Thirty-seven Chinese citizens have filed a lawsuit in Beijing, demanding compensation from two Japanese companies for forced wartime labour.
The group includes two survivors and 35 people whose relatives were forced labourers.
They are seeking apologies printed in 17 Chinese and Japanese newspapers and one million yuan ($USD163,000) in compensation for each worker.
One of the companies has been identified as Mitsubishi Materials Corp.
A Mitsubishi Materials spokesman said the company was unable to comment, because it did not know the details of the latest case.
The case has been filed despite Japanese court and government pronouncements that such cases are blocked by international agreement.
In 2007, Japan's Supreme Court said individual Chinese cannot demand compensation from Japan.
Tokyo says China gave up the right to such claims when the countries normalised relations more than four decades ago.
Tens of thousands of Chinese were forcibly sent to Japan to work in factories and mines to fill a man-power breach arising from Japan's massive World War II military mobilisation.
Japan invaded China during the 1930s and the Asian mainland was a major front in the broader global conflict.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said he was aware of the lawsuit but did not make detailed comments because it is a case between individuals and private companies.
"However, we believe that according to a joint declaration between Japan and China, the (right) to make these claims does not exist," he said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the documents agreed in 1972 were "the cornerstone for the development of China-Japan relations".
But she also criticised Tokyo.
"The forced recruitment and enslavement of labour is a severe crime committed by Japanese militarism during its war of aggression and colonial rule," she said.
"We believe that the relevant Chinese court will deal with the lawsuit in accordance with law."
The case comes amid steadily worsening relations between Beijing and Tokyo, due to a row over disputed islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan and claimed by China.
Persistent tensions over how to interpret Japan's militarist and colonialist past in Asia have also soured relations between the world's second- and third-largest economies.