Movie of the Week: 三里塚 第二砦の人々 (Sanrizuka: People of the Second Fortress) (Dir: 小川紳介 Ogawa Sinsuke) 1971
The University of Michigan is hosting a series of films from Japanese documentary film production group, Ogawa Productions. Last night I had the pleasure of seeing “Sanrizuka: People of the Second Fortress” for the first time.
Narita airport was built on agricultural land claimed through eminent domain. Some of the residents, who were nearly all peasant families, sold early on and left. A number of families, however, feeling slighted by the Japanese government’s unwillingness to engage them in dialogue, stayed and fought.
This was no sit in protest, but a violent confrontation of peasants against government and private forces. The peasants built elaborate fortresses to prevent construction on the land, deep tunnels to hide in , and used spears, molotov cocktails and hurled projectiles to protect themselves. The Zengakuren (an anarchist group similar to America’s SDS) maintained the front lines armed with spears and throwing stones at riot police.
The entire scene is filmed like a grand Kurosawa epic. Armed forces besiege a well defended fortress on a hill top, while troops on the ground go toe to toe in battle. The riot police were clearly unprepared for the level of violent resistance they encountered and retreat more than once. In desperation, the Japanese government hires non-locals (at a rate of 20,000 yen a day, presumably to minimize liabilities and accountability) to charge in on their behalf.
A few questions came to mind. First, where did the non-locals come from? I’m wondering if they were hired from the day laborer slums of Kamagasaki and Sanya, again illustrating the complex relationship between anti-social dropouts and the State. Day laborers are simultaneously marginalized by the State and completely necessary to its survival. Even as recently as 2011, despite decades of exclusions and abuse, the Japanese government called upon day laborers in Kamagasaki to clean up Fukushima (again for 20,000 yen a day), presumably since few would care about the threats to their health.
Second, the Zengakuren play a major role in defending the fortress. It is mentioned during the film that the Socialist Party of Japan (社会党) initially involved itself, acting on the behalf of the farmers, but at some point during the five year struggle, became disinterested. It was mentioned by others that the Communist Party of Japan (共産党）was also involved. As I was watching the film, I was wondering how the situation could have become as extreme as it did, and though that these political actors might have agitated the farmers to move to more and more extreme methods. If that was the case, then the farmers might have been mere political pawns for an anti-establishment agenda. Though the Zengakuren obviously stuck it out to the bitter end, I’m wondering if they too might have self-servingly exacerbated the situation.
While Ogawa takes time and care to film and interview the farmers, both individually and as a group, not a single member of the Zengakuren speak for the entirely of the film. In fact, Ogawa never even shows them in close-up. Not only do we not know what they think, we don’t even know what they look like. Even more mysterious are the large crowds of bystanders, which are shown only through holes in the barricades the farmers have constructed or on the tops of hills in the distance. We actually know more about the riot police than any of the Zengakuren.
Third, and a minor point, the farmers had set up a tower with which to broadcast inspirational leftist music and speeches to the riot police and bystanders. It’s not clear why the riot police didn’t knock the largely unguarded tower out immediately. Also, though the film is incredibly violent, one has to wonder how much of the violence is performance. All sides had ample opportunity to kill and injure people, but, miraculously, only a handful of people were killed.
When farmer ladies are chaining themselves to trees to prevent airport crews from entering, they make a big production out of wrapping the chains around their neck, but have arranged them in such a way that one would merely have to bend down a bit to break free. One has to question how serious the farmers were, and how much of the fighting they preferred to leave to the Zengakuren, and whether they wanted the anarchists there at all. Though some of the farmers suggest directly engaging the riot police at one point, it is clear that there isn’t much consensus on how violent they were willing to become.
The relationship of the farmers, who prior to the planned building of the airport had likely lived in relative isolation from the rest of Japan, to the outside political upheaval of Japan is perhaps the most interesting part of the film. Though the farmers are very serious about protecting their land and continuing their lifestyles, they seem rather ambivalent to Japan’s political problems, but are regardless resigned to become a part of them.
As with many documentaries from Japan, it’s unclear how sympathetic the film’s producers are to the subjects they have chosen. On the one hand, Ogawa seems to want to advocate on behalf of the farmers, but on the other, he spends much time showing them as isolated and slightly naive. He makes no attempt to deny the futility of their cause.
“People of the Second Fortress” is a fantastic film. The producers risked their lives to make the film. Miraculously, the camera wasn’t smashed during filming.
Here are some great pictures from that time.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of “People of the Second Fortress,” but here is an extended clip of one of the films from the same series:
The NYT did an interesting article this morning on Japan’s recent increase in defense expenditures. I’m never sure where I stand on the issue of Japan’s military (not that I have a say). One the one hand, a stronger Japanese military would help solidify Japan’s position and a major global player, and put a formal end to it’s stupid, weak-kneed political isolation.
It would no longer be able to hide behind the skirt of the United States, a situation that complicates domestic and international policy. Japan’s military, one of the largest and most well equipped in the world, largely operates in the shadows, on paper, surrendering military policy to the United States. This complicates international policy by disincentivising Japan from taking a global leadership role and tends to exacerbate isolationist behavior at home. The influential words of Peter Parker’s venerated uncle may ring true.
On the other, Japan has to respond to credible threats from China and North Korea and can’t wait on the Americans to protect them. This is dangerous for us. Even a small skirmish would require the immediate response of the Americans, which could result in a global war.
On the other, other hand, giving Japanese right wingers the proper tools of war would be disastrous. I have zero confidence in American right wingers. My confidence in Japanese right wingers falls into the negative zone. Though Japan, in general, is a very pacifistic country, its extreme elements are so deeply backward as to be irresponsible.
Big day today: submitted dissertation draft then submitted paper for publication, getting ready to submit another.
I can’t wait to get back to reading about economics. Writing is fine, but retroactively creating a story that somehow some non-related things are related is unpleasant. Please don’t do it at home.
I’ve figured out, though, that this is what people who write books do. If you keep revising, eventually it all makes sense.
I had some time today to read the news. I learned that the Bank of Korea is headed by a lady, which is awesome in Korea/Japan. I CAN’T EVER IMAGINE JAPAN HAVING A FEMALE PRIME MINISTER let alone a female head of a central bank. Significantly less developed Thailand even has a female head of state.
In many ways Korea is behind, in many ways, they are way, way ahead. I believe, though, that women have given up on the establishment in Japan, and just go ahead and do their own thing.
This headline, though, was disconcerting:
“Bank of Korea’s Suh Shuns Schoolgirl Outfit to Tackle Contagion”
Huh?? I read the article, and it appears that it was an OL outfit, not a schoolgirl outfit, but the headline was like, “huh?” Yes, I’m losing IQ. Too much writing.
I’ll say it again: JAPAN WILL NEVER HAVE A FEMALE HEAD OF STATE OR HEAD OF ANYTHING ELSE. And that’s a miserable, depressing and embarrassing state of affairs for the second largest economy (we can ignore China) in the world and one of the most developed places on earth.
Better yet, was thsi article, “Is Paul Ryan an Inflation Nutter?” Of course, the answer is an emphatic YES along with the entire Tea Party/Libertarian (オバタリアン？）set (sorry Ralph, you know I love you). Despite ZERO evidence of runaway inflation, even in the worst economic crisis since the depression, doom and gloomers have been predicting it all along. We got 99 (million) problems, but inflation isn’t one.
It’s like waiting for the rapture. The US is stronger in reality than Americans would like to think.
OK, I’m going to go and stare into space for a while. This LaTeX infused Alzheimer’s has got to go.
I approached Mr. Richie after class and asked him if it would be alright if I sat in on the class. He looked a bit distressed and asked if I would be doing the course work. I said that didn’t really matter to me. I just wanted to come to the course every week and listen to his lectures.
Richie loved the Japanese cinema. His lecture style was so un-alienating that one couldn’t help but love it, too. He would present the films in a manner that made them entirely foreign and unique products of the particular culture that produced, but simultaneously fit them squarely in a worldwide tradition of movies. He would present his lecture on the movie of the week, then we would watch the film in a theater, where he would deliver an abridged version of his Tuesday lecture for people who didn’t have the pleasure of attending his class. I think I learned more about art, cinema, media, culture, social science, the humanities and politics in that one 7 week course that I did in the entire remainder of my undergraduate education.
The time for the first mid term came, and I sat for it. Richie came up to me again with a distressed look on his face and stuttered, “A-a-are you taking this c-course for c-c-credit?” I said no, but asked him if I could take the exam anyway. He looked stressed but said yes, no problem. The following week, when he passed back the exams, he had thoughtfully commented on my work, writing more than a page of notes, ending with “If I were grading this, I would give you an A+. Good work.” When the time for the final exam came, the entire incident was repeated. To this day, I’m not sure why my not officially signing up for the course stressed him so. Perhaps he had too many students. I would like to think that he was trying to be meticulous and follow the rules to the letter, which was rather uncharacteristic of a man who flouted so many rules in his lifetime. Perhaps Japan had rubbed off on him more than he cared to consider (though there was no sucking of air through teeth).
I would see him on the street and he would always say hello. I regret not engaging him more while he was there, but it’s hard to just approach someone when you’re a starstruck kid. I later learned that he had a terrible time in Michigan, mainly because the stodgy faculty in the Japanese studies department would take him out on the town in neighboring Ypsilanti. I wish I would have known.
Shortly after that, I became more and more immersed in Japanese cinema studies and decided that I wanted to go to Japan and eventually pursue a graduate degree in the field (I didn’t do the latter). I arranged for a job teaching English conversation in Osaka (with the help of a friend), and left for Japan in November of 1996. It was there that I started speaking Japanese on a daily basis, and met my wife, who still puts up with my abhorrent command of the language.
If I had not taken Richie’s course, I don’t think I would have gone to Japan. It can’t be said that life would have been better or worse had I not gone, but it certainly would have been very different, and probably a little less interesting and certainly minus a life partner. For this, I am entirely grateful for Donald Richie’s existence and wholly sad for a great man’s passing.
Richie made experimental films in the 1960′s. This is one of them:
Donald Keene took Japanese citizenship. Keene is a nearly 90 year old retired Professor of Japanese Studies at Columbia University. He was notable for his many excellent English translations of some of Japan’s most important literary works. Keene served in the US military during World War II working as an interrogator. Keene went to Japan, fell in love with the country and stayed. The New York Times wrote a short article detailing his life and reporting that he had finally retired to Japan.
Truthfully, I found the article quite annoying. Keene was an important member of the unofficial “Chrysanthemum Club,” a group of military associated academics and culturalists who were tasked with repackaging Japan as a friendly and tranquil ally of the United States. The incredibly deep cultural legacy of Japan most certainly cannot be denied, and is deserving of study. The “Chrysanthemum Club,” however, not only whitewashed Japan’s awful militaristic history, but exacerbated the existing “Nihonjinron,” a soul seeking quest of nationalistic Japanese academics hell bent on proving Japan to be “the most unique culture on the planet.”
The myth of Japanese “uniqueness” would go on to inform the manner in which Japan presented itself to the world and the way that Japanese departments and language education would educate. I studied Japanese briefly in the early 90′s at the University of Michigan. We were told that the author of the textbook (Jordan) believed the Japanese language so unique, that it is impossible to foreigners to achieve any level of proficiency. Presumably, because Japanese is “difficult” and that foreign brains are inherently unequipped to handle Japanese’s special nuances.
This “uniqueness” of the Japanese language is, of course, nonsense. Korean and Japanese are so grammatically similar as to almost be dialects of the same language. As for foreigners not being able to learn Japanese, well, come on over for dinner sometime. I’ll invite some of my friends and we can hang out.
As much as I want to venerate Keene, whose great contributions are many, I found my blood pressure rising while reading the NYT article. On taking Japanese citizenship, Keene states:
“When I first did it, I thought I’d get a flood of angry letters that ‘you are not of the Yamato race!’ but instead, they welcomed me,” said Dr. Keene, using an old name for Japan. “I think the Japanese can detect, without too much trouble, my love of Japan.”
““I have not met a Japanese since then who has not thanked me. Except the Ministry of Justice,””
These statements appear innocuous, but they are anything but. “A Japanese” grates on my nerves, sounding more like an animal than a human*. Worse yet, it implies that all people in Japan are the same, which they are certainly not. Anyone who speaks Japanese knows what a deeply diverse place Japan is. Keene’s probably well-intentioned statements are, to me, the worst kind of friendly racism out there.
This antiquated idea of Japan’s people as a “race” and the toxic “us vs. the other” attitude that dominated discussions of Japan following the War has got to go. Keene, as a thoughtful academic, should know this. Though I feel bad beating up on an old man, an esteemed individual like Keene should know very well how important semantics are.
When I was in Osaka last June, I had dinner with the head of the Economics Department at Osaka City University. He told me that Japan needed people like me (Japanese proficient academics) because it was so academically behind the United States. While I believe that he was just being kind, I quickly corrected him. Japan and the United States in 2012 are equals and we deserve to treat each other as such. Pandering and antiquated ideas of a strong US and a cute, child-like and fluffy Japan, an idea which Keene still appears to hold, have to finally be put to rest.
* “An American” is purely a statement of statehood to me. “Americans” are holders of blue passports.
I have dealt with travel and research reimbursements from the United States a number of times to some inconvenience, but little trouble. Despite a love of protocols, Americans, do, in the end, want to make things work. If for nothing else, an ease of procedure reduces the work load for office workers so that they can get back to Farmville.
Japan, if my current experience is any indication, is a complete bureaucratic nightmare. They seem to have never heard of a developing country, have little awareness of international currency exchange and are more intent on exercising the micromanaging authority of overfed office workers than trying to streamline processes and facilitate research and development.
Reimbursements take several months, and I get nailed with taxes on the way out, despite technically being exempt. Frustrating, but not frustrating enough to make me never want to work with them again. I can see how people could get discouraged, however.
A reimbursement from a Swedish institution, however, contacted me with the following:
“I sent the form to our economy department today. If you not hear from me again, you will receive your money within a few days.”
How easy is that?!
The World Bank keeps data on the relative ease of doing business in several countries around the globe. Overall, the US ranks 4th, Sweden 14 and Japan 20th.
For obtaining a construction permit however, the US is 17, Sweden 23, and Japan, a weak 63. If you want to start a business, stick with the US, it ranks 13th, Sweden 46th and Japan, an embarrassing 107! It’s easier to start a business in Ghana.
Granted, many of the current discussions of decentralization in Japan are directly related to this problem, but, in the meantime, I am astonished that it has taken this long.
Today, I’m sitting in on the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories symposium, a research dissemination event bringing film scholars working in the field of East Asian cinema.
While I don’t speak the same academic language as many of the presenters, it’s enjoyable to be here and see so many people working diligently on a subject as obscure as East Asian cinematic history. It is fascinating to sit and listen to discussions of Japanese colonial cinema, the philosophy of Maeda Ai, and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun’s “amateur” analysis of an obscure Japanese writer’s 1941 work on Democracy and cinema. Wow.
As always, I am struck as the paucity of discussions of modern cinematic and artistic history. I remember when I was an undergrad, studying German literature and cinema, being frustrated by the seeming reluctance of academics to work with current literatures and cinemas. While it is certainly safe to work in spaces where philosophies and criticisms are recorded, accepted and preciously interpreted, academic thought cannot progress by resting forever on the laurels of Foucault, Derrida and what academic libraries are willing to provide shelf space for. Admittedly, this impression is entirely based on the limited number of presentations I have seen to this point and likely not fair to those whose work I am not so familiar with, but this impression is what sticks.
Orignally, I had intended to go to graduate school in the humanities, specifically in Japanese film studies. Life, of course, got in the way and things turned out differently. I am most satisfied with the ways things turned out, but I am happy to have a background in the humanities. I often question to utility of segregating academics into the disciplines, the borders between which are often artificial and created for reasons other than academics. I find that we have much to offer one another, though little opportunity to interact. For someone as intellectually schizophrenic (if that can be considered a positive) as myself, I think that’s a shame.
Tonight, Ozu’s Tokyo no Yado, a Japanese silent, will be shown to live musical accompaniment and dialogue performed by a practicing benshi. Before talkies, silent films in Japan were narrated live. Often the narrators (benshi) were more popular than the movies themselves. Kataoka Ichirou is one of 15 practicing benshi in Japan and is visiting Ann Arbor for the next six months. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly last night. Hopefully I will be able to interview him before he leaves.
I have been following the recent row between China and Japan over a small set of islands north of Taiwan. While most of the rhetoric publicly available from the Chinese side is pretty standard nationalistic nonsense (“Kill all Japanese!”), the following was an intriguing twist.
The sign reads:
No medical insurance, no social security, yet the Diaoyu Islands must be in your heart.
Even if the government does not take care of the elderly, we should recover the Diaoyu Islands.
No property rights, no human rights, but [our nation] contends for the sovereign rights of the Diaoyu Islands.
[We] can’t buy a home, can’t build a tomb, but we contest every inch of ground with the Japanese.
It made me think of similar nonsense at home, but clearly their situation is much worse. Senseless violence over territory and blind ideology is pretty useless if a country can’t even take care of its own people.
For the record, I am not anti-nuclear power. Nuclear power is like riding on airplanes. Crashes are rare, but when there is an accident, a lot of people die at once. Cars on the other hand, are vastly dangerous. Small accidents happen every single day, but the numbers are staggering.
The data on nuclear power do not indicate that it is more dangerous than power generated from fossil fuels. In fact, it shows the complete opposite. To date, despite nuclear power being used worldwide, accidents have been very, very few while emissions from fossil fuels, oil spills and toxic spill over from oil extraction poison people and the environment every passing minute.
The left, no stranger to narrow mindedness, happily ignores this fact and the data and puts all of its protesting eggs into the nuclear basket, often with the silent encouragement and benefit of fossil fuel proponents and big oil business.
That being said, I don’t think that earthquake and tsunami prone Japan is a proper place to house nuclear power plants.
Japan is a country in slow upheaval. The 2011 Tsunami which devastated northeast Japan led to a massive accident at a nuclear power facility in Fukushima. The extent of the pollution and it’s impact on human health and the environment are still unknown and will likely be unknown for decades. The earthquake, tsunami and disaster at Fukushima, however, have created a seismic political situation in Japan.Distrust in the ineffectual and corrupt Japanese government and widespread skepticism of giant mega-business have been the norm for decades. Since the 1960′s dissent has been quiet. The violent riots protesting the deep marriage of Japan’s government with the American military led to a systematic crack down on protest, and a policy of division which quietly put Japanese voters in their homes, contented with an expanding economy. Now, a shaky future, widespread unemployment among youth, a vastly well educated population and the recent earthquake related events have put Japan to the boiling point.
After shutting down all of its nuclear facilities for more than a year, the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture has been restarted. Hundreds of people showed up to protest the restart in Fukui. There have been wide protests in Osaka and more than 200,000 people showed up to demonstrate at the parliament building in Tokyo. Pictures of police dragging demonstrators in Osaka have been making the rounds on the internet. No enemy to big business and government, news reports on the protests have been scant and subdued. Social media, however, undermines official and unofficial stifling of vocal dissent and has only further agitated the Japanese populace.
How this will play out is anyone’s guess. My feeling though, is that the current trend of shrinking priorities, self sufficiency and a return to living with one’s means will continue. Agriculture will return to Japan, though it is insanity to believe that Japan will forego imported food. I fear that Japan will isolate itself once more, but am encouraged to know that this younger generation might have their priorities in order finally. We can wait, and learn.