By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Mark the 40th anniversary of '68 once more with Kôji Wakamatsu's grueling, engrossing three-hour United Red Army. The movie's hectic first hour uses newsreel footage, scored by Jim O'Rourke's ongoing psych-rock jam, to track the course of Japanese-student radicalism from the 1960 security-treaty demonstrations through the mid-decade anti-airport, anti-tuition, anti–Vietnam War demos to the "World revolution!" of 1968 and 1969, with riot police occupying Tokyo University as sectarian madness, led by the ultra-militant Red Army Faction, engulfs the student movement.
Half the RAF departed in 1971 for careers of hijacking and havoc in the Middle East; the others joined forces with the Revolutionary Left Faction, a new, violent splinter inspired by Mao's Red Guards, to create the United Red Army. Wakamatsu, a prolific pioneer of Japanese soft-core porn who co-directed the 1971 RAF PLO agitprop Declaration of World War (and produced Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses) is most interested in what happened at the URA's mountain- training camp in late '71 and early '72. At the heart of the movie are the prolonged, increasingly violent, self-criticism sessions—an escalating, claustrophobic, paranoid reign of terror, staged in near darkness and shown in close-up. Day by day, the group tore itself apart, beating and eventually executing its supposed heretics. In the film's final 45 minutes, five survivors take over a ski lodge where, still in the grip of an insane ideology ("The cookie you just ate is a counterrevolutionary symbol"), they battle the police for 10 days.
As United Red Army takes as its drama the amalgamation of two ultra-militant groups, so Wakamatsu's epic is having its North American premiere at Japan Society July 6 and 8 as a joint presentation of the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film. And as the old radical Wakamatsu is still barred from entering the U.S., the July 6 screening will be followed by a satellite Q&A.
Soon after the Red Army Faction orchestrated its first hijacking (not shown in United Red Army), another Japanese fanatic—namely writer Yukio Mishima—led an apparent coup attempt, taking a general hostage and then committing ritual disembowelment in the guy's office. Criterion has recently released a deluxe, director-supervised, suitably academic DVD of Paul Schrader's 1985 Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. It's certainly the most ambitious movie Schrader ever directed—so dutiful, respectful, and self-conscious that it's a chore to watch (like grading a master's dissertation). More fun is Criterion's nearly as elaborate reissue of Patriotism—a/k/a The Rite of Love and Death—a half-hour short written, produced, and directed by Mishima, who also stars as a junior officer. Made in 1966, Patriotism adapts a key Mishima text celebrating the failed military coup of 1936. Back in the day, this crude, borderline ridiculous mixture of Noh restraint and Wagnerian bombast was shown on a bill with Flaming Creatures or Scorpio Rising; it might also make a suitably extremist short subject with United Red Army.
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