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Potboiler Novels Depict Japanese War Victory

September 1, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ At long last, World War II was over. The surrender document was ready for signing _ at Pearl Harbor, now known by its Japanese name, Shinju Wan. Then it was time for Japanese tribunals to convict Gen. Douglas MacArthur and President Truman of war crimes.

That is how history plays itself out in the pages of a new novel by Mamoru Soeda, one of dozens of Japanese authors specializing in a popular genre _ Japan-wins-the-war novels.

Every year, new fictionalized versions of a glorious Japanese victory are published. But this year _ the 50th anniversary of the war’s end _ has brought a bumper crop. Many bookstores have set aside whole sections for them.

The novels are only part of a flood of war-themed entertainment that has affected every mass medium in Japan this year, from TV quiz shows to political speeches to advertising.

Keibunsha and Kadokawa, two major publishers of pulp fiction, each have about three dozen war novels on their book lists. The Iwanami publishing house has almost 50 war-related titles out so far this year.

Most of the stories are fueled by shock value and irony, like Soeda’s book, which turns the tables on the Tokyo war crimes tribunals.

Many Japanese consider the real Tokyo trials a case of ``victor’s justice,″ in which leaders on the losing side were convicted and hanged based on rushed trials and scant evidence.

In Soeda’s story, Honolulu has been so devastated in the great final battle before the U.S. surrender that there are no buildings left standing to hold the war-crimes trials in. Japanese authorities in occupied Australia send over the captured ocean liner Queen Elizabeth to house the trials.

A few of the war novels appear to be turning away from the standard practice of emphasizing Japanese victimhood and depicting Allied soldiers as ogres.

In Soeda’s book, ``Pearl Harbor War Crimes Tribunal Convenes,″ Japanese authorities convict American leaders of war crimes such as interning Japanese-Americans. But they also find some of their own military leaders guilty of crimes like the ``Rape of Nanking,″ the 1937 massacre of as many as 300,000 Chinese by Japanese troops.

Many writers are also finding the 50th anniversary of the end of the war fertile ground for nonfiction studies of Japan’s war responsibility.

Several new books openly debate whether Hirohito, the emperor in whose name the Pacific war was fought, was responsible for Japanese atrocities. Until his death in 1989, the topic was taboo in Japan.

At least five major movies point to mixed Japanese sentiments about the war. There are several maudlin meditations on the tender feelings and delicate sensibilities of kamikaze pilots, such as ``Winds of God″ and ``Summer of the Moonlight Sonata.″

Other movies are more grittily realistic. One, ``Listen to the Voice of the Sea God,″ portrays some Japanese soldiers as eager to rape and murder.

That range of views reflects real-life debate. Lawmakers spent much of the year arguing about whether Japan should apologize for the war. Parliament failed to endorse a straightforward apology, but Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama offered one anyway.

The nonfiction titles also show that the war is still fertile ground for disagreement.

Recently, the Kinokuniya bookstore displayed a serious study by mainstream publisher Kodansha titled ``This Is How Japan Could Have Won The Pacific War.″ On a shelf next to it, publisher Kadokawa offered ``Japan Never Had a Chance To Win.″

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