The burakumine, a minority group long considered outcasts in Japan despite being ethnically indistinguishable from ordinary Japanese, have been the subject of several films. One is Yoichi Higashi’s “River with No Bridge,” a 1992 drama set in a Burakumin village in the early 20th century and based on a seven-volume novel by Sue Sumii.
The latest is “Broken Commandment” by Kazuo Maeda, based on a better-known 1906 novel of the same title by Toson Shimazaki. This is the third time the book has been adapted for film, first by Keisuke Kinoshita in 1948 and again by Kon Ichikawa in 1962. Similar to “River with No Bridge”, the story is set at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912), when discrimination against burakumin was prohibited by the Meiji Constitution but still widely practiced in Japanese society. And like Higashi’s film, Maeda’s feature film was made to commemorate the 1922 founding of Zenkoku Suiheisha (National Levelers’ Association), a pioneering burakumin rights organization.
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