With over one hundred films to his name, the extraordinarily prolific and provocative producer-writer-director Koji Wakamatsu (b. 1936) has been a central figure in Japanese cinema since he forged his reputation as a daring iconoclast with some of the most controversial films of the 1960s and 1970s New Wave. A close associate of Nagisa Oshima, Wakamatsu has remained an adamant radical, both politically and aesthetically, whose incredibly unconventional cinema relentlessly challenges the Japanese status quo while also questioning the very nature of political dissent itself through its ambivalent portrait of ideologically driven movements and its argument that an untamed, anarchic spirit simmers in the heart of the individual. Wakamatsu’s own involvement in radical politics - and most especially his close association with the infamous United Red Army - has landed him on the State Department black list, preventing him from entering the United States. Celebrated as one of the quintessential postwar Japanese cult directors, Wakamatsu’s latest film- and perhaps his magnum opus- United Red Army brings a newly ruminative quality to his cinema that has won him a broader international audience and brought about a reevaluation of his earlier films. A searing portrait of political radicalism pushed to its most desperate and perilous extreme, the New England premiere of United Red Army is presented here as a prelude to a retrospective series which will be presented at the Harvard Film Archive in early 2010.
Special thanks: The Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard.
Monday November 9 at 7pm
Directed by Koji Wakamatsu.
With Maki Sakai, Arata, Go Jibiki
Japan 2008, 35mm, color, 190 min. Japanese with English subtitles
The most militant of the many radical political groups forged in late 1960s Japan, the United Red Army has also been among the most contested and controversial. After a string of bold and deadly attacks on the police in 1972, several URA members fled to a remote mountain holdout where the bloody events unflinchingly chronicled in Wakamatsu’s celebrated most recent film took place. A frightening exploration of the conflict between individual expression and ideological conviction, Wakamatsu’s powerful and unsettling film focuses with harrowing intensity on the disintegration of the group as its members gradually turn on each other in grueling sessions of critique and, eventually, torture. While drawing extensively from his own experience within radical politics, Wakamatsu also based his screenplay and story on exhaustive interviews conducted with those surviving Red Army members he was able to track down, many in prison or in exile.