Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2019 1:48 pm 
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A radical Japanese movie company

Kōji Wakamatsu was a provocative Japanese film director who defies classification. He had been in the yakuza, and even as a filmmaker, gave free rein to an aggressive, provocative personality. His cinematic production ranged from softcore porn pinku eiga films like Ecstasy of the Angels and Go, Go, Second Time Virgin to films about revolution and the radical Palestinian PFLP. He also produced Nagisa Ōshima's famous shocker of radical sexuality In the Realm of the Senses. The porn ones themselves incorporated radical politics and radical aesthetics with the exploitation. This film about Wakamatsu, some of his key associates, and a young woman, struggles to convey this mixture which, for an American, may be hard to imagine, though there is a funky charm about the group dynamic.

The Sixties and Seventies were the most fertile period of Wakamatsu Productions, founded by revolutionary auteur Koji Wakamatsu (Caterpillar) and staffed (for free) with radical young artists like avant-garde filmmaker Masao Adachi, cinematographer Hideo Ito, and scriptwriter Arai (Kisetsu Fujiwara). Kazuya Shiraishi (The Blood of Wolves) himself got started making exploitation pictures at the company, now presents this raucous but fact-based account of one young dreamer Megumi (Mugi Kadowaki), who joins Wakamatsu in the spring of 1969 to make pinku eiga. She is somewhat at a loss, but sticks with whatever happens, except that she can't join in the company's radical political action. As she struggles to fit into the testosterone-heavy "family" and find her own voice, Megumi’s life becomes equal parts masculine and feminine, and over time, heroic and tragic. After she becomes pregnant by the company's still photographer Takama (Ku Ijima), Megumi's psychological instability and painful family background come forward.

One early Wakamatsu pinku eiga was Taiji ga mitsuryo suru toki ("The Embryo Hunts in Secret," 1966), in which a woman is sexually enslaved by her boss, and the 1969 Yuke yuke nidome no shojo ("Go, Go Second Time Virgin"), featured in this film. Wakamatsu co-directed, with Masao Adachi, a 1971 documentary about the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His later films included the docudrama Jitsuroku Rengo Sekigun: Asama sanso e no michi (2007; United Red Army), which was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival; Kyatapira ("Caterpillar," 2010), nominated for a Golden Bear at Berlin; and 11.25 jiketsu no hi : Mishima Yukio to wakamono-tachi (2012; 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate), a biography of novelist Yukio Mishima shown at Cannes (referred to in this film), and Sennen no yuraku ("Millennial Rapture"), premiered at the Venice in 2012. Wakamatsu was named Asian Filmmaker of the Year at Busan in 2012.

At the time of his death in a traffic accident at 76 Wakamatsu was returning from a meeting for his latest project, focused on Japan's nuclear industry lobby and the Tokyo-based TEPCO company. The topical subject matter followed on the heels of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

There's a discussion of Shraishi's film by Mark Shilling in The Japan Times (October 2018). Shilling met Wakamatsu several times and says "He was feisty and outspoken, but his sense of mission also struck me. He saw himself as a truth-telling guerrilla in a business, society and world dedicated to peddling convenient lies."

Dare to Stop Us is a movie about a group, and about intense working friendships, bull sessions, getting drunk together, and a lot of cigarette smoking. It's about personalities hanging out. They're presented jokily at first, but as the enterprise gains credibility, are seen in a more serious light. There's an old-shoe quality about many of the scenes that is very appealing. The main characters, even the brusque Wakamatsu himself (Arata Iura), come forward and become attractive, not only Arai (Kisetsu Fujiwara) and Megumi (Mugi Kadawaki) but the soulful Takima (Ku Ijima), who winds up as Megumi's bed partner, and various others. Nonetheless something may be lost in the subtitles in this largely understated and unclassifiale film. Shiraishi is trying to catch lightening in a bottle. How well he captures it may elude the non-native viewer.

Dare to Stop Us 止められるか、俺たちを, 119 mins., debuted in Japan Oct. 13, 2018 after an Oct. 5 premiere at Busan. It has been in at least five other film festivals including the NYAFF, where it was screened for this review.
NYAFF showtime:
Thursday, July 4
3:00 PM

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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