UNDERGROUND JAPANESE CINEMA AND THE ART THEATRE GUILD

This entry was posted on October 9th, 2012

Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets

by Go Hirasawa

0 An Experiment Called ATG

The birth of ATG (Art Theatre Guild of Japan) in 1961 marked an epoch in the distribution of experimental films and art films from all over the world, which had hardly any chance of being shown in commercial theatres. In April 1962, ten Art Theatres were established nationwide to screen the films ATG distributed. Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Matka Joanna od aniolow was the first, followed by numerous other cinematic masterpieces. Setting up ATG was possible thanks to the efforts of the people concerned, centering around Tôwa’s Kawakita Nagamasa and Kawakita Kashiko, and including film critics like Ogi Masahiro and Iseki Tsuneo of Sanwa Kôgyô, but it’s probably safe to say that another crucial factor was the film-historical turning point at that time.

In 1958, as many as 1,127,450,000 Japanese people went to the movies. The Japanese film world shall remember this as the biggest audience ever. Then, in 1960, the establishment of a network was completed by the six major film companies, and thanks to the provision of a screening system, serial work by the so-called ‘great masters’, and the rapid advance of rivalling independent productions, a peak of 548 produced films and 7457 screens was reached. After that, however, partly due to the emergence of the new medium of television, the number of movie-goers and theatres steadily decreased, and the major companies began to scale down their operations.

Meanwhile, several directors made their debuts: Ôshima Nagisa with Ai to kibô no machi (A Town of Love and Hope, 1959), Shinoda Masahiro with Koi no katamichi kippu (One Way Ticket for Love, 1960), Yoshida Yoshishige with Roku de nashi (Good for Nothing, 1960), Takahashi Osamu with Kanojo dake ga shitte iru (Only She Knows, 1960), Tamura Tsutomu with Akunin shigan (Desire to Be a Bad Man, 1960). People talked about them in comparison to French directors who had made their debuts at young age, like François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Louis Malle, and they were called the Shôchiku Nouvelle Vague.

Nakahira Kô, however, had earlier depicted the lusty rebellion of youth, selecting Ishihara Yûjirô for the lead role in Kurutta kajitsu (Crazy Fruit, 1956), and this accelerated the Sun Tribe-boom, which was created by the novel Taiyô no kisetsu (Season of the Sun, 1956) by Yûjirô’s elder brother Ishihara Shintarô. With Kuchizuke (Kisses, 1957) Masamura Yasuzô, who had come back from studying abroad at the Centro Sperimentale in Italy, similarly had come up with a new image of youngsters who laid bare their individual desires and evoked a lot of sympathy. Of course the fact remains that there was a difference that may even be called a rupture, but film-historically we should still acknowledge that these films prepared the Shôchiku Nouvelle Vague. If we look at it commercially, we cannot deny that young assistant directors being promoted to director in this way was the result of the upper levels at Shôchiku aiming at rejuvenation as a way out of the business slump. But in a more historical context, we can say that it is a group of works that was born out of necessity amid the changing times in the latter half of the fifties, amounting to a lot more than industrial demands. These postwar cinematic and historical turnabouts were a big presence in the background of ATG’s take-off.

A Town of Love and Hope

1 A New Film Current

As we mentioned earlier, 1958 was a peak year for Japanese cinema, but what I’d like to talk about here is not that capital film-historical fact, but rather the strong current of new films that started from this year.

The Nihon University Film Study Club (Nihon Daigaku Geijutsubu Eiga Kenkyûkai) released Kugi to kutsushita no taiwa (Conversation between Nail and Sock, 1958). The Nihon University Film Study Club had been formed the year before, and this film took the shape of a group production, meaning all members equally participated in the film, regardless of roles such as production, acting, photography, lighting, assistant director, etc. It was also a strictly independent production of the Film Study Club, and by not seeking profit through screenings, it eliminated the arising of commercial demands. In the year that we can call the most successful of the Japanese film world in the capitalistic sense, a film was made which was totally unrelated to that logic. It was an attempt to get rid of the hierarchy that put the director on top, which inevitably went hand in hand with the films up until then, and for that very reason supported the commercial success. Of course, we can give the names of Hirano Katsumi, Kô Hiroo, etc. as actors, but it was strictly a group production, refusing to let the film be summed up by specific proper names.

If we explore the current of Japanese independent and experimental films, which started in the latter half of the fifties, we can name three groups: the group of student films centering around the Nihon University Film Study Club, with Hirano Katsumi, Jônouchi Motoharu, Adachi Masao, Okishima Isao, etc., and further the Tômon Scenario Study Club of Waseda University (Shinaken), with Yamatoya Atsushi, Tanaka Yôzô, etc., the Kyôto University Film Club with Tanabe Yasushi, etc., the Kansai Academy Film Study Club with Yamano Kôichi, etc.; the group of avant-garde films of Teshigahara Hiroshi, Terayama Shûji, the Experimental Studio of Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, the Graphic Group of Ôtsuji Kiyoji, etc., who followed the flow of avant-garde art that was advocated by Hanada Kiyoteru, Takiguchi Shûzô, etc.; and the group of personal films, represented by Ôbayashi Nobuhiko, Takabayashi Yôichi, etc., who used 8mm cameras at home. It’s not really independent film, but in the documentary film group, we can name Iwanami Film Production’s Hani Susumu, Kuroki Kazuo, Higashi Yôichi, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Ogawa Shinsuke, and also Matsumoto Toshio. Later all these groups would become deeply involved with ATG films, which I will talk about again later on. Teshigahara, who belonged to the second group, organised “Cinema 57” with Ogi Masahiro, Hani Susumu and others, and together they made the group production Tôkyô 1958 in 1958. It was an aggregate of filmmakers and critics who were already active, and aimed at entrance into overseas experimental film festivals. After that, they did not produce films, but it was a film group that was made to resolutely search for a direction of filmmaking that did not ride on any commercial base. It started from the Sôgetsu Art Center, which was established in the same year, and, as we will mention in more detail later, played a large role in experiments in all fields of art, including film, such as the prompt introduction of John Cage and Fluxus by Yoko Ono.

In the fifties, various movements were formed that concerned themselves with the theory and practice of postwar art, with a focus on the fine arts. In film we can say that such theoretical and practical developments began to show from 1957, the year when the magazine Eiga Hyôron was published by Kasu Sanpei, and from 1958, when film and criticism societies, in which people like Ôshima and Yoshida participated in their assistant director period, came into being, and the magazine Kiroku Eiga was issued by the Documentary Filmmakers Association, led by Noda Shinkichi and Matsumoto Toshio. The theory that aimed at the fusion of avant-garde and documentary, with Kiroku Eiga at the centre of the debate, was put into practice with Matsumoto’s Anpo jôyaku (Security Treaty, 1960), while Ôshima and Yoshida made their debuts with Ai to kibô no machi (A Town of Love and Hope, 1959) and Roku de nashi (Good for Nothing, 1960) respectively. The produced works violently clashed with the theory and criticism. This development can be said to have had a big influence on the makers of independent film, but at the same time it is also a fact that Kugi to kutsushita no taiwa (Conversation between Nail and Sock, 1958) preceded them as actual work. So, rather than a one-way relation of influence, we can say that it is appropriate to understand all of these as big movements with 1958 as turning point. This was set against the end of the role of the existing ‘avant-garde political party’, due to the about-face of the Japanese Communist Party at the 6th National Party Congress of 1955, the Stalin criticism of 1955 and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, and indications of a new movement towards the Japanese-American Security Treaty (Anpo) struggle of 1960. Just like the Bund (Communist League) had become independent from the Communist Party in 1958, and just like avant-garde artists who were unknown at the time, like Akasegawa Genpei, Shinohara Ushio, Yoshimura Masunobu, Arakawa Shûsaku, etc. also began an ‘anti-art’ movement, which unfolded from Yomiuri Independent, a public exhibit without prior selection, with 1957–1958 as a boundary, a new current was born in film as well, which caused a big turnabout. This brought forth Teshigahara’s Otoshiana (The Pitfall, 1962), the first Japanese film to be distributed by ATG.

Masao Adachi

2. The Nihon University Film Study Club / The VAN Film Science Research Center

As the 1960 security treaty situation developed, The Nihon University Film Study Club continuously documented the struggle. These are not films that were completed as they all persistently joined ranks with the Nihon University activists as participants, and portrayed the struggles from that point of view, but it gave birth to a methodology that presented images as a process of action. After the security treaty struggles, five people, including Jônouchi and Adachi, established the VAN Film Science Research Center (VAN Eiga Kagaku Kenkyûjô) as a place to both live and produce films together. Together with the Yoshimura Atelier of Neo Dada Organisers, which was formed by Shinohara Ushio, Akasegawa Genpei and a few others, VAN became a space of communication, where not only filmmakers, but people from all genres of expression, like fine arts, photography, music, theatre, design, could meet. The recording of the struggle was completed as the VAN production Dokyumento 6/15 (Document 6/15, 1961). For the screening of that film a trailblazing intermedia experiment was carried out. Under the concept of a one time happening, regardless of the fact that it was gathering to mourn Kanba Michiko, who got killed during the struggle, sponsored by the Zengakuren (All Students Federation), western paintings were projected on top of the screen with slides, obstacles were dangling from the ceiling, and two contradictory soundtracks clashed against each other in the hall, while symbolically inserting the scenes of the demonstrations with scenes that reproduced the police assaults or close-ups of photographs of Kanba’s face.

We can also name the earlier Anpo jôyaku (Security Treaty, 1960) by Matsumoto Toshio as a representative recording of the 1960 security treaty struggle, but if we look back at the fact that both were PR films that were requested by a specific party or group, and the fact that the numerous existing documentaries of the struggle by independent production companies up until then could not have been without connection to the Japanese Communist Party, this work can be called the first filmic attempt of a movement that would further unfold and be theorised in various forms from the second half of the sixties. The methodology of shooting a film with the cameraman standing completely on the side of the object is called the methodology of complicity. The accepted theory is that it was established with Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s first independent film Ryûgakusei Chua Sui Rin (Chua Swee Lin, Exchange Student, 1965), and continued by Ogawa Shinsuke’s Assatsu no mori (The Oppressed Students, 1967). Dokyumento 6/15 (Document 6/15, 1961) provoked the violent anger of the participants, who had expected a proper recording of the 1960 security treaty struggle. Besides, through a defect, only one of the colliding soundtracks in the hall could be heard, so that the executives heavily denounced the producers of VAN and the hall was turned into confusion. Because of these circumstances, it is hard to say that the screening of the work itself continued into the development of a movement, although it was screened once more at a gathering the following year. But what we can say is that this was unmistakably the first work that presented and put into practice the methodology of placing one’s own person on the side of the action. Later on, film screenings as performances became formalised with visual artist Iimura Takahiko as central figure, but this screening also paved the way for that type of intermedia experiment.

After N no kiroku (The Record of N, 1959) and Pû Pû (Pu Pu, 1959), the Nihon University Film Study Club was reorganised as the New Film Study Club. Following the events happening was Zéro de conduite and Wan (Rice Bowl, 1962), and while going through LSD experiments, black mass ceremonies and the like, they produced Sain (Sain, 1965), which symbolised the blocked up times after the 1960 security treaty defeat through a loss of vagina disorder, and organised “Sain Ceremony” (Sain no gi) the following year as a  screening. Tone Yasunao, Kosugi Takehisa of Group Music, etc. participated under the leadership of Adachi Masao, and an extreme event, including a ‘night before’- festival, was unfolding, but on the day itself the film was stolen and the screening itself became impossible. However, since they took even that to be part of the event and just kept on going, the whole thing turned into one big brawl and uproar in which the whole audience participated. In the end, the commotion was so big that the venue was surrounded by riot police, and was about to be raided. Just before, papers pertaining to a case of fake 1000 yen notes involving Akasegawa had been sent to the prosecutor, and there was also the fact that the Independent School (Jiritsu Gakkô) and Tokyo Action Front (Tôkyô Kôdô Sensen), in which Adachi and the others had participated, had carried out extreme direct action, so that apparently this event was not judged to be a film screening meeting but a political gathering. In other words, we can say that the “Sain Ceremony” presented confusion itself, which not only transgressed the genres of expression but even the framework of art and politics, but that in itself allowed the development of Dokyumento 6/15 (Document 6/15, 1961), and it was a symbolic attempt that embodied the ideology of VAN as a space of communication. The experimental spirit, which flowed from The Nihon University Film Study Club to the VAN Film Science Research Center, can be called the pillar that supported the underground films of the sixties, and in its turn the concept of underground culture itself. It was that which cleared the way for the late night showings at Art Theatre Shinjuku Bunka, and, through their success, the film production by ATG, from which the Underground Sasori-za (Theatre Scorpio) was born.

Yukoku

 3. Art Theatre Shinjuku Bunka

As ATG got started, Kuzui Kinshirô became manager of the Art Theatre Shinjuku Bunka, the central theatre of the ATG-chain. Kuzui tried various experiments for the showings, and built up a film production system through ATG, so if there is one person who can’t be omitted from the story of ATG, it has got to be him. First of all, Kuzui remodelled the theatre and radically threw out advertising posters for commercial films, and on the other hand he turned the lobby into a picture gallery to exhibit works of fine art, expanded the number of seats for the audience, and construed a comfortable viewing system based on fixed seating capacity, etc. So, he turned it into Japan’s first art theatre worthy of the name. Seeing he got off to a good start, in 1963 he tried, as a further experiment, to organise a performance of an avant-garde play after the end of the last show. This attempt to turn Shinjuku into the Japanese Off Broadway succeeded splendidly, and Shinjuku Bunka was no longer just about film, but became a centre of avant-garde theatre as well. Its big breaks were the performances by new dramatical companies that came into being through secession from the major theatrical companies affiliated with the existing traditional Shingeki (New Theatre). If we consider that Ôshima, Shinoda, Kuroki, etc. left Shôchiku and Iwanami around the same time, we have to realise that the same trend was going on regardless of genre of expression, be it film or drama. This theatrical experiment would later also have a big influence on film itself.

The dramatic performances would still continue after this, but in November 1965 the first Late Night Show film screening in this time zone was organised. That film was Sain. Ever since the “Sain Ceremony”, the Nihon University Film Study Club hadn’t had an opportunity to show it, and they had been looking in vain for a screening in Tôkyô. But then the screening at Shinjuku Bunka was decided. There was support from a lot of cultural people and artists, and this time the show was a big success. And with this the format of the Late Night Show was established. It also created the opportunity to successively organise animation specials and screenings of individual filmmakers. The following month, under the title ‘South-Korea Today’, there was the double bill of Yunbogi no nikki (Yunbogi’s Diary, 1965) and Ai to kibô no machi (A Town of Love and Hope, 1959) as well as lectures by Ôshima himself. The event was organised during eight days, and since attendance was good, people started to believe that for low budget independent productions, funds could be recouped even with screenings at the Shinjuku Bunka, as long as a long run was possible. It was from this idea that Ôshima’s Ninja bugeichô (Manual of Ninja Martial Arts, 1967) was born. So, after the big experiment with dramatic performance at the theatre after the end of the screenings and the late night show of Sain, the foundation for ATG film production was laid by Ôshima’s screening and lecture, the big hit Yûkoku (Patriotism, 1966) by Mishima Yukio, released at the same time as Luis Bunuel’s Le journal d’une femme de chambre (1966), which was a crucial factor in the aspect of theatrical run, and the production and distribution of Ninja bugeichô (Manual of Ninja Martial Arts, 1967).

Gingakei

4. Underground Theatre Sasori-za (Theatre Scorpio)

In 1964, Ôbayashi Nobuhiko, Takabayashi Yôichi, Iimura Takahiko and Donald Richie received a group award at the Brussels Experimental Film Festival. This was the signal to try and expand the field of activity of independent and personal filmmakers, and together with Kanesaka Kenji, Adachi Masao, critics like Satô Shigeomi, Ishizaki Kôichirô, etc. the group “Film Independent” was formed. At the end of the year they held a public exhibition, which, following in the wake of “Yomiuri Independent”, which was cancelled the year before, also included many works by musicians and artists like Tone Yasunao and Akasegawa Genpei. Then, in 1965, the late night shows at Shinjuku Bunka began, and in the same year Wakamatsu Kôji’s Kabe no naka no himegoto (Secret Behind Walls, 1965) was officially entered into the Berlin Film Festival. It was called a national disgrace by the Japanese film world, so pink eiga, the Japanese version of sexploitation film, attracted a lot of attention as a form of underground expression. Later on, Adachi Masao and Yamatoya Atsushi joined Wakamatsu Productions and produced several masterpieces by turning the low budgets to their advantage. In January 1966, the Sôgetsu Art Center screened close to a hundred contemporary artists and films, focusing on the major cinematic works in Europe and America, selected by Henri Langlois and entitled “World Avant-Garde Film Festival – The Pioneers of Cinematic Art”. Although a number of texts had reached Japan, there had been few chances to get in touch with the avant-garde films themselves. So, these serial screenings, which were organised by condensing the time axis from Dziga Vertov and Man Ray up until Chris Marker, had a big impact on the entire film world in Japan.

Then, a film festival called “Underground Cinema / Japan – America” was held at the same Sôgetsu Art Center in June 1966, bringing together ten American and Japanese films, and this is when the name ‘Underground’ got anchored in Japan. American filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and Robert Nelson were invited, and this unified a set of films that had been variously called independent film, personal film, student film, experimental film, Off Hollywood Cinema, etc. Under the overall support of Satô Shigeomi, the chief editor of the magazine Eiga Hyôron, and with the cooperation of Kanesaka Kenji and Iimura Takahiko, the Sôgetsu Art Center kept striving to introduce underground cinema, mainly from America, and in November 1967 it started an experimental film festival that was open to public applications. Plenty of filmmakers emerged from there. From June 1967, Satô himself rented the playhouse Underground Theatre Jiyû Gekijô, and began independent showings. The following year, in 1968, directors formed the Japan Filmmakers Cooperative, to manage underground cinema, and the Japan Underground Center, for which Satô served as representative, supervised it. Even after the cooperative broke up over a leadership dispute, the screening activities still continued, and in 1971 Kawanaka Nobuhiro reorganised it as the Underground Center. On the other hand, when the All-Campus Joint Struggle (Zenkyôtô) movement arose, numerous documentaries of the struggles were produced, mainly by Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Ogawa Shinsuke, and independent screening activities were organised, revolving around the barricade strikes at factories and universities.

In 1966, in the middle of this period of excitement for underground cinema, Kuzui Kinshirô set out on a trip to the United States and several European countries. He wanted to do a tour of small theatres and underground theatres around the world, in order to rebuild the dressing rooms in the basement of Shinjuku Bunka into a, be it small, experimental theatre for film and plays. So, in August 1967 the Underground Theatre Sasori-za was completed, comparable to spaces of expression of underground culture elsewhere in the world. The formal opening film was Adachi Masao’s Gingakei (Galaxy, 1967). It is a symbol of underground cinema in Japan, following in the wake of Nihon University Film Study Club and VAN, and should even be called a monumental work. Since then, the Sasori-za was the foothold of underground cinema, the place where many artists, veterans and youngsters alike, were active, and later on quite a few ATG filmmakers would emerge from there as well. However, the Sasori-za, which was also open as a lounge bar after the end of the screenings, was actually a space of communication where people from all forms of expression, be it ‘under ground’ or ‘above ground’, met, and thus it gave birth to all kinds of cinematic ideas, including ATG and underground. Both expressed themselves in an independent space and domain, and no matter with which the focus lay, their relation was not one of subordination. They stimulated each other and at times there were crossovers. That we may call the very relation between Shinjuku Bunka and Sasori-za, and the very relation between ATG and underground cinema.

Death by Hanging

5. Death By Hanging

Imamura Shôhei’s Ningen jôhatsu (A Man Vanishes) was released in June 1967. Although difficult to classify as a ATG production as it was planned completely by the director and then shown at Nikkatsu-run theaters after only a short run at ATG, the film marked a real turning point. In autumn of the same year preparations began for ATG’s first official film, Kôshikei (Death By Hanging, 1968), made together with Oshima Nagisa’s film production company, Sôzôsha. A low budget system was established in which ATG and the director each invested half of the 10 million yen cost of the film. The low budgets however necessitated a new way of shooting with a limited number of actors on one set during a short period of time, and the large set used for the execution room was actually the ruins of the Shibazono Theater where Kuzui Kinshirô used to be the manager. Oshima conceptualized and planned the film since 1963 and Fukao Michinori had already written the first and second versions on which Oshima, Fukao, Tamura, and Sasaki Mamoru based the script. The film is based on the murder in 1958 of a high school girl in Komatsugawa. The strangeness of the crime–the fact that the criminal reported the details of his crime directly to the newspapers and sent a memento the victim’s family—attracted a lot of attention. A resident Korean named Ri Chin-u, a studious boy from an impoverished background, was arrested in 1959 and the discovery that he had previously killed another woman sent shock waves through society. The death sentence was handed down despite the fact that the crime was committed by a minor and although there was a movement to save his life, the execution was carried out in 1962. Through this Brechtian drama of the irrational that describes the Japanese State’s execution of Ri Chin-u (or boy R), the film pursues the question of Japan’s war responsibility that lies behind the event. Oshima, who had taken up the question of the Korean peninsula and resident Koreans in his own films from Wasurerareta kôgun (Forgotten Soldiers, 1963), Yunbogi nikki (Diary of Yunbogi, 1956), Nihon shunka-kô (A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Song, 1967) to Kaette kita yopparai (Three Resurrected Drunkards, 1968), basically determined the direction of all ATG films to come with the anti-Japanese, anti-emperor system, anti-State theme of this film, or rather anti-film, that became ATG’s first production.

Ishido, Adachi Masao and the film critic Matsuda Masao, all amateurs to acting, appeared in the film with Sôzôsha’s actors. Furthermore Adachi, the assistant director, was put in charge of the preview reel in which he put a noose around Oshima’s neck in an intense anti-execution demonstration. The participation of Adachi from Wakamatsu Production and the film critic and anarchist Matsuda symbolised the joint struggle of ATG-Sôzôsha and the underground cinema movement. Later on, ATG would function as the meeting point of critics and creators from various genres, directors employing artists from outside of the film world in an attempt to cut across genres and to not be bound by established roles of film production.

The script for Hani Susumu’s Hatsukoi jigoku-hen (The Inferno of First Love, 1968) was written by Terayama Shûji, the art direction by the painter Kaneko Kuniyoshi, the posters by Uno Akira; Oshima’s Shinjuku dorobô nikki (Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, 1969), although a film for distribution, included the participation of designer Yokoo Tadanori, situational drama by Kara Jûrô and the Red Tent group, the sexologist Takahashi Tetsuji, and Tanabe Shigeichi of Kinokuniya, as well as a script by Adachi; the designer Awazu Kiyoshi was in charge of art direction of Shinoda’s Shinjû ten no amajima (Double Suicide, 1969), the scenario by musician Takemitsu Tôru and writer Tomioka Taeko; Peter, the Shinjuku gay boys and the art happening group Zero Dimension appeared in Matsumoto’s Bara no sôretsu (Funeral Procession of Roses, 1969), with the stage art director Asakura Setsu in charge of art direction; Oshima’s lineup in Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left his Will on Film, 1970) included Gotô Kazuo and the group Pojipoji (which grew out of a high school film study group), and a scenario by Hara Masataka that attracted attention at the Sôgetsu Film Festival; the folk singer Okabayashi Nobuyasu and ankoku butoh dancer Hijikata Tatsumi appeared in Kuroki’s Nihon no akuryô (Evil Spirits of Japan, 1970); the director and translator of Ionesco, Shiose Hiroshi and Makita Yoshiki (the latter later gaining notoriety for his role in the Peace can explosions), worked on Yoshida’s Rengoku eroika (Heroic Purgatory,1970); Terayama Shûji directed Sho o sute yo machi e deyo (Throw Away the Books, Let’s Go into the Streets, 1971); the avant-garde of the TV world also participated–Jissôji Akio with Mujô (This Transient Life,1970), Tawara Sôichirô and playwright Shimizu Kunio with Arakajime ushinawareta koibitotachi yo (Lost Lovers, 1971); the stills for Wakamatsu’s Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstasy of Angels) were taken by photographer Nakahira Takuma, and the music by jazz pianist Yamashita Yôsuke; the scenario for Yoshida’s Kaigenrei (Coup d’Etat, 1973) was written by the playwright Bestuyaku Minoru, and the film was produced by the film critic Ueno Kôshi. There are too many names to list here but the talent amassed by this one film production company has never been and will probably never be equalled again.

The same year Koshikei (Death by Hanging) was entered into the Cannes Film Festival thanks to the efforts of the Cineclub Study Group’s Kawakita Kazuko and Shibata Hayao of France Film Company. At the time Truffaut, Godard and others were carrying out their anti-film festival action, and when the film was screened at a theatre in the city, it was highly praised by the students involved in the May revolution as a Japanese revolutionary film that supported the anti-establishment movement. Although this screening broke the monopoly on foreign film festival entries held by the large companies and the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, its real significance lay in the fact that it wasn’t a classic Kurosawa, Mizuguchi, Ozu, or Kinugasa, but a contemporary Japanese film. At the same time at Cannes, the Motion Pictures Producers Association of Japan blocked the screening of Hatsukoi jigoku-hen (The Inferno of First Love) despite a request from the Filmmakers Association of France, causing a commotion that led to the film’s large success at home. The following year Eros purasu gyakusatsu (Eros plus Massacre, 1970) was screened at the Avignon Film Festival and largely through Cahiers du Cinema, Oshima and Yoshida became known around the world. At Cannes in 1971 Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left his Will on Film) and Gishiki (The Ceremony) displaced the recommendations of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan and were screened during Directors’ Week as Oshima became central to the intensifying critique of the large studios. The efforts of these filmmakers to continue struggling against the large studios and to introduce ATG films abroad opened the path for Japanese films to be shown abroad today. In this way ATG films serve as the memory of Japanese film history, perhaps even world film history.

Branded to Kill

 6. Movement Films: A Simultaneous World 

In April 1968, after filming Koroshi no rakuin (Branded to Kill, 1967), Suzuki Seijun was suddenly fired from Nikkatsu, and the Cineclub Study Group, which was planning a full retrospective of his works, was not allowed to borrow his films. The Suzuki Seijun Joint Struggle Committee was formed to demand his re-employment and the right to screen his films. A wide spectrum of film people from large studios to independent production houses, film critics and student film groups formed a united front, coming together as an All-Campus Joint Struggle Committee of the film world. The struggle against the firing of Henri Langlois of the Cinematheque Francaise, and the anti-Cannes film festival action paralleled this movement in Japan in which Sôzôsha and Wakamatsu Production played a central role, and Matsuda became a leader. In other words, the meeting with Koshikei (Death By Hanging) provided the battleground for the Suzuki Seijun Struggle within which Matsuda recognised the arrival of the movement film led by the audience. He contrasted the 1950s as the period of company films made by the five big studios, and the 1960s as the period of filmmakers’ films centred around independent production companies. He recognised the filmmakers as the leaders of this change from the 1950s to the 1960s, adding that the audience must appear during this transformational period towards the movement film. As a “filmmaker-activist,” Adachi himself equated being a filmmaker with being an activist.

The construction of this new film theory reverberated with the swelling anti-establishment movements throughout the world and developed in many different forms from the late 1960s onwards. For the DzigaVertov Group formed by Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, film was divided into the three categories of imperialistic films, revisionist films and militant films that were defined respectively as Hollywood and Moscow films, auteur films, and truly revolutionary films. In Argentina Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino defined Hollywood cinema as fascist cinema, European cinema as second cinema and third world cinema as third cinema. Using the phrase ‘cinema as a gun’ they emphasised that in Latin America holding a camera was tantamount to holding a gun and that cinema was not merely cinema but held the promise of liberation from American neocolonialism. Julio Garcia Espinoza of Cuba put the last into opposition with the two former, contrasting a bourgeois Imperfect Cinema with the people’s revolutionary collective cinema of the Bolivia Ukamau group. In Brazil Glauber Rocha emphasised the aesthetic of hunger in Third World cinema and was one of many Latin American filmmakers who used the ICAIC in Cuba and Chilean and Venezuelan film festivals to deepen their relations and exchange various theories. Rocha participated on the Vertov Group’s East Wind (Le Vent d’est, 1969) and Godard organised the European screening of Solaris-Getino’s Hour of the Furnaces (La Hora de los hornos, 1968). Examples of actual exchanges can be cited but more important than the direct personal relations and the relationship of influences between theories, ideas and films, are the unseen ties that exceeded these, a world simultaneity. In other words, radical filmmakers of this period shared a problem consciousness. When Rocha praised the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet who lived in exile in Germany, as exemplary of third world cinema, he indicated how the framework of nations, regions and language was overcome, and how close the distance that separated them was. It is now imperative to discuss the theory of Matsuda-Adachi’s movement films and Oshima’s ATG experiments from this perspective of world simultaneity for the first time.

 

7. Theory of Landscape

After the Suzuki Seijun Joint Struggle Committee, Matsuda, Adachi, Sasaki, music critic Aikura Hisato, Hiraoka Masaaki formed a critical front around the movement film. This gave birth to the second incarnation of Eiga hihyô (Film Criticism) and Oshima, Kawakita, Shinoda and Matsuda initiated the movement to screen the films of the Dziga Vertov Group in Japan. As part of this process Adachi, Matsuda and Sasaki collectively produced Ryakusho: renzoku shasatsuma (A.K.A Serial Killer, 1969), a film composed entirely of a series of shots of landscape that the 19 year old serial killer Nagayama Norio may have seen and that put forth the ‘theory of landscape,’ in which landscape became a key word for understanding the changing situation. Developed for the most part by Matsuda, Adachi and the photographer Nakahira, the theory of landscape opposed the homogenised landscape of post-Fordist space under high economic growth. Ryakusho: renzoku shasatsuma (A.K.A Serial Killer), certainly reflected the transformation after the 1967 Haneda struggle, from the increasingly intense street struggles and university struggles which were put down by force after mid-1969, to the turn to armed struggle and post-riot police confrontation urban guerilla warfare. Rather than describing the struggle itself, the film literally and materially took as its theme the structure of State power upholding the emperor system and capital in the featureless landscape of the everyday that needed to be destroyed.

Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left His Will On Film) was shot literally as a landscape film and sparked an even more intense debate. The Communist League Red Army, advocated the Tokyo War and Osaka War, or the militant plans of the urban guerilla struggle with the authorities in Tokyo and Osaka, as the preliminary stage of armed revolt. Forms of political agitation such as attacks on police stations and the military training camp at the Daibôsatsu intended to stop Sato Eisaku’s visit to the US in November 1969, were suddenly suppressed. Mass arrests in June 1970 ensued, and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was automatically renewed. Oshima did not describe the Tokyo War itself but attempted to create a new style of struggle by showing its aftermath in the postwar landscape. In 1971 Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left His Will On Film), Okasareta byakui (Violated Women in White, 1967) and Seizoku (Sex Jack, 1970) showed at Cannes Directors’ Week. On their way home Wakamatsu and Adachi stopped in Beirut to join the struggle with Shigenobu Fusako of the Red Army and the Palestinian People’s Liberation Front. They filmed the everyday life of Arab guerillas and tested their theory of landscape in the revolutionary news film, Sekigun PFLP sekai sensô sengen (Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War, 1971). Originally the film opened at the Shinjuku Bunka Theater but as the result of intense pressure was moved to the Keio Meigaza theatre. The red bus mobile projection unit attempted to implement film praxis by touring the country with the film. If we trace the theoretical journey, this film turns from a theory of landscape to a theory of information-media. A close re-examination of the theory of landscape today can point to the radical aims of such a theory of landscape and help think about the theoretical differences and similarities to the question of the impossibility of representation in the films of Straub-Huillet and Maguerite Duras. The most scandalous film produced in the midst of this theoretical transformation was Wakamatsu Kôji’s Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels, 1972).

 

8. Wakamatsu Kôji

Discourses on ATG are many and diverse and include writing by producers, systematic film histories, auteurist analyses and theories of individual films, but references to Wakamatsu Koji outside of the period are extremely rare. This despite the fact that retrospectives of both his new and old films played at the Sasoriza as if it were a Wakamatsu Production theater. All of his films were big hits and played as the late show at the Shinjuku Bunka Theater, and the trilogy Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels), Seibo kannon daibôsatsu (Eros Eterna, 1977) and Hika (Secret Flower,1972) a film for distribution, were also shown. If one considers the intimate relationship of Wakamatsu Production and Sôzôsha, not to mention Adachi’s participation on ATG’s first film Koshikei (Death by Hanging), it is easy to imagine the great influence of the low budget and short shoots of Wakamatsu Production’s pink films on ATG’s 10 million yen film shoots. This relationship ended with Wakamatsu’s production of Ai no corrida (In the Realm of the Senses,1976). Of course, as a director of the pink film genre, and a representative underground filmmaker one should avoid discussing him simply in terms of his relationship to ATG films but it is also problematic that this relationship is never addressed.

Kusabe and other ATG members reacted to the campaign that labelled Kabe no naka no himegoto (Secret Behind Walls, 1965) a national disgrace by promoting art films in opposition to the five big studios: In other words, by expelling anything more alternative than an art film in the name of art. When looking back on this aspect of the history of ATG, the continuity of this double structure of discrimination becomes clear. The declared struggle against the Japanese State, the attack on U.S. military bases and confiscation of weapons, the serial explosions of police stations, the suicide attacks on the Diet building, the destruction of Mt. Fuji, the symbol of Japan, described in Tenshi no kôkotsu(Esctasy of the Angels) and reminiscent of the assassination of the emperor in the last scene of Seizoku (Sexjack,1970), and the description of the struggle to blow up a nuclear power plant in Seibo kannon daibôsatsu (Eros Eterna, 1977) in the latter half of the 1970s when the political fever had cooled, synonymously posed and provided some form of answer to the difficult question of defining terrorism and revolution, a problem which remains unresolved up to this day. It is no surprise that ATG films are overlooked by the impoverished Japanese film discourse of the present day in which textual analysis, playful cynicism and representations of pure artistic expression have become the norm. The production of Tenshi no kôkotsu(Esctasy of the Angels) paralleled the Asama Sanso incident carried out by the United Red Army and bombing plots by anarchists. The police station right in front of the Shinjuku Bunka Theater had been bombed and pressure from the State authorities, Toho-ATG, the Organisation of Theatre Owners and the neighbourhood association forced ATG’s most dangerous film to be shown only at the Shinjuku Bunka Theatre. Right after its release Okudaira Tsuyoshi, Yasuda Yasuyuki, Okamoto Kôzô carried out an assault operation on Lidda Airport. The opening at the Shinjuku Bunka Theatre caused a sensation and although there was a movement to screen the film in various places, a fearful ATG-Toho quickly disposed of the rights to the film.

With the end of the Cold War and the passing of 30 years since the 1960s, a reinvestigation of the ‘season of politics’ has occurred around the world, notably in France, Germany and Italy. In a sense the historicism of this tumultuous period has progressed but although it is possible for the films to be shown, when the director himself appears at film events or when Sekigun PFLP sekai sensô sengen (Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War) is shown, despite decreasing cases of harassment and intervention, surveillance by the special police and authorities continues. Many former members of the Red Army including Wakô Haruo, who played the role of a soldier in Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels), are still in court, and the death sentence has been handed down to members of the Red Army for the bombing of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries building (carried out in order to demand Japan take responsibility for the war on Asia), for its occupation of embassies, and for its role in hijacking (to demand the release of captured members of the anarchist group East Asian Anti-Japanese Armed Struggle). The simplistic historicism which relegates these events to the past must be avoided. Although the Left ought to be leading the way, in Japan the Right and the establishment have taken the offensive and recycled the Asama Sanso incident and the Red Army hijacking struggle into TV drama and film spectacles, while shameless propaganda films for the establishment, such as Totsunyû seyô Asama Sanso jiken (The Choice of Hercules, 2002) have gained unexpected popularity. Tragically, many filmmakers and critics who participated in and supported ATG and the movement have, without being aware of it, converted to the side of capitalism and the emperor system state with the changing times. The difficulty of talking about Wakamatsu is caused by the complexity of the political situation, but if one acknowledges this difficulty then Wakamatsu can be said to be a rare breed of filmmaker whose films of the past can narrate the actuality of the period. Rather than reminiscing about the good old art films of ATG in a nostalgic and revisionist manner, an investigation of the real meaning of ATG opened up by Koshikei (Death by Hanging) can narrate the revolutionary nature of ATG and the underground, which cut across the cinema and movements supported by Wakamatsu and Adachi.

Aesthetics of a Bullet

9. Post-1976

After 1970 however, the end of the ‘season of politics’ was declared, and many filmmakers involved in the joint struggle were forced into a difficult position. Oshima stopped making films about the present after Natsu no imoto (Dear Summer Sister, 1972), Yoshida became distanced from the film world after Kagenrei (Coup d’Etat, 1973), and although Wakamatsu continued to shoot pink films, his films were never the same again after Adachi left for Palestine after writing his last scenario, Tenshi no kôkotsu (Ecstacy of the Angels).

In 1970 after the surfacing of underground culture that went along with the Osaka International Exposition’s extolling of progress and development, many went their separate ways–some became active in commercial films, those opposed went abroad to make films, others relegated themselves to experiments in conceptual art and experimental film, some tried to carve out a path in television, and others quit film altogether. From the late 1970s many withdrew into a vacuous post-modern theory of media away from the theory of information, the successor of the theory of landscape. At the same time, around 1972, ATG itself was forced to change direction and began making films with the masters and directors of the five large film companies: Ongaku (Music) with Daiei’s Masumura Yasuzô, Teppôdama no bigaku (Aesthetics of a Bullet, 1973) with Toei’s Nakajima Sadao, Matatabi (the Wanderers, 1973) with Ichikawa Kon and Tsugaru jongara-bushi (Tsugaru Folk Song,1973) with Shochiku’s Saito Kôichi. The films were recognised not for their experimental nature but for their predictability, entertainment value and mass appeal. Den’en ni shisu (Pastoral: To Die in the Country, 1974) marked the end of the era of the Shinjuku Bunka Theater directly managed by ATG, after which Kuzui Kinshirô quit Sanwa Kogyô and continued making films as a freelance producer. Underground films continued on a different horizon from this point on with Hara Masato’s Cinema Expressway, the dawn of Pia, and in a commercial vein with Kumashiro Tatsumi and Sone Chusei’s Nikkatsu Roman Porno, and Toei’s post-yakuza films by Fukasaku Kinji and Itô Shunya. However, with the appearance of Hasegawa Kazuhiko’s Seishun no satsujinsha (Young Murderer) and Ishii Sogo’s Koko dai panikku (Panic in High School) in 1976, art itself–including cinema–reached a certain maturity and the underground cinema, which had up until this point enjoyed an close relationship with ATG, entered a completely different phase.

– Originally published for “ATG and Underground”, “ART THEATRE GUILD;  Unabhangiges Japanisches Kino 1962-1984”, Viennna International Film Festival, 2003