"Spirits of the State"
A Film by John Nelson, Ph.D. about Japan's Yasukuni Shrine
One of Japan's most controversial and important religious sites, Yasukuni Shrine, is the subject of this 28-minute film, created specifically for university audiences. Courses on any aspect of Asia emphasizing nationalism, cultural identity, religion, or historical revisionism will find all of these themes (and more) addressed in the film. Based on video footage from within the shrine--showing rituals carried out for spirits of the military dead, military personnel, and bereaved families--as well as exhibits from the shrine's museum of war memorabilia, viewers will learn how the "invented traditions" of this Shinto shrine have served the interests of the Japanese state from 1868 to the present day. More broadly, the film's themes can be applied easily wherever nationalism and war intersect.
To allow interested visitors to explore the topic further this site includes
1. the text of the film's narrative track;
2. a synopsis of the film;
3. a related research paper;
4. the text of a talk by Dr. Nelson on the subject of Japan's so-called "textbook controversy";
5. and a link for ordering information about the film.
The film's producer is John Nelson, Associate Professor of East Asian Religions at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of related works, including the books A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine (1996) and Enduring Identities: the Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan (2000), an article on the shrine itself, "Social Memory as Ritual Practice: Commemorating Spirits of the Military Dead at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine," (Journal of Asian Studies, May 2003), and the 1997 documentary film, "Japan's Rituals of Remembrance: Fifty Years after the Pacific War. Contact Dr. Nelson.