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Films to be shown at Illinois focus on post-quake massacre in 1923 Japan

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Devatation of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake as seen from Kotobuki Junior School in Yokohama, Japan.

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10/24/2013 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568; rhodes8@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In 1923, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake shook Tokyo and Yokohoma, essentially leveling Japan’s two largest cities and causing more than 100,000 deaths. The subsequent aftershocks, fires and ensuing panic bred rumors that “malcontent Koreans” living in Japan were setting the fires, poisoning water wells and plotting a revolution. To prevent this alleged uprising, vigilantes aided by police and the military massacred more than 6,000 Koreans.

Partly to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the massacre, two documentaries featuring interviews with survivors will be screened at the University of Illinois on Nov. 1 (Friday). “Hidden Scars: The Massacre of Koreans From the Arakawa River Bank to Shitamachi in Tokyo, 1923” and “The Disposed-Of Koreans: The Great Kanto Earthquake and Camp Narashino” will be shown from 3-6 p.m. in the Lucy Ellis Lounge, Room 1080 in the Foreign Languages Building, 707 S. Mathews St., Urbana. The movies were directed by Choonkong Oh, and are in Japanese, with English subtitles.

“In terms of significance, this event is a historical marker in Japan as important as World War I in Europe,” said Robert Thomas Tierney, a professor of Japanese literature at Illinois and the author of “Tropics of Savagery: the Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame.”

“Along with a few other issues – such as the Korean ‘comfort women’ who were sexual slaves used by the Japanese soldiers, and Korean workers being drafted to labor in Japanese mines and factories during World War II – this issue continues to be a major point of controversy and contention between Japan and Korea,” Tierney said. “Such events are the cause of the serious gap between the way Korea and Japan view their modern history and mutual relationship.”

Each documentary is under an hour long, and will be followed by a discussion featuring Poshek Fu, a history professor at Illinois; Jinhee Lee, a history professor at Eastern Illinois University whose research focuses on the competing narratives of collective violence in the Japanese empire; Tierney; and Roderick Ike Wilson, a professor of Japanese history at the U. of I.

The event is free and open to the public.

Editor's note: For more information, email Robert Thomas Tierney: rtierney@illinois.edu.

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