- Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics by Yuriko Furuhata
The late 1960s in Japan is remembered, sometimes nostalgically, as the season of politics. With the impending renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the Vietnam War as major impetuses, the second wave of the postwar student movement quickly radicalized and dominated university campuses in synchronicity with student movements elsewhere. Apoliticism was frowned upon, for there was a faith in the effectiveness of direct action and in each student’s ability to become an agent of change. This season of politics turned a corner with what is known as “the fall of Yasuda Auditorium” at the University of Tokyo in January 1969, during which riot police were deployed to confront the students who had barricaded themselves in the building (p. 116). The spectacle was televised and became one of the images that punctuated the history of postwar Japan.
Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality opens with a description of the dialogue between Ōshima Nagisa and Mishima Yukio, published a year before that spectacular fall of what had been a bastion of the student movement. The conversation points to the importance of television in the student protestors’ media consciousness, which led to the conflation of artistic performance and political action. However, these two influential figures from opposite ends of the political spectrum were split in their assessments of this blurring of the boundary: Mishima, who ended his life in his own theater of art and politics two years later, expressed his pessimism, while Ōshima wholeheartedly embraced this change.
The optimism expressed by Ōshima about the potential for political agency in art parallels the students’ faith in the effectiveness of their direct actions. Such confidence seems perhaps naïve from today’s vantage point, and easily dismissed as a misguided idealism that can only be understood within the particular historical [End Page 367] moment of an unsustainable, failed endeavor. Herein lies the dilemma of studying the student movements and their attendant artistic movements in the 1960s: they need to be studied within their spatio-temporal specificity in order to be comprehensible, but such an approach also risks sequestering those movements in a localized, historical moment, rendering them irrelevant to other times and places. The stereotypical image of former student activists reminiscing about their season of politics before disinterested youngsters encapsulates this problem on a very banal level; despite the copious writings on this period—journalistic, scholarly, and personal—we are still in want of a common language—theory—through which to understand this period and the artistic works born out of it.
Furuhata’s work makes an important contribution not only to the study of 1960s avant-garde films but also to media studies at large and urges the reader to rethink the practice of area studies, as the author constructs her theoretical frameworks from the ground up, as it were, from thorough investigation and careful examination of contemporary discourse on eizō, akuchuaritii, remediation of journalistic materials, and landscape films with their attendant fūkeiron. (These three Japanese terms may be glossed as, respectively, “image,” “actuality,” and “landscape theory,” but in fact Furuhata herself distinguishes carefully between Japanese and Western terminology, as I discuss below.) In doing so, Furuhata posits herself against the widely if tacitly accepted notion that Japan is a theoretical wasteland, which is crystallized in an oftcited statement by Noël Burch on Japanese cinema and film theory but also echoed elsewhere in the broader discussion of Japanese culture. To dismantle this broadly disseminated view, Furuhata adroitly traverses various media and discursive contexts, while grounding her discussion firmly in her meticulous linking of the theory and practice of the avant-garde filmmakers themselves.
Furuhata’s discussion of Ōshima Nagisa’s Band of Ninja exemplifies her masterful handling of a film that becomes utterly incomprehensible once it is removed from its original historical context and the vision of the filmmaker. Based on the popular rental comic book series...