When Japanese troops conquered the then capital of China in 1937, historians agree they slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians in an orgy of violence known since as the Rape of Nanking.
But a Japanese nationalist filmmaker announced on Wednesday that he is working on a documentary with a very different message: the massacre never happened.
The film, to be called The Truth about Nanking and completed in August, will be based on testimony from Japanese veterans, archival footage and documents that proponents say prove accounts of the killings are nothing more than Chinese propaganda.
"This will be our first effort to correct the errors of history through a film," director Satoru Mizushima said at a Tokyo hotel, joined by a group of conservative lawmakers and academics who support the project.
Mizushima, president of the rightwing Internet broadcaster Channel Sakura, said he hoped to enter the film in international festivals later in the year. He is aiming to raise about ?300 million (US$2.47 million) for the effort.
The film is part of a gathering wave in Japan of "massacre denial" projects, mostly books, that attempt to debunk a slaughter that historians say killed at least 150,000 civilians. China says the death toll was as many as 300,000.
The film was certain to rile audiences in China, and opponents say it would only cause embarrassment for Japan.
"They say the film will transmit the truth about Nanking, but they will be only spreading shame for Japan," said Shinichiro Kumagai, a civil activist studying the massacre in Nanjing -- the current name of the city -- and supporting Chinese war victims.
"The move only reveals their inability to face Japan's wartime past by looking the other way," Kumagai said.
The film is based on the work of Japanese historian Shudo Higashinakano, whose work includes two books that claim the massacre was a hoax.
The massacre, brought to a worldwide audience in English by Iris Chang's book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, is widely seen as a gruesome symbol of Japan's bloody conquest of East Asia in most of the first half of the 1900s.
Japan's rightists argue Nanking's population was too small to have suffered such a huge massacre, and claim doctored photographs and exaggerated witness accounts have created the false image of Japanese soldiers as craven and bloodthirsty.
China yesterday condemned plans to make the documentary.
"We have also seen the reports. I think that there is irrefutable evidence for the Nanjing massacre, and international society has long ago come to a conclusion about it," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (
"Japan's taking of a correct and responsible attitude to properly deal with historical problems helps it truly win the trust of Asian neighbors and the global community," she added.
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