A Revolution Eats Its Own in United Red Army

Lorber Films


United Red Army
Directed by Koji Wakamatsu
Lorber Films
Opens May 27, IFC Center

The hectic first hour of Koji Wakamatsu’s grueling, engrossing three-hour United Red Army 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 softcore porn (and director of the recently released Caterpillar), 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.


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