Sunday, 28 October 2012

He's a Fake!

The Ecstasy of Angels was made in the midst of the radical Sixties.  Its last scene, a classic, is of a blind man walking through the streets of Tokyo with a bomb in his bag.  He is going to commit a meaningless, literally directionless, act of terrorism that has no purpose beyond itself.  Even now, months after watching it, I am unsure if that last scene is the director’s judgement on his characters, or if it arose naturally out of the action; this final craziness an organic growth, arising from the obsessions and intense group interplay that dominate just about every moment in the film.  A film that is about a particular kind of power: one that operates inside tiny fissiparous sects, with their constant struggle to maintain loyalty under the ever-present threat of factional splits and ideological condemnation.

This film covers the same period, and much of the same territory: both even include a raid on a military barracks for weapons.   But My Back Pages has a much broader scope: the action is not shunted into a few weeks, it covers about four years; while most of our time is spent in mainstream society, not inside the small rooms and around the intense conflicts of the student radicals.  In this film it is the corporate press that is our home, and its employees who are our companions.  This gives the period a very different feel, which we witness through a familiar though odd perspective: the radical Sixties seen through the photojournalism of the new media of that colourful decade. 

The film, unlike Ecstasy of Angels, is not about power, although there are references to the internal battles within the corporate offices; which may be caused by politics or business.  It has another concern: image.  It is a film about how reality is shaped, sometimes even created, to accommodate modern myth and contemporary legend.  But the director does not employ the usual lenses; of nefarious newspapers with their ideological and cynical manipulations of the public realm to sell products and policies.  This is work subtler, and more interesting.  It is about the novel phenomenon of the time: the new media world of the 1960s, and how it influenced the radical culture, which had emerged earlier in the decade. 

My Back Pages is a film about how the idea of image and celebrity had by the late Sixties infected the intellectual and youth cultures; their combination giving rise to the student rebellions across the developed world.  In a small way the movie shows how the avant-garde was in the process of being transformed into just another commercial product; a sophisticated and “edgy” label for “cool” and “hot”; the academic end of the international catwalk.  For at some point in the 1960s one of the fashions was to be a radical, which required both revolutionary rhetoric and at least some intellectual camouflage; picking up the latest theoretical innovations, particularly from Paris; the home of revolutionary mythology.i  This is a film about how some people came to believe totally in the image, and were unable to act beyond it. 

It is a fascinating movie for this reason alone.  Although there are other reasons for watching it!  One of its strengths is that it shows both kinds of student radical: the committed and charismatic activist Yoshiro Karatani, who is interested in power and in changing society, and the poseur and fashion victim Umeyama.  Interestingly, and tellingly, the film focuses on the latter, whose posing, and moral and intellectual vacuity, is hidden from the inexperienced and naïve journalist Sawada, who having once met Karatani wants Umeyama to be like him.  He almost wills it to happen, constructing his own fantasy, into which he traps himself.

Sawada’s motivations are difficult to gauge.  Mostly, we think, they arise from sympathy – he identifies with his student colleagues, particularly those who were wounded at the siege of the Yasuda Auditorium, whose aims and methods he shares and supports.  He also has a strong desire to act.  He feels guilty for being merely a spectator and journalist; a feeling accentuated by his current project for his commercial paper, where he pretends to be a poor man wandering around Tokyo, writing a regular column about his experiences.  Umeyama offers him, in an indirect way, an opportunity to participate in current events.  And he knows this is possible.  Nakahira, his more experienced colleague, has shown that a journalist doesn’t have to be an “objective” bystander, but can be an active supporter of the revolutionary students, helping free Karatani when he was temporarily detained by the police.  

There are also other more materially pressing reasons: he wants a story, of course, to make a name for himself as a serious journalist.  Of even greater importance is Sawada’s need to believe in Umeyama as a real radical; and for much of the film he does appear to accept his hero’s claims.  Although there are times of doubt, when he questions the real nature of this good-looking, and seemingly incongruous, radical, who sings pop songs and reads popular literature.  Doubt, of course, doesn’t inevitably lead to scepticism.  Not at all!  It can concentrate and deepen the faith; and this is the case here, with Sawada prepared to face prison rather than betray his sources, when the results of his infatuation are exposed. 

Why doesn’t he pull back when it becomes clear what has happened: a senseless death and the revelation of Umeyama’s empty posturing?  Because he cannot admit that he has been duped?  This is too simple a reason, for he was warned early on by Nakahira that Umeyama is a fake.  No.  This is not the reason.  Sawada wants a hero, and he wants to be part of something; and so he identifies with a person who appears to offer the possibilities of both.  It is the attraction of power and commitment to a person who is incapable of either.  This attraction reinforced by the similarity of their characters.  Fakery is something they both have in common – neither are quite authentic.  Here is the secret of the attachment between them.  Sawada identifies himself with Umeyama, who will confirm his own commitment if he is indeed a real radical.  Sawada needs the fake to be genuine.  It is the only way he can square the contradictions in his own character between his desire to act and his inability to do so.  Naturally, it doesn’t take much for wanting to turn into believing, and for the image to replace real actions and concrete facts.

There is a moment when Umeyama says to Sawada that his exploits will become real only when they appear in his newspaper – an action need only take place amongst a journalist’s columns for it to become reality.  It is a fascinating scene, and is the culmination of a series of incidents (mostly within his own tiny group), which expose the eccentric nature of his student politics. Umeyama doesn’t want to act, or change the society.  He only wants (some) people (his own group) to believe he is acting.  Image is reality, in the self-contained and isolated world of these political extremists.  The spectacle itself is the only reality the leader requires.  The film explains why, in fascinating detail: Umeyama's only desire is for his followers to believe in himself.  If he can create and maintain this faith he can control them.  His words alone serve his purpose, while stage-managed illusions give substance to his pronouncements.  Thus in another great scene this illusory performance is given concrete reality when one of the group is theatrically killed to scare an outsider.  Although this fake death propels them to committing a real murder later on; as it sets in motion a series of events that entrap all the participants – once they have acquired the uniforms, enabling them to gain entry into the army base, they, and Umeyama especially, cannot pretend anymore.  The deed must be done, or the group will disintegrate, for a failure to act would expose the leader’s posturing.  The decision to move from image into reality is the hardest one Umeyama makes, and it goes against his character; he is pushed into it by events, propelled by the logic of the situation he himself has created.  How close he is to pulling out!  And nearly all the group are made ill with its implications – they were not made to be warriors.  These are observers forced into becoming participants by a fate they themselves have constructed, and which they no longer control.

In an early scene Katagiri  (Umeyama’s real name) is in a classroom arguing with a fellow member of a left wing study circle.  At one point he says that all actions, even the most revolutionary, will only reinforce the oppression of the existing capitalist system.  So what does he want? says his opponent.  The question flummoxes him.  He turns on his interlocutor and calls him an enemy, who is trying to undermine the group.  He then he says another extraordinary thing: this is my study group!  I created it!  It is a terrible admission of defeat and intellectual weakness; and he loses his power, and the majority of the students walk out.  The few who remain become his sect.  Later Sawada asks him why is he a radical.  Again he cannot answer and again he attacks the questioner, again calling him an enemy.  For Katagiri doesn’t know the reason for his rebellion – there is no purpose to what he is doing, beyond the doing of it.  In the classroom he could give no reason for forming a sect.  It was enough to create one and he be its leader.  In a newspaper article after Umeyama is arrested Sawada’s colleague Nakahira, who has had close connections with the left wing movements, calls him a fake revolutionary; putting into print his initial assessment.  This is true, but it is unsubtle: Umeyama is a real fake.  He thinks revolutions can exist in words; and that the idea is enough if the idea itself can be realised in the public realm – by people writing or talking about it.  The signs of revolution replace the acts of revolution; and to appear to be a revolutionary is the sole aim.  The dissimulation, the phoney shots, the lies and general artifice, are all real, because they produce effects, and engender belief; the only goal that Umeyama has.  The fake is reality, for a particular kind of mind.ii  But there is more to it than this… 

One of the main Tokyo papers ran a weekend journal that was highly supportive of the student rebellions of the 1960s.iii  In a throwaway comment after it closes an editor says that the fashion is over: the student rebellions have run their course, and the demand for their coverage no longer exists.  It is the idea of a newspaper as a reactive rather than a productive agent; merely responding to events it does not create them.iv  Although this view is questionable it does appear to explain Katagiri: he has been absorbed into the fashionable world of radical student politics.  But he has no feeling for it, and has no idea as to its ultimate purpose.  He can talk and think, but he cannot act; a typical intellectual.  He is like a technician or a simple clerical officer who works on a project or is employed in a firm and who has no wider interest beyond the job itself - they are not interested in the company’s structure or strategy, or its relationship to the wider society.  Mostly they have to be told what to do, and be directed from above.  Katagiri is not a deep thinker, he has no profound morality, and he is not a man of action.  He is an ordinary intellectual who cannot create his own world out of his own ideas, but must manipulate existing ones, thought out and developed by others.  Like so many academics and intellectuals he is a victim of conventional opinion.v And like his academic cohorts words and ideas take on a life of their own, until they replace the outside world entirely.vi  Sophisticated, but shallow, and highly tuned to what is “cool” and “hot”, he becomes a revolutionary; but it is purely an imaginary pose; until the raid on the army base makes it too painfully real. 

This transformation into the real world of action is interesting in itself.  It takes a long time because he doesn’t want to act; pushed into it against his will by the increasing discontent of the group that he dominates, who are beginning to discern his lack of purpose and his inability to do anything but talk.  They are beginning to recognise that they are living in a simulacrum of a revolution, which he is creating for them.  For words are not enough, even in this miniscule environment.  So Umeyama’s actions are forced upon him from inside the group, and have no reason apart from maintaining his control.  At one level this is not so different from the sects depicted in the Ecstasy of Angels; but they lacked his self-consciousness; his own awareness that his is only a (verbal) game.  For them ideas and action were fused; and they were not aware that their schemes were only instruments to heighten or resolve their own psychological tensions; that their ideas and actions were a means of maintaining authority and control within their totalitarian cells.  Like Yukio Mishima, Umeyama is too clearly cognisant of what he does, so that his actions become a self-conscious performance.  He is an actor.  But unlike the celebrated novelist he cannot realise his ideas into actuality; so that his performances becomes pure illusion.  Merely wordplay.  Nakahira can see this.  Sawada, caught up in his own journalistic and moral dilemmas, cannot.

Sawada writes a life style series for the conservative paper: it is about his experiences of living on 500 yen in Tokyo.  Although talented he feels guilty about what he does: befriending people while pretending to be poor.  He is inauthentic, and there something shameful about his job, symbolised by some rabbits he accidentally kills, where his (temporary) friend Tomotsu takes the blame and is punished in his place.  He would like to be employed on the weekend journal, and like its journalists be embedded within the Zenkyoto Movement.  After meeting Karatani his ideas and feelings crystallise, and he becomes an idealist and a sort of activist – he will change society through Umeyama. 

The journal stops supporting the student rebellions, and Sawada, never one of the paper’s group of committed journalists, tries to find his own radical sect to follow and write about.  It is his chance to be a serious writer and a radical.  Umeyama is too good an opportunity to miss; especially as he is such an odd revolutionary, too close to Sawada’s own character not for him to be attracted and misled by his personality.  As the relationship develops we realise that the roles are being reversed, at least to an extent (there are few clear cut boundaries in this film, characters tend to have a range of emotions and positions; and are not simply good and evil), so that it is Sawada who becomes the committed idealist, prepared to risk even imprisonment for his ideas – in this case his commitment to the illusion that Umeyama’s group is a serious one.  It is Umeyama, we discover, who is the cynical manipulator of words and ideas; and who will betray everyone to save his own life.  It is the revolutionary, not the newspaperman, who is the opportunist!  As the illusion breaks down, and it becomes increasing apparent that this radical leader is a fake, Sawada becomes more wedded to his hero.  In a difficult conversation with Mako Kurata, where she says that the actions of the group just didn’t feel right – it was a senseless killing of an innocent man -, Sawada almost breaks down under the strain.  Like Umeyama, at a crucial moment when he had to explain himself, Sawada cannot.  His faith and his doubts are too deep to articulate; and, we guess, they have a shameful basis: his belief tied not to some social purpose, to progressive or radical reform, but to the needs of his own ego.  There is no moral core to his faith.  He is someone who needs to believe in something and someone, and its content doesn’t necessarily matter – it will be decided by contingency; by the time and place where he lives.

This scene with Mako, which verges on the sentimental, is a good one.  Earlier they had seen Five Easy Pieces together, which she liked and he didn’t (his reaction is a jolting, and refreshing, surprise).  She likes a man that cries, she says, and that is why she loves this film and Midnight Cowboy.  Here is an opportunity to get into her bed…  However, Sawada cannot let his feelings show; his life has become too much of a performance, a self-conscious act, to take such a risk.  In this scene, primed by this earlier conversation, we are expecting him to breakdown, but interestingly he does not: the talk generally too close to his own thinking and ideology, and thus reinforcing the role he must continue to perform.vii  It is only at the end of the film that his tear ducts disgorge their waterfalls.viii He breaks down when he meets Tomotsu again; who still takes him for the poor kid, and is innocent of all his pretence and playacting.  Confronted with such unconscious reality he collapses into tears…  Although the illusion remains – he doesn’t inform his old friend of the truth. 

For a film whose theme is image and role-play a surprising amount of its time is spent depicting the world as accurately as possible.  That last scene is a good example; as is the pivot of the film: the killing of the soldier inside the army base. 

A comparison with Ecstasy of Angels is instructive.  In My Back Pages the incident is self-consciously framed to attract publicity: the soldier’s body is scattered with the group’s (hand painted) army helmets and propaganda sheets.  The death serving only as an advert for the group’s existence; yet another example of the pointlessness of its actions – even an act of the most egregious kind is turned into an image and a piece of verbal trickery.  Yet the actual murder is realistically described.  In the Ecstasy of Angels the base is American.ix And the American soldiers are killed with typical cinematic insouciance, and we hear little of them for the rest of the film.  The deaths are unimportant; they are simply a means to move the action along.  In contrast this film concentrates a remarkable amount of time on the way the soldier is killed.  Thus we see how long it takes for an amateur to kill a man.  Unskilfully stabbing his victim he leaves him behind, thinking he’s dead, unaware that the soldier has enough life left to crawl away, where he dies; the blood slowly flowing around his face and shoulders like the incoming sea around a headland.  It is a long and messy sequence.  The hard facts of reality against the glossy effectless image, fostered both by ideology and the corporate media. 

The rest of the film is suffused with the consequences of this murder.  The soldier is given a name, he is Japanese and we read about it in the newspapers, and is thus made human to these abstractionists; his death seeping into the cracks and crevices of many of these characters’ consciences.  To murder someone, this film seems to say, is an enormous event, and is a very hard thing to do; unless you are highly emotional, and thus taken over by the moment, or infatuated with some extreme idea, which replaces the humanity of the victims with their ideological caricatures – it is easier to kill abstractions.  This death thus becomes both a symbol and a concrete act that represents the paucity of thought and feeling inside Umeyama; who is too weak to raid the base himself, leaving it to his underlings.

Tony Judt once wrote about the Parisian uprising in 1968:

The radicals of 1968 mimicked to the point of caricature the style and the props of past revolutions – they were, after all, performing on the same stage.  But they foreswore to repeat their violence.  As a consequence, the French ‘psychodrama’ (Aron) of 1968 entered the popular mythology almost immediately as an object of nostalgia, a stylized struggle in which the forces of Life and Energy and Freedom were ranged against the numbing, gray dullness of the men of the past…

But is symptomatic of the fundamentally apolitical mood of the May 1968 that the best-selling French books on the subject a generation later are not serious works of historical analysis, much less the earnest doctrinal tracts of the time, but collections of graffiti and slogans.  Culled from the walls, notice-boards and streets of the city, these witty one-liners encourage young people to make love, have fun, mock those in authority, generally do what feels good – and change the world almost as a by-product…. They bespeak irritation and frustration, but remarkably little anger.  This was to be victimless revolution, which in the end meant that it was no sort of revolution at all.  (Post War, A History of Europe Since 1945. My emphasis.)

This perspective on the Paris uprising, and which, perhaps, has rarely been articulated so clearly, is the focus of interest in My Back Pages.  However, Judt is only writing about Paris, he does not mention the other more serious student rebellions in places like America, Mexico and Japan, where the actions of the students and the reactions of authority were more extreme, and sometimes lethal.x  

This film is an attempt to capture the spirit that Judt describes, but one that existed in a radically different and more unstable context, where the Security Treaty between America and Japan, a symbol and fact of foreign occupation, was due for renewal in 1970; a major focal point, along with the Vietnam War, of unrest and radical action.xi  And this at a time when the Japanese economy was taking off as a result of that war...  A sense of injustice, together with its concrete manifestation, will often encourage (particularly young) people to take risks and resist what they regard as oppression; even to the point of injury and death.

Media stars and celebrity intellectuals rarely exhibit the kinds of fanaticism of which young students are capable.  That is why they prefer to talk and not act.  At his trial Umeyama blames everyone else in his group for the murder, and tries to implicate just about everyone he knows; so as to remove the responsibility from himself.  Had he been French, and studied at the Sorbonne, it would have worked out ok. Today he would be writing about Julia Kristeva and Phillipe Sollers; with a comfortable pension, and TV interviews about the glory days of his youth.  Instead he lived in Japan, where the student rebellions had a more radical edge; and where some people believed in action that went beyond words.  A liar and a coward, a great pretender, he played his role too well, and it forced him to fulfil itself…  Without moral and intellectual strength he succumbed to his environment; he gave into the passing trends of the time; submitting to the image he created; and in which he wanted others to believe. 

Desperate to maintain the illusion that he is a real revolutionary he persuades his group to steal weapons from an army base; which results in the death of a soldier.  But these actions and this death only reinforce the emptiness of Umeyama’s aims, emphasising the fakery of his radicalism: the action has no purpose other than advertising the “reality” of the group.  Yet even the name he gives them, and which adorns the helmets, is made up: it is not the name of their sect!  The advert is for something that doesn’t exist.

Judt’s description is interesting because it suggests that for many of the Paris participants the self-conscious realisation that it was a game was enough for them.  They were quite satisfied with the stylized imitation of a revolution.  The problem for Umeyama is that his followers and the corporate mediaxii are not so sophisticated, and they force him to act out his theories, which only increases their in-authenticity: the soldier’s death confirms they are only pretending at being rebels.   A fact (the murder) is turned into an image, which takes away its meaning, and empties it of all purpose. 

This is a remarkable film.  It shows how one can be both authentic and inauthentic at the same time, and how there are different kinds of fake – the genuine and the… fake!  And it also shows how these characteristics are at odds with a serious, and morally engaged, commitment to reforming the world.  To achieve such sophistication and nuance the film keeps a tight hold on reality, and tries enormously hard to describe facts as they really are; in a world where it is the newspaper journalists that are the idealists, and the radicals who are the “hidden persuaders”.  This is not the whole story, maybe not even a big part of it, but it is certainly one aspect of the revolt of the 1960s; and one perhaps that could only be conceived today; where individual lives are constantly mediated through an ironised and very self-conscious press.xiii


 


[i] For more comment see my Dropout Boogie, Revolution and Inevitable.  See also Roger Scruton in the TLS (29/08/2012).
[ii] The film has a discussion of Mishima’s suicide, which includes the grudging admiration of the left wing intellectuals for someone who was prepared to act on his violent words.  However, Mishima himself was a consummate performer, his public life a kind of acting, a self-conscious performance which he regarded as his real self.  For discussion see my Do You Know Me?
[iii] In the film their interest appears as simply fashion, but one wonders if there other more substantial reasons for their support: that the owners of the paper, as well as members of the establishment, wanted to encourage the student movement, because part of its aim was the termination of the Japan-US Security Treaty.  In 1960, the last time it was renewed, there were major disturbances, and many people, including Mishima and the far right, thought that the 1970 renewal would lead to even more violent and destabilizing demonstrations; and the possibility of the treaty's cancellation.  The Arena documentary The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima has some interesting comments on this period and the relationship of the military authorities with the radical right, who were also anti-American and against the post-war pacifism of the Liberal Democrat establishment.
[iv] But for a brilliant alternative view see Adam Curtis’ Everyday is Like Sunday.  Also concerned about the 1960s, but this time in Britain. 
His comments on the Daily Mirror editor Hugh Cudlipp are enlightening: Cudlipp’s view was that newspapers should influence public opinion by being just a little ahead of it; in his case encouraging liberal and progressive reform through the 1950s and 60s.  If it tried to act independently a newspaper would lose power, he believed.  Thus the fall of Cecil King, Chairman of the Board, was because he tried to use the paper to bring down the Labour government; upsetting the establishment by going beyond the bounds of respectable opinion into direct advocacy of a cause.  It was a turning point in British media, and was to lead to a different kind of press, where the balance of power shifted substantially… to Rupert Murdoch & Co.
[v] For further discussion see my Russian Climate and Dropout Boogie.  A.N. Whitehead captures this mindset well, by elucidating a completely different idea (the importance of contradiction in understanding a reality that is too complex and fluctuating for the mind to grasp in its totality):
             “Every age produces people with clear logical intellects, and with the most praiseworthy grasp of the importance of some sphere of human experience, who have elaborated, or inherited, a scheme of thought which exactly fits those experiences which claim their interest.  Such people are apt resolutely to ignore, or to explain away, all evidence which confuses their scheme with contradictory instances.  What they cannot fit in is for them nonsense.” (Science and the Modern World)
            With the rise of the university population, and the proliferation of reasonably well educated minds, you would expect such tendencies to increase, especially given, as Whitehead recognises in the book, the nature of modern education – to prefer generalizations to an absorption in the particular fact.  Its most obvious example was the vast expansion of the social sciences during the last century, especially during the 1960s.  One tendency would be for the student to become more responsive towards relatively coherent and internally consistent theoretical models – this may be the reason for the rise of Freudianism in the 1950s and Marxism in the 1960s (in the universities of the developed countries).  And with it, as Whitehead also notes, comes increasing irrationality, as a small number of ideas are used to explain the whole of a society or of nature – the class struggle, sexual repression, the selfish gene, the free market…
            Umeyama has imbibed and elaborated some fashionable theories.  However, he cannot put his notions into practice for he has neither the power nor the will to do so (one of the attractions and dangers of the charismatic ideologue is that they have the authority and means to impose their limited beliefs on their followers and victims – the very narrowness and irrationality of their ideas adds to their power.  It is in the exercise of this power that we see the difference between Umeyama and Karatani).
His solution to the problem is to form a sect, which he can isolate from the world, and so leave his theories untouched. The sect thus becomes an attempt to reproduce the “perfection” (that is, the logical consistency) of his ideas in the real world.  It can work for so long as the rest of the group believe in him, and do not act beyond themselves.  However, as Whitehead notes, nature never stops still, constantly changing it forces the modification of most of our ideas; a relatively easy process in the study; but very hard when you have sold a particular theory to a group of people who have sacrificed part of their lives to believe in it.  Their very existence now depending on their faith in your “truth”; that is, they are committed to a particular set of fixed ideas that you have given them.  Ever-changing nature, though, is constantly threatening to undermine the leader’s authority by challenging his theories with new facts; so that always he must either deny reality or make this ideas consistent with the ever renewed present.  If he had remained in his study he could have refined his ideas almost indefinitely, ignoring, for the most part, the world outside his window, and we would have remained a third rate academic; to be quickly forgotten when he retires.  Out of in the real world, his theories bump up against inconvenient facts and other people; and eventually have to give way; at least to some degree – the group eventually force him to act.  His failure is due to the weakness of a particular kind of intellect, which although intelligent and very logical, tends to be all abstract reason, and lacks creative capacity.  The failure of such a mind is well described by Whitehead (through describing its opposite):
            “…traditional [or conventional] ideas are never static.  They are either fading into meaningless formulae, or are gaining power by the new lights thrown by a more delicate apprehension.  They are transformed by the urge of critical reason, by the vivid evidence of emotional experience, and by the cold certainties of scientific perception.” 
            Umeyama cannot escape from the (conventional) theories he has acquired, and which include their own contradiction: to destroy the system we must act, but each act strengths it.  The solution is easy: do not act at all (it is the defeatism of reason, and which has a long history: the old scholastics thought science was impossible because rationally it could not be done; as Whitehead notes, the 17th century scientific revolution was essentially anti-intellectual and anti-rational – here is the secret of its initial breakthrough success).  As a logical and intelligent man Umeyama follows his own advice, but he has ignored some highly important evidence: other people will have a different, more literal, interpretation of his words.  Thus for him actions are simply media performances, an illusion of acting; just an intellectual game.  For others, and these include the people in his group, to act has a quite definite meaning; it is to physically change the world outside their flat door; it means to instigate a social revolution.  It this tension, between image and reality, fact and theory, and his need to keep his authority, that eventually forces him sanction the raid on the army base.
            A more charismatic or creative thinker would have held the group together by strength of personality; or he would have had more control over his ideas, critically analysing them, and modifying them in light of changed circumstances.  Umeyama is trapped inside someone else’s theories (this is the essence of conventional opinion – we uncritically accept another’s point of view); and his high intelligence prevents him from getting out of them.
[vi] See the Bertrand Russell quote in my All in the Words?
[vii] Although it is a good scene, which exposes the pressure inside him, it is a little too obvious, especially as Umeyama had earlier confessed to liking Midnight Cowboy because Dustin Hoffman cries…  We are being told what to think, by a director that cannot trust our responses.
[viii] There is some well-observed acting in this scene, but again it is sentimental, and because it has been too telegraphed we are too conscious of it.
[ix] America appears only vicariously in this film, mostly through other movies (including the moon landing); and a few speeches at a student rally.  The controversial presence of the United States, important then as now to the country, is oddly absent from this film.
[x] The United States, traditionally a politically very violent country, was no exception in the 1960s, with violence against property and person widespread.   The shootings at Kent State University were among the most notorious of the incidents of that decade.
            In Mexico there was the massacre of students at Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco.  See Edwin Williamson for more general comment (The Penguin History of Latin America).
[xi] Although ideologically coloured the website International Communist Current gives some good background on the student uprisings in Japan.
[xii] Or should I say just Sawada, who comes to believe in him?  This raises an interesting question: how much is the soldier’s death down to his influence?  Another journalist seeing through his games may have discouraged Umeyama, who needed the media to print his fantasies in order to make them real.  In a sense Sawada is responsible for this murder, because without the promise of media fame, of the actualisation of the group’s revolutionary potential amongst the newspaper’s ink, there would have been no urge to raid the base – its only purpose was to generate a story.
[xiii] It is also one of the weaknesses of the film: many of its images are uninspiring, and sometimes one feels the camera is straining to find those parts of Tokyo that have not changed since 1971…  Perhaps it was necessary given the content, but there were times I ached for a more complex cinematographic performance; with jump cuts and collage, the overlaying of different images; and the inclusion of documentary material.  That is, I wanted it to be more like Ecstasy of Angels; which in many ways is a much poorer film.

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