“Anpo Joyaku” is one of the earlier films by Japanese experimental film director Toshio Matsumoto, whose most well-know film is probably the recently restored “Funeral Parade of Roses” (1969). The title refers to the first security treaty signed between the US and Japan.
Well versed in Western and Japanese modernist aesthetics and artworks, Matsumoto was also deeply invested in the social movements of the time. More importantly, he was not only interested in using film to engage with social issues, since film, especially the post-war Japanese cinema, was also the problem itself. In an interview with film scholar Aaron Gerow, Matsumoto criticized the old masters of classical Japanese cinema for not being able to reflect upon, or investigate one’s own responsibility of Japan’s World War II effort. Matsumoto argued that this lack of thinking informed the aesthetics of the Japanese mainstream filmmaking after the war. Since these filmmakers were not consciously aware of their complicity with the military system, there was no difference between the post-war “democratic” films and the pre-war propaganda. Matsumoto explained to Gerow that it was because of this lack of criticism in the post-war film scene that compelled him to start writing film criticism, making avantgarde films, and hosting screenings for underground films. In short, his activism was an activism to create an alternative film culture, and perhaps an alternative culture for the Japanese lost souls.
Anpo Joyaku is part of an upcoming program by Japan Society
Perhaps his heightened awareness of the Japanese reality and his utopian critique of that reality had informed his thinking about an “avant-garde documentary”. As film scholar Yuriko Furuhata points out in her outstanding book “Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics” that Matsumoto was urging his fellow filmmakers to think critically about camera’s ability to faithfully reproduce whatever is in front of it. Instead of believing that he or she could capture reality as if it was not mediated by a machine or a perspective, Matsumoto wanted a filmmaking that was always emphasizing on the act of seeing itself. This was one of the lessons he learnt from French auteur Alain Resnais’s “Guernica” (1950). In that film, Resnais was always cropping or masking Picasso’s famous painting. Matsumoto argued that it was by creating fragmentation, Resnais was able to foreground the “cinematic process of mediation” and created a sense that the film was not a faithful representation of the painting but a documentation of Resnais’s subjective viewing process (Furuhata 34).
Though his theory of “avantgarde documentary” was not in its fruition in 1959, we could still see some of the inklings of his final theory at work in this early documentary/ propaganda film. The film is shot from the perspective of the “we”, the militant youth who participated in the fight against the US-Japan security treaty addressing the docile masses who are satisfied with the economic progress brought out under the auspices of the new global order, built by the United States. Although the narrator of the film is using the language of class-struggle to analyze the hypocrisy of the US-Japan security treaty of 1959 and the cynicism of the Japanese ruling elites, the ideological endgame of the film is pacifist. Perhaps Matsumoto and his comrades were thinking pragmatically so they could recruit as much new blood as possible, the film was attempting to convert the politically-naïve or hostile audiences into the militant movement by appealing to their desire of avoiding another war at all cost. The way the filmmakers try to achieve this goal is through images of nuclear bombing and testing.
Matsumoto employs some of the techniques from the Western historical avantgarde to deliver his critique of the Japanese elites. For instance, by using photomontage of images of Japanese officials, Matsumoto is not only able to make fun of these hypocrites, but also expose their lingering imperial ambition covered by all the democratic rhetoric.
Although most of the film employs a asynchronous soundtrack, the relationship between the image and the sound track can only be described as contrapuntal most of the time, Matsumoto knows well when to move his needle to another end. A rare moment where we have a synchronous sound and image is when we are seeing the student activists laying down their battle formation and marching on the street. Not only we are witnessing their impressive physical movement, but also we are hearing them breathing heavily while shouting the slogan “anti-Anpo”. Self-identity between sound and image only happens when a true revolution act is presented, it is the only thing that is deserved to be documented “realistically”.
If the show of revolutionary will is done through synchronized sound and image, the call for action is accomplished through a highly-stylized manner. Closer to the end of the film, we see a series of image of people enjoying themselves at the beach, at the Pachinko parlors, or at other sites of mass-consumption. The narrator describes these people as indifferent to what is happening around them. But suddenly everything stops. The moving image becomes a still. The narrator starts to appeal to his fellow Japanese people’s deepest wish: “There should not be another war.” Though the anti-Anpo movements could not stop the signing and renewal of the US-Japanese security treaties, the pacifist spirit motivated Matsumoto’s film is still palpable in the action of anti-war activists in Okinawa.