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FEATURE: Documentary to shed light on Japan's pioneer feminist+.

TOKYO, March 15 Kyodo

"In the beginning, woman was the sun," is the well-known manifesto issued by Japan's pioneer feminist nearly 90 years ago, but her personality remains little known except among researchers of her achievements.

Efforts to discover the character of Raicho Hiratsuka have been made by Japan's leading woman documentary director, Sumiko Haneda, 74, who aims to finish shooting a new film this year for release in 2001, the 30th anniversary of the feminist's death.

Followers of Hiratsuka have launched a nationwide campaign to collect 50 million yen to produce the film, which is intended to raise the awareness of people, especially the young, about the forerunner of women's liberation in Japan.

Haneda, who turned 20 in 1946 and obtained the right to vote in the first election under universal suffrage in Japan that year, says in an interview with Kyodo News that she long "admired and respected" Hiratsuka as a symbol of the women's movement and felt it imperative to produce a film on her.

However, the director said she believes Hiratsuka, a native of Tokyo, was not an archetypal campaigner for the women's movement.

"Raicho was not a type of 'fighter' for women's liberation. She started by questioning her own existence as a human being and a woman and explored how to live without any oppression, while other feminists bypassed that point and engaged in campaigns for social problems," Haneda said.

Hiratsuka, whose real first name was Haru, founded the Seitosha (Bluestocking Society) with her college alumnae in 1911, at the age of 25, after graduating from Japan Women's University, and published the literary magazine Seito (Bluestocking), aiming to develop women's talent.

In 1920, she founded the New Woman's Association with the late Fusae Ichikawa and Mumeo Oku, both of whom became Diet members after World War II, to wage a battle to improve the social and legal status of Japanese women. The group achieved success in 1922 with amendment of the Public Order and Police Law, which legitimized women's participation in political activities to some extent.

She also strenuously campaigned for women's suffrage, which bore fruit in December 1945, and became the first president of the Federation of Japanese Women's Societies in 1953. She also called for world peace and abolition of nuclear weapons until her death in 1971.

Although Hiratsuka's achievements are well remembered, what is most unique about the feminist is her philosophy, Haneda said. Hiratsuka, who contemplated on life in her youth, was enlightened after undergoing Zen training, and established her philosophy, she said.

"I guess Raicho did not have any intent to present distinguished achievements. She was involved in many activities only to conform to her own philosophy. She was very honest to herself and did not care at all about how others thought of her," the director said.

As an example, Haneda said the reason Hiratsuka reportedly tried to commit suicide in 1908 with Sohei Morita, a writer and disciple of novelist Soseki Natsume, was to "pursue her curiosity."

"Raicho was really interested in the idea that Morita, who sympathized with her philosophy, would write about his experience of killing her. She was willing to give up her life to fulfill her curiosity. The incident was far from tragic love," Haneda said.

The attempted suicide aroused widespread public criticism, leading to Hiratsuka's expulsion from the alumnae club of the women's university. Her membership was not restored until 1992, long after her death.

Haneda, who since debuting as a director in the late 1950s has produced more than 80 documentary films, covering subjects such as nursing and Japan's traditional performing arts, said her life resembles that of Hiratsuka in some respects.

"I was determined to grasp the 'truth in human beings' in shooting documentary films, and vowed that I will never give up my career just because I am woman. In that sense, I also stuck to my principle, like Raicho."

In the film industry, where "feudalism and apprenticeship" prevailed, Haneda said that as one of very few female directors, she faced more challenges than her male counterparts, as staff were often uncooperative and refused to do what she asked.

As to the present times, Haneda said women's social status has greatly improved, to the point which Hiratsuka and other pioneer feminists dreamed about, with various measures promoting gender equality, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Law.

However, she said, visible changes in numbers and systems will not immediately bring about new thinking about gender issues, and predicted it requires some more generations to completely wipe out discriminatory thinking in people's minds.

Haneda indicated Hiratsuka was "new and special" because she first created changes in mind, at an invisible stage.

The director said in the upcoming century, women's role will further expand and each woman will be required to take on more responsibility. "Women cannot be too dependent on men. They should be prepared to accept duties," the director said.

Haneda, who is currently working on the film's script, plans to include Hiratsuka's own remarks in the production so that viewers could feel as if they had met the feminist.
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Comment:FEATURE: Documentary to shed light on Japan's pioneer feminist+.
Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 20, 2000
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