Rethinking media politics

Matsuda Masao’s conversion into an active supporter of jishu film emerged from a personal and political sense of despair. Following his deportation from France to Japan in fall of 1974 for suspected involvement in the activities of Japan’s United Red Army, he found himself profoundly doubting his previous main callings as an activist and film theorist/critic. In his 1976 article, Matsuda outlines his realization that his previous critique of jishu film had primarily' served as a projection of conflicted feelings regarding his own work throughout the late 1960s. In the previous year, he had already renounced his post-1967 writings, and after his return to Japan, he felt deeply alone and without allies (Matsuda 1976).1 Matsuda was disillusioned with the leftist movement in which he had been a central figure, and was even involved in the production and distribution of political project films such as Ryakushô: renzoku shasatsu-ma (aka Serial Killer, dir. Adachi Masao, 1969), and Sekigun-P.F.L.P: sekai sense sengen (PFLP Declaration of World War, dir. Wakamatsu Kôji and Adachi Masao, 1971). Not only did the time of inter-factional violence (uchigeba) lack any' sense of romantic appeal that could still attract young people, as he put it, the entire media model of the left had failed. Previously, Matsuda had already criticized a reliance on transmitting the “right” message through mass media in favor of a more direct, unmediated “common feeling” or empathy. Now he saw the need for a different model again, one less focused on communal immediacy and more on self-organizing mobilization through embodied media (and mediated) practice (Matsuda 1973).

Then, on March 14, 1975, Matsuda made a fateful encounter with the 16mm jishu film Seishun sanka: okenai hibi (Song of the Scattering of Youth: Days I Can’t Leave Behind) by director Hashiura Hojin, a member of the jishu film collective Concorde Giants that included Omori Kazuki and Ban Bokuto. This story' of a young film fan documenting the uneventful and unsatisfying everyday life of an assistant director for PR. films was closely modeled on Hashiura himself, who had been an assistant director at Iwanami Films. Matsuda did not see it as a document of resignation but one of willingness to engage with the issues of quotidian life through what he calls ikinaoshi, a term that we can translate as “living (again) in a re-directing way” or “repairing through revised living.”2 “Ikinaoshi” becomes the central term through which Matsuda understands the possibilities and the purpose of jishu film. What he deems significant is the will for reparative or re-directing living through film: a form of film that is not the spectacle of consumption of commercially produced cinema but a more quotidian media practice. Matsuda sees a specific fusion as the target and method of ikinaoshi: that of life and film. Life through film and life as film—both the filmic text and the process of making, screening, and engaging with it—mean that jishu film tasks itself with both repairing the “specific time of life” of the 1960s as well as its oppressive mainstream media model, in which “the universal time of a film set before your eyes ... must be replayed (saisei) to the letter.” Jishu film becomes a means for ongoing engagement with the project of changing life through three entangled threads: redirected living, the merging of life and media, and an escape from a nonnative media temporality.

Matsuda then re-evaluates the jishu films he had previously seen but discounted as symptoms of the introverted generation (naiko sedai) f What had been a sign of the decline of political engagement and independent film now becomes part of the transition to a different model of media, politics, and sociality. As Matsuda points out, in this context, the year 1973 takes on special significance. It is the year Oshima Nagisa’s production company Sozbsha ended operations and Wakamatsu Productions retreated from its more politically provocative work. Ogawa Productions relocated from Sanrizuka, where it had covered the intense protests against the building of Narita airport, to a village in Yamagata prefecture to film rice farmers, another move seen as a turn away from politics and activism during this year. Matsuda remarks, however, that he now also understands 1973 as the year when Hara Masato released Hatsuknni shirasumera mikoto (The First Emperor, 1973), a film that inspired hundreds across the country to pick up a camera and become filmmakers themselves. We will return later to Hara, a trailblazer of jishu film whom Matsuda calls the “first jishu film director” (Matsuda 1976: 47). At the age of seventeen, Hara had so impressed Oshima Nagisa after winning the 1968 Film Art Festival Tokyo at the Sogetsu Arts Center with his Okashisa ni irodorareta kanashimi no barado (A Ballad Colored in Ridiculousness) that Oshima made him a collaborator on Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (The Man Who Left his Will on Film, 1970). Hara is credited as the screenwriter together with Sasaki Mamoru.

Hara fanned a flame that had been burning quietly for several years but was now ready to erupt. One important pre-condition of that flame was the 1965 release of the new Eastman Kodak Super 8 film format and Fujifilm’s competing Single-8 format. These new film formats and cameras made access to film considerably more affordable, especially in a Japan that was experiencing extraordinary economic growth.4 By the late 1960s, many of the cameras were already available for even lower prices in second-hand electronics stores.

Several factors then came together to support an explosion in filmmaking and screening among high school and university students. In addition to newly accessible film technology, this generation had grown up in a quickly complexifying media situation that was especially influenced by television’s widespread colonization of the living room throughout the 1960s, making moving images an intimate presence in everyday life. The jishu films that began proliferating in the early to mid-1970s were markedly cinephile works, fascinated with formal experimentation and fantasy rather than expressed activism. This development did not go unnoticed in the film industry. Like Oshima’s 1970 1'he Man Who Left His Will On Film, Hani Susumu’s 1972 ATG-produced film, Gozenchu no jikan u>ari (The Morning Schedule), picks up on the spreading smallgauge film activities and incorporates them into the film’s plot. Whereas Oshima’s film still discussed the dissolution of film as a tool for political activism and the shift to a mediatized inferiority, Hani’s film sees two male protagonists searching for the reasons for a young woman’s suicide through the 8 mm films she left behind, when she herself had used film as a mode of life therapy. In The Man Who Left His Will On Film, small-gauge film becomes a space of hallucinatory blending of political disillusionment, past, memory, and fiction. But filming and the act of living have already merged in The Morning Schedule, which is largely made up of footage shot by Hani’s non-professional actors.

By the time of Matsuda’s conversion to understanding jishu film as a new way of engaging the failed project of intertwining life and politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s rather than a symptom of depoliticization and a turn toward inferiority, he had seen quite a few jishu films through his collaboration with the Cinema Expressway screening group. Consisting of Hara Masato, Okubo Kenichi, Goto Kazuo, and Kobayashi Tatsuo, the group obtained permission to use the Asia Cultural Center (ACC) in the Kanda area of Tokyo (a space that Matsuda effectively managed for the screening of activist and political independent films) to organize weekly jishu screenings from November 1975 untiljune 1976. Here, Matsuda gained his first close look at a type of film practice that was spreading like wildfire across the country. Kicking oft with a mix of directors at the forefront of the jishu film boom such as Hara Masato, Goto Kazuo, Ban Bokuto, and Takamine Go in November 1975, they followed up with a special program of Obayashi Nobuhiko’s films in late December 1975—January 1976, implicitly acknowledging Obayashi as a forerunner and inspiration of (though ultimately distinct from) what Hara was calling “new cinema.” The group simultaneously began publishing their own influential, if short-lived, jishu film dojinshi New Cinema Express, providing information about jishu film from all over the country. The screenings included films by already prominent groups and collectives from Nagoya (e.g., TFO, “The Other Film Organization”), from Hokkaido, and from the Kansai area (e.g., Omori Kazuki’s Concorde Giants group). Screening groups (jishu joei), filmmaking groups, and jishu film dojinshi were emerging all over the country and quickly developing communication channels (Harada 1994).’

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