Kano, an ode to the “glorious” Japanese rule.
As a person whose country was under Japanese rule—although the general public of the nation, myself included to be honest, prefers to call it “occupation”—watching a newly released Taiwanese film “Kano" wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience.
I’m not saying it was a bad movie. I’d rather say it’s the opposite. It was an entertaining film to watch, and the others at the premiere seemed to have the same opinion of the film. (There was a premiere of the film at a baseball stadium in Kaohsiung today.) The quality of the film has nothing to do with the reason why I find watching it not entirely pleasant. Rather, it was the underlying tone of the movie that appears to be praising the Taiwan under Japanese rule.
Taiwan was ceded to Imperial Japan in 1895 when Qing Dynasty signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki and for the next 50 years was under their rule. After centuries of being practically abandoned by the Qing court ever since they became subjects of the court in the 17th century—except for taxes levied and collected—and, much thanks to that, all prevalent corruption and economic as well as social hardships that they had to endure, Imperial Japan appeared to be more thoughtful and caring Taiwan as they put quite a ‘formidable’ amount of effort into Japanizing Taiwan with heavy infrastructure development, development of an effective sanitation system, and introduction of universal public education. (All of which were to exploit Taiwan as a lucrative colony more effectively and systemically for their benefits, to be perfectly clear.)
Somewhat ironically, what came after Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies was Chinese mainlanders again, except it was a ‘republic’ this time as Taiwan was returned—or ‘illegally’ handed over as some people might argue—to Kuomintang (KMT). It would have not been too bad if things didn’t go downhill right away and stay there for relatively a long time, the period known as “White Terror”, during which the general standard of living in the island had become much worse comparing to of the one during the Japanese rule. (On a side note, It was forty years later that the KMT finally abandoned the idea of maintaining Taiwan as one-party state and free elections started to be held.)
Thanks to all the historical background, more than a few Neishengren (內省人) Taiwanese people show little to none antipathy towards the Japanese rule. (You’d be surprised to learn how easy it is to find Hinomaru-themed stickers, logos and whatnot in Taiwan. It’s pretty much like running into Nazi Hakenkruezs in Poland, Czech, Slovakia or Hungary.) Bearing these in mind, I couldn’t help but to feel what was underlying the film is this pro-Japanese rule sentiment.
Some people might say that the film is more or less an accurate depiction of the era without any particular bias towards either anti- or pro-Japan, and as proof of that they would mention that there were a few scenes in which Japanese showed discriminatory attitudes towards the Taiwanese aborigines such as calling them savages (蛮人), mocking them by asking aboriginal players if they could speak Japanese and so on. I do agree that the film indeed tried to show the viewers some dark sides of the colonial rule with such scenes, but throughout the film, there was almost no portrayal of oppressions and discriminations against the Taiwanese aborigines as well as the Han Chinese Taiwanese working class by the colonial authorities. (One of the good examples might be the Wushe incident.)
Also, more or less constant appearances of Yoichi Hatta and his brainchild the Chianan canal along with a Japanese agriculturalist named Hamada was pretty much irrelevant to the main storyline and unnecessary. I’m aware that Hatta and his legacy (the entire irrigation system) are well respected until now in Taiwan and Chiayi was/is indeed a farming region—after all, the school the players belonged to was Kaji Agricultural High School—but I still don’t think these facts are relevant enough to the film’s plot to justify and deserve such a lengthy portion of it. All these things considered, I cannot help but to think that the undertone of the film was a bit too overtly pro-Japan, through which—whether intentionally or not—effectively glorified the Japanese rule as a magnanimous, caring and even justifiable regime. (I believe it’s worth noting that the DPP is pretty much in line with this sort of thinking.)
I’m not suggesting that it’s deplorable to form such a point of view towards the Japanese rule or anything, but it begs me a question where the sense of identity as Taiwanese really lies, especially as a once-colonised people themselves by Imperial Japan.