Thursday, February 22, 2007

シクスティナイン/ 69

(Movie Review)

This movie came out in Japan about 3 years ago. Given my interest in the Japanese student movement, I guess it’s surprising I waited so long to see this movie, but I had my reasons.

Not the least of which was the bad review this movie got in “The Japan Times”. Since The Japan Times has taken their archives off-line, I can no longer link to the article in question, but the general thrust of it was that this movie took all the politics out of the 60s, and just made this as a “kids just want to have fun/ boy gets girl” kind of movie. The reviewer then went on to claim that this was part of a broader trend in Japanese media to forget or ignore the upheaval of the 60s.

He’s half right. Despite the fact that the 60s in Japan were more turbulent than in the US (the whole Japanese University system had to be shut down for a year in 1969 while riot police battled student barricades), today the student movement receives little to no attention from the history books and mass media. And when it is brought up, the media almost always focus on the whacko extremists like the Japanese Red Army, and ignores the massive popular anti-Vietnam war and anti-government protests.

Much of the same can be said about the US, but it's worse in Japan. I've met many Japanese people my own age who didn't even know there had been a student movement.

Some of the Japanese people I've talked to who are old enough to have lived through the era believe it is no accident that this part of Japanese history is currently being ignored. They believe that the powers that be are very anxious for the population to forget about this era of mass rebellion. And given my Chomsky informed politics, I’m inclined to agree.

But all of that aside, this film needs to be judged on what it is, and not on what it isn't.

A couple years ago I read the English translation of the book by Ryu Murakami on which this film is based. This roman-a-clef, apparently mostly true, memoir of the year 1969 recounts young Ryu Murakami as a high school student in the countryside of Kyushu (not too far from where I currently reside). He is aware that something revolutionary is happening, he reads Camus and other counter-culture books, and sees the large protests on TV, and he wants in, but he isn't sure how to get involved from his small country town.

He uses the Vietnam War as a way to try and gain the moral high ground over his teachers, he and his classmates sneak into the school at night and paint it with revolutionary slogans, and he tries to organize a rock festival in his town. His politics are muddled, and much of what he does is more to get the attention of a girl than out of revolutionary conviction. As a political manifesto you could criticize this every which way, but as a memoir of what it was like to be a 17-year-old kid in 1969, I think this is just as real as a story about fighting riot police in Tokyo.

The movie takes a lot of liberties with the book, but the essential plot elements are all there, as well as much of the ironic humor. The filmmakers were unable to resist the temptation to add in a final climatic confrontation with the PE teacher who terrorizes young Murakami (or at least his roman-a-clef counterpart). In the book no such dramatic ending exists, but that’s the film industry for you.

Actually a lot more scenes like that are added for dramatic effect. At various points the protagonists in this movie manage to offend, and get chased down by, the police, US army, and College age student militants. None of which was in the book, and all of which takes the tone of the story up a few notches. And as is often the case with Japanese films, there’s a bit of over-acting going on here.

But as a comedy, the film is a success. I don’t usually consider myself a fan of Japanese humor, but I was laughing through this whole film. If you’re looking for a fun film, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Update: Turns out the Japan Times review is still online after-all. You just have to go through one of their pain-in-the-ass registration procedures first. Link here if you think it's worth the trouble.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Critics say frequent use of ain't is a marker of basilectal — which is to say, "vulgate" or "common people" speech. The same applies for using i'n'it (normally written as innit) instead of "isn't it". There is little justification for this judgment on etymological or grammatical grounds, but it remains a widespread belief that the word is "not a word" or "incorrect".

Link of the Day
Liberal Icons and War: The Problem of Bi-Partisan Empire-Building

1 comment:

inertbat said...

You always seems to know tidbits about Japanese culture that I've never come across. One of these days I'll get around to checking out those movies.

So yeah, I've been reading your blog for ages now and since you're back in Japan thought I'd reveal myself. If you're ever down this way gimme a shout (I'm still in Beppu). I'm game for checking out some of those towns you've never visited (there are still a few I've got to check off my list).