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Archive for August 27th, 2012

This movie charts the rise and fall of the United Red Army terrorist group which grew from students protesting in the late 60’s about the US-Japanese security treaty and the Vietnam war to wanting to take down the Japanese government to bring about a world revolution. Two communist left wing factions decided to merge. By the early 70’s most of the group’s leaders had been arrested by the police but those that were still on the run had small bases up in the Japanese Alps where they held training camps for their members. During the evening they would hold ‘self-critique’ sessions where a member would be asked what they had done wrong and how they could improve themselves. Any wrong answers would result in a beating by the rest of the group and for some it would also lead to their death. Some members decided that they didn’t want to hang about for their own ‘self-critique’ and fled the camp. With the net closing in by the police, the group decide to split up. One group is arrested by the police, the last 5 members armed with weapons hole up in a snowy mountainside lodge and take the female proprietor hostage. The lodge is eventually surrounded by the police but the terrorists refuse to give in. How will the situation end?

Based on a true story, controversial director Koji Wakamatsu’s acclaimed docudrama is a fascinating account of a turbulent period in Japan’s history in which many left-wing organisations sprung up in Japanese universities across the country in the late 60’s outraged at the interference of the US in their country’s affairs and involving them in the Vietnam war. Wakamatsu had friends in the URA (United Red Army) during the early 70’s and even joined them in Palestine as a trainee in which he made the movie ‘Red Army/PFLP: Declaration Of World War’ which was released in 1971. That movie was probably biased towards his friends’ ideals but in this movie he insists he is sitting firmly on the fence and only wished to educate the youth of today about something that they might not know about. This 3 hour plus movie is basically split into 3 parts: the first hour gives us the background to the URA on how they formed from news documentary footage, still photographs and re-created incidents. The second hour takes place in the URA’s camp up in the mountains in which we see their training methods and their self-criticism sessions. Just the most trivial of things like not cleaning guns properly would start these sessions off and would usually end in beatings, torture and killing fellow members if their answers weren’t good enough for the URA’s leaders. 12 members would eventually die from these sessions including an 8 month pregnant female. The final hour highlights the February 1972 incident at the Asama Mountain Lodge and the stand-off between the last 5 remaining URA members who had barricaded themselves inside and the 1,500 police/security forces deployed.

Even though I did find the movie rather interesting I just thought it was way too long which made it hard to watch and the middle section of the movie was rather repetitive especially the ‘self-critique’ sessions which forced members to confess their shortcomings and then have other members beat them to death. It just goes on and on. The two main URA leaders Mori and the female Nagata are basically making things up and handing out death sentences to anybody they please. Nagata who is a picture of hatred throughout the movie is seen to particularly pick on other females who she doesn’t like or is prettier than she is. She takes delight in making sure their faces is a mass of bruises and destroying their looks before killing them. I was also disappointed with the mountain lodge stand-off. It was a bit of an anti-climax. We only get to see small glimpses of what’s going on – a tear gas canister through a window or a water hose being aimed at one of the terrorists shooting at them. There’s hardly any shots of the so-called 1,500 police/security forces outside the lodge. The siege is all told from the inside of the lodge. Perhaps this movie only had a small budget so that’s why the final battle was only shown to a minimum or director Wakamatsu wanted to make it a bit claustrophobic and tense as seen from the terrorists’ viewpoint?

Despite it’s faults and the long running time, I still found it at times a gripping and uncompromising movie. It was an interesting history lesson about something I had no knowledge about. Even though the siege at the lodge fails, the ending gives us more information about what happened next with the formation of yet another left-wing group called The Japanese Red Army which would carry out terrorist atrocities for nearly 30 years before dissolving itself in 2000.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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