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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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The 2nd documentary movie to follow popular Japanese idol group AKB48 starts after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and covers the activities of the group for the rest of 2011. It covers the major incidents that happened during the year – the 22nd single election, the infamous Seibu Dome concerts, the janken tournament, the Mina Oba scandal, formation of Team 4 and the various visits many members made to the disaster areas.

I make no qualms about it – I love AKB48 dearly having been a fan for 6 years and watching this excellent documentary has made me love the group even more. 2011 was the year that solidified their position as Japan’s favourite idol group which saw each of their singles break the million barrier in sales. They were like an unstoppable juggernaut and this documentary cut down from over 1,000 hours of footage that was shot into 2 hours captures the hectic punishing schedule and the hard work and effort the girls put into entertaining their fans. Unlike the first documentary, this is all about the suffering and hardship they endured during 2011. It delves intimately into their world and shows that it’s not easy being a national idol when there’s so much pressure on their young shoulders. Although I’ve read all about the Seibu Dome concerts during the Summer of 2011 on forums and how many of the members suffered during them, you’re still unprepared for the shocking images that you witness. The group were totally ill-prepared for the conditions during the 3 day event which pushed them right to the very limit (physically and mentally). Summer days in Japan is energy sapping with the high humidity. Heatstroke and exhaustion took their toll on a lot of the girls. Seeing the ‘face’ and center of the group Atsuko Maeda hyperventilating and eventually collapsing backstage was distressing to watch. This happened not just once but several times. Pampered Western pop stars would have pulled out and not carried on in similar circumstances but Atsuko Maeda didn’t do that. Even though she was still ill, she came back to fulfill her duties with the group as she didn’t want to let her colleagues down and for that my respect went up for her. AKB48 is all about togetherness, the members all support each other through good times and bad. Everybody is focused on giving their loyal fans their money’s worth. Even though this documentary is all about showing the tough life of an idol, it was nice to see them visit and bring joy to the earthquake/tsunami victims. AKB48 was at the forefront of Japanese celebrities that made a huge effort to generously donate millions of yen to help those affected by the disaster of March 11th. One member, Karen Iwata was directly affected by this with her family basically became homeless and having to stay at a refuge center. Seeing her come back to the disaster area with AKB48 was very moving. There are various mini interviews with many of the members sharing their dreams, fears and even thoughts of jealously. I was more than happy that my AKB48 oshimen (the member I support the most) Ayaka Umeda even got some screentime.

I could go on about other segments in this documentary but I won’t because this review would then be too long!! Naturally there will be many that think AKB48 are nothing more than a talentless manufactured pop group but many of those are people that know nothing about them and just base their fact without seeing them in action. They are a dedicated hard working group who shed blood, sweat and tears. I’m sure AKB48 fans like myself will enjoy watching the trials and tribulations in this documentary.

I hope that another documentary covering 2012 is in the works because so much has happened so far and we’re not even halfway through the year yet!

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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This documentary movie follows the very popular Japanese idol group AKB48 and covers the group’s activities throughout 2010, using footage from over 1,000 videotapes. The documentary includes the production process behind each of their singles, their concerts at Yokohama Arena and Yoyogi National Gymnasium, their senbatsu events, last year’s appearance at Kohaku Uta Gassen, and their visit to Anime Expo. Viewers will get a glimpse of the idols’ joys and troubles, their growth over the year, and their dreams for the future.

Being a huge fan of AKB48, I really enjoyed going back and reliving the events that happened in 2010 – the highs and the lows, the smiles and tears as well as seeing the girls outside of their job and trying to have a normal life. The motto of AKB48 is “idols you can meet” and that’s true if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to their shows in their own theater in Akihabara. Hardworking, dedicated, down to earth and giving it their all epitomises what AKB48 is all about. The group although split into 3 teams which have their own captain is overall led by one amazing and inspirational girl – Takahashi Minami. Takamina is the glue that holds all of the girls together and is a good role model that Japanese girls should look up to and strive to be like her. Those that have no interest in Japanese idol groups will find this documentary to be a waste of time but those that love AKB48 will certainly find this entertaining as we get to know these girls a little bit more at work and at play. I’m so proud to be an AKB48 fan and to see them grow in popularity over the past 3 years has been nothing more than what they deserve and long may their success continue.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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This fascinating documentary movie is about a class at Evergreen Primary School, Wahun, China where an election for class monitor is being held. Three children are chosen by the teacher as candidates and they have a few days to campaign and convince their classmates to vote for them. The little candidates are seen at school and at home, where their parents do their best to make sure their child will win the election.

Democracy is alive and well in China….well in a primary school that is. Just like politics in real life the candidates use dirty tactics to outdo one another with one fat loudmouth bullying for votes which backfires! Even the parents get heavily involved in the election. I was rooting for the little girl as she was the underdog. The result of the election will hardly surprise you when one of them pulls a swerve just before voting. I found this to be a fascinating documentary as an insight into another culture.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 out of 5

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