Review of The Asian Century (2017)

Moving picture, 6 hours

Seen in 2020.

Not the eponymous economic theory of Asian hegemony in the 21st century. Instead, it’s dramatic episodes of Asian 20th-century history: The last years of Mao, the fall of Suharto in Indonesia, the Marcos regime in the Philippines, North Korea gradually getting the bomb, the debate over the Shōwa emperor’s accountability over the Nanjing Massacre and other war crimes, and three whole episodes on India becoming India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A cheap production made for commercial TV, overly dramatic, overly negative and awkwardly cut for advertisements, built on talking heads sewn together by a disinterested narrator. There is very little depth to it as history, but in the two cases where I already knew the history well (Mao and Hirohito), it’s accurate enough and arrives at reasonable conclusions. In the case of Japan, the conclusion is that the US decision to preserve the emperor as a figurehead while killing Tōjō Hideki on the judgement of a “kangaroo court” may have prevented his becoming a nationalist martyr but also muddled the issue of actually explaining Japanese aggression, contributing to an epistemic crisis and widespread public disengagement with the issue. In other episodes, like the one on Marcos, the talking heads’ views are irreconcilable and the narrator glosses over their discrepancies; that’s no good.

moving picture non-fiction