity

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing reporter in New York

BUDDING SPORT

In Kano, Wei and Boya focus on the buds of Taiwan’s baseball culture that began to flower between 1930 and 1931. During this both tragic and magical time, when Japanese troops slaughtered nearly a thousand Seediq Aborigines who earlier staged an uprising against imperial authorities, Kano went on to garner the respect of some 55,000 Japanese fans who attended the Koshien championship and found themselves cheering for a colonial team whose near victory against Japan also served as a metaphor for the struggles between colony and colonizer.

“What something like this suggests to me is a wish on the part of Taiwanese to assert themselves to compete with and against the oppressive colonizer,” Brandt explained, “but also a longing and a desire for acceptance and an aspirational impulse for admiration.”

Following the release of Cape No. 7 in 2008, 44-year-old Wei, who studied engineering in college, became a celebrated household name, and the commercial success of his films both in Taiwan and abroad have helped breathe life into Taiwan’s insipid film industry. Wei’s mission to bring a once-taboo topic like Japanese rule — long excluded from government-approved textbooks used in Taiwan’s schools — onto the big screen has also helped open up a space for everyday Taiwanese to discuss and learn about their country’s history and culture.

“In our textbooks, we often read about the history of China,” said Boya, an Aborigine who starred in Wei’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and is now making his directorial debut with Kano. “But then there is just a small amount of history about Taiwan, and within that, there is virtually nothing about Aborigines. Whatever there is is just beautified.”

NETIZENS WEIGH IN

Outside of academia and the mainstream Taiwanese media, the debate over Taiwan’s history, which includes a brief period of Dutch and Spanish rule during the 17th century, has also found a home on the Internet. As of January, more than 300 comments, mostly in Chinese, with some in Japanese and in English, were posted on a YouTube page featuring Kano’s film trailer, uploaded by ARS Film Production and viewed more than a quarter of a million times. Many commenters praised Kano, saying they cannot wait until it opens in theaters. But others have seized on the film as an opportunity to opine, sometimes acerbically, on Taiwan’s history during Japanese rule and beyond.

In one post, a commenter called Chen Li argues that Taiwan’s past textbooks have exaggerated the number of Taiwanese “slaughtered” by Japanese. Chen also enumerates a number of contributions Japan made to Taiwan’s infrastructure between 1895 and the end of World War II, including connecting the nation by railroad and modernizing the courts.

“As a Taiwanese,” Chen writes in Chinese, “you have an obligation to know about Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule. History textbooks do not dare to tell Taiwanese the truth…”

Replying to Chen, a commenter called “Sowhatup” writes in Chinese, “You’ve said a lot. In [1949] the Chinese Nationalist Party was like a small dog running away with its tail between its legs, to come occupy Taiwan and institute martial law … Taiwan was liberated in 1945? Yeah, right! 1945 was the year Taiwan’s tragedy began …”

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