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ANPO: Art X War depicts resistance to U.S. military bases in Japan through an electrifying collage of paintings, photographs and animated, narrative and documentary films by Japan’s foremost contemporary artists. The artwork vividly resurrects a forgotten period of Japan’s history, while highlighting the insidious, enduring effects of “ANPO”, Japanese shorthand for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty. The treaty permits the continued presence of 90 U.S. military bases throughout Japan, an onerous presence that has poisoned U.S.-Japanese relations and disrupted Japanese life for decades.
The film’s stunning artwork grabs the viewer from the opening scenes and never lets go. “Japan’s relationship with America has always been complicated,” muses contemporary artist, Aida Makoto, “always vacillating between love and hate…” Close-ups and wide shots of his massive, gorgeous Japanese screen painting from 1996, depicting a squadron of Japanese Zero fighter planes encircling New York, punctuate his rueful commentary.
The film briefly surveys the contemporary impact of the 30 U.S. military bases on Okinawa and effortlessly travels back to 1960, when Japanese citizens from all walks of life came together in a democratic uprising largely forgotten today. These massive protests had been presaged throughout the 1950s in largely peaceful, sometimes violent protests again the U.S. military presence that made a mockery of Japan’s sovereignty and a constitution that forever prohibited Japan from waging war. By 1960 these protests had grown into a nationwide movement as millions of citizens took to the streets to expel American bases from Japanese soil.
The demonstrator’s hopes were soon crushed by Prime Minister Kishi, backed by the C.I.A and aided by an American government worried about losing a key strategic ally during the height of the Cold War. As Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, ruefully comments, “During the Cold War, the U.S. would work with any son of a bitch, as long as he was anti-Communist.” But the movement endured to resurface in protests against the Vietnam War. It has also left an indelible mark on the lives of the artists who participated, many of which would rise to international prominence in ensuing decades. ANPO tells these artists’ stories through their art, most of which has been hidden from public view in museum vaults, for over half a century.
ANPO: Art X War breathes new life into other art forms from this contentious period of Japanese history. Footage shot by an ad hoc coalition of filmmakers, including Oshima, vividly telegraphs the passion and commitment protestors brought to the fight against renewing the security treaty in 1960. Photographs from the personal archive of Magnum photographer, Hamaya Hiroshi, capture the ferocity and violence with which the Japanese government clamped down. The viewer is transported back in time and viscerally experiences the hopes and fears of millions of students, housewives, shopkeepers, and laborers, terrified of getting sucked back into war, who thronged the streets during those tumultuous months to stand up for democracy and demand an end to the U.S. military presence.
Instead of conventional narration, the film’s iconic artwork acts as a mesmerizing guide, escorting us back and forth through history to explore the origins of the 1960 protests and the effects of the government response that reverberate in Japanese society to this day. As the film progresses, the artwork gives voice to the humiliating experiences of those living in the shadow of the crime, environmental degradation and noise pollution that inevitably shadow U.S. military bases and provocative reveals how those experiences sparked a collective rage, spawning a nationwide movement 50 years ago.
The artwork finally brings us into the present and demonstrates how the spirit of 1960 lives on today. Closing scenes from the film show how contemporary artists have drawn on the rich work of their predecessors to fashion their own creative resistance to the continued American presence. There are signs that Japan’s citizens are following suit. Japan’s Prime Minister was recently forced to resign after failing to keep a promise to the Okinawan people to relocate a dangerous U.S. military base off the island. And for the first time in five decades, the Japanese are openly beginning to question the terms of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The closing scenes of the film suggest that Japan’s democratic spirit remains alive and well, waiting just below the surface of everyday life for the right combination of individuals and circumstances to resurrect long-buried resentments and passions.
In the words of celebrated Japanese film director, Kore-eda Hirokazu, ANPO: Art X War is “a priceless record of how 50 years ago, Japanese artists grappled with politics and the U.S. military presence in Japan, spinning their trauma into art. The film is an unexpected boon, arriving as it does when the issue of U.S. military bases in Japan has become controversial yet again”
ANPO: Art X War is directed and produced by Linda Hoaglund, an American born and educated in Japanese public schools and completely fluent in Japanese. The film evolved out of her bilingual and bicultural experiences and extensive background subtitling Japan’s most celebrated films, from Kurosawa Akira to Miyazaki Hayao and Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Yamazaki Yutaka, one of Japan’s most accomplished cinematographers, shot the film in high-definition. Yamazaki has filmed hundreds of documentaries as well as the award-winning films of Kore-eda Hirokazu. He also filmed the 1960 ANPO protests as a film student. Also playing a key advisory role is Dr. John Dower, Professor Emeritus at MIT and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat, the definitive study of the U.S. occupation of Japan.
All content copyright (c) 2009 Anpo Movie