DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Kôji Wakamatsu Day

 

‘Despite having directed over a hundred films in a career that has spanned five decades and also being responsible for, as producer, a number of key works of the Japanese ‘New-Wave’ during the sixties and seventies, very little has been written, in English, about independent director/producer Koji Wakamatsu. In no small part, this is due to the fact that very few of his films have been seen outside of Japan, barring a few international festival screenings in his heyday, the fairly recent (2001) DVD releases of three of his films in America (two of which are already out-of-print) and some international acclaim for his two most recent films (Cycling Chronicles: landscapes the boy saw, 2004 and United Red Army, 2007), which have led to a few retrospectives of his work in Europe and the U.S.

‘Another factor has been the critical dismissals of his works put forward by respected Japanese film and culture expert Donald Richie, who, at a time when French film critic Noel Burch was championing Wakamatsu’s films in Europe, wrote that “Wakamatsu makes embarrassing soft-core psychodrama and Noel Burch led the French into seeing great cinematic depth in Violated Angels. It occurs to no-one that the reason for making it was non-cinematic. So Koji was treated like his junk meant something.” It is my intention, with this essay, to try and argue the case that Koji Wakamatsu is indeed a director worthy of attention, whose work displays complex thematic and stylistic elements beyond the confinements of the genre in which he mainly functioned.

‘From the available sources, it is clear that the bulk of Wakamatsu’s formative films took their plots either from sensationalist headlines of the day, or from other films that were popular at the time. While it would be fair to say, based on the few films that are available for viewing, that these films lacked any particular signs of originality or talent on Wakamatsu’s part, it must also be noted that although it wasn’t until the release of his eighteenth film (Secret Behind The Walls, 1965) that Wakamatsu developed a style that could be defined as his own, this was not unusual within the Japanese film industry, where it is not unheard of for a director to make five to ten films a year due to the extremely short production times of most Japanese films. Given that Wakamatsu was taking his ideas from news stories of the day, these quick turnarounds worked in his favour, as by the time his films hit the theatres, the headlines that they were based on were still fresh in the audiences memory and he quickly began to gain a reputation as a director of edgy, contemporary films that did fairly well at the box office (compared to other productions of the time).

‘From the standpoint of Auteur theory, acknowledgement must be given to the involvement of both Adachi and the films cinematographer, Hideo Ito (who would lens at least ninety percent of the films Wakamatsu directed during the period covered in this chapter), both of whom, it can be argued, can claim a degree of authorship over the work. To counter-argue this point, it must be stated that Wakamatsu rejected a number of early drafts of Adachi’s script and that in his position as director and producer he would have had the final say over the composition of the shots.

‘Starting with his politicization of the sexual act and developing over the years to an artistic maturity that gave voice to a number of creative, personal and political ideas that were very much his own, even when collaborating with other artists. While it is true that much of his work is filled with less that subtle uses of metaphor and symbolism, it is to some degree, this heavy-handed approach to the subject matter that can be seen as one of the keys to his status as an Auteur. To return to Astruc’s pen analogy, it could be said that instead of a pen being Wakamatsu’s tool of authorship, he used an AK-47, which would better describe both his revolutionary political viewpoint and his sledgehammer approach to delivering his messages.

‘It has also been shown that there is a consistency of style, theme and personality that runs through the majority of the films covered in this text and that Wakamatsu’s work easily meets both Bazin’s ascertation that an Auteur’s films must ‘reflect the directors personal vision’ and Astruc’s definition of not being ‘hindered by traditional storytelling techniques’, the proof being readily found in Wakamatsu’s experimentalism and his constant use of turning his films into vehicles with which he could convey his personal and political viewpoints. It is also clear that as his own world view changed with his increasing maturity, so did that of the films he was directing, from the ideological rantings of his earlier works to the, mostly, subtler approaches of his later films.’ — EG

 

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Stills



























































 

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Further

Koji Wakamatsu @ IMDb
The Essential Films of Koji Wakamatsu
‘Koji Wakamatsu: Film-maker who was unafraid to explore the less palatable aspects of Japan’
The official ‘Pink Years’ page @ Facebook
‘Remembering Koji Wakamatsu’
‘Koji Wakamatsu: From yakuza to pornographer’
‘KOJI WAKAMATSU: THE REBELLIOUS AUTEUR’
Koji Wakamatsu @ dissidenz
Un Certain Regard Q&A;: Koji Wakamatsu
‘Koji Wakamatsu: ode to a radical film-maker’
In Memoriam, Koji Wakamatsu
INTERVIEW WITH KOJI WAKAMATSU
‘HOMMAGE À UN CINÉASTE PERSÉVÉRANT’
‘Hommage à Koji Wakamatsu’
‘koji wakamatsu: the ambiguous gaze’

 

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Extras


Koji Wakamatsu’s last interview


Don’t F*** With Koji Wakamatsu


Koji Wakamatsu on “Season of Terror”

 

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Interview

 

You’ve been back and forth to Europe several times over the past eighteen months or so, which struck me because I remember you used to have difficulties obtaining visas for certain countries.

Koji Wakamatsu: Yes, that was because of my various stays in Palestine. I remember one occasion when I came to France to shoot a music video. We arrived at Orly airport and every crew member and all our equipment was allowed through customs, except for me. They stopped me, took me to Charles de Gaulle airport and put me on a plane straight back to Tokyo. They first discovered the $50,000 cash I was carrying on me. Then when they checked their computers they found that I had ties with the Red Army, so they immediately suspected that I was going to deliver all this money to Red Army members. They only started listening to me once I got an interpreter and explained to them that I was a filmmaker and that I had produced In the Realm of the Senses.

These days, with the European Union, it’s gotten easier. On this trip they didn’t even check my passport properly. But it’s true that I still can’t get into the USA, Russia, and Australia to this day. Aside from those three countries I can basically go where I like.

How does it feel to see The Embryo Hunts in Secret find a new and appreciative audience so far and so long from its place of birth?

KW: Nobody took the film seriously after I’d made it. Most people said it was rather mediocre, in fact. It took me five years to actually get it released in Japan. That’s how long it took for people to grasp what I was on about. In the movie I talk about the relationship between those in power and the people, but I do it through the relationship between a man and a woman. I didn’t address any political issues directly, but I’m sure most viewers will understand what the film is trying to say. You could give it a more philosophical reading if you were so inclined, but it’s not a difficult or complicated film. I mostly wanted to talk about politics, but without judging what’s right and what’s wrong.

In the 1960s, The Embryo Hunts in Secret caused a bit of a scandal at a festival in Belgium. Back then you said that people would come to understand the film better in the future. It looks like you were right.

KW: That’s true, they even threw raw eggs at the screen. Some people got up to stop the projection, so there was this crowd gathering in front of the screen. Then there were others who wanted to see the movie and they started launching those eggs at the protesters. Yoko Ono was also at that festival, with her movie about one hundred women’s bottoms. She was so poor she begged me to let her sleep in my hotel room. To thank me, she gave me some grass. I discovered marihuana thanks to Yoko Ono.

How did you experience that incident, you as a filmmaker who likes to provoke his audience in order to get a reaction from them?

KW: I thought it was better to have a ruckus like that, with two very polarized opinions, than to have everyone agree. Consensus is boring. It was really fascinating to see such diverse reactions. When I see now how people react to my new movie about the United Red Army, where everybody just finds it “interesting”, I must admit feeling disappointed.

It’s true that nobody throws eggs at movie screens anymore, but even a touchy subject like the Red Army doesn’t provoke any strong reactions anymore?

KW: Directors and producers in Japan all hope to receive funding from the Ministry of Culture. It’s logical that they should follow the ministry’s guidelines, but it leads to boring films. Pretty soon there will be no more films like mine in Japan. The money for that fund comes out of taxpayers’ pockets, but the committee that takes the decision which projects to support is made up of various industry figures: directors, producers, scriptwriters, etc. I call them illiterate, because they have no idea how to read a screenplay, they don’t have a clue how two directors can bring entirely different visions to a similar storyline or subject. These committee members are puppets of the ministry. They use the people’s money, but they act like it’s their own.

I am a member of the Directors’ Guild of Japan. My colleagues in that organization had heard that I was making a film about the United Red Army, and they told me they really wanted to see it. So I set up a special screening, but I told them they had to pay for their tickets. Aside from Sogo Ishii and a handful of others, most of them declined. Those guys are idiots, parasites. They are useless and I have every intention of continuing my struggle against them.

In that sort of climate, what are your plans for your film United Red Army?

KW: I will self-distribute it and handle all the promotional aspects too. It will be shown in one theatre in Tokyo, in Shinjuku. In Nagoya I will show it at the movie theatre I own there at least until March of 2008. After that it will play around the country. We’ve got Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Okayama, Sapporo, and Niigata already lined up. Once you have a hit in smaller theatres, the multiplexes start to show an interest. That’s what happened with Aleksandr Sokurov’s movie about Emperor Hirohito, The Sun. It made 300 million yen that way, starting out in a tiny number of small cinemas. Also, that theatre in Shinjuku recently scored well with two documentaries, an American one called Hiroshima, and another on the battle of Okinawa called Himeyuri.

I want the Japanese people to see this film. Those who remember the period will surely be moved by it, but I want young people to see it above all. The film talks about the years between 1960 and 1972, the things that really happened. Kids don’t know about these things, because they’re not treated in their school textbooks. In the 60s you had the assassinations of Kennedy and Malcolm X, you had the Vietnam War, May 68, Mao in China, all these major events happening around the world. In Tokyo we had the Shinjuku riots, when students stopped a transport of material destined for the US Army in Vietnam. Some of those young people ended up going to North Korea, others wound up in Palestine, and the ones that stayed behind formed the United Red Army. They holed themselves up in a mountain lodge, which became the famous Asama-sanso case. It’s a simple story, I guess, but I wanted to record it and pass it on to others. I saw that movie The Choice of Hercules, directed by Masato Harada. What he shows is completely wrong. Film has the power to influence people, and they’re going to believe that that’s what really happened. I wanted to present my take on the story, which is why I put all my money into this film. I mortgaged both my houses and spent more than 100 million yen. But I will do everything in my power to have this movie make back at least ten times that amount.

I heard you used your own country house as the stand-in for the Asama lodge.

KW: Yes. The story required that I destroy it for the filming of the police siege, so that’s what I did. I leveled my own house to make this film.

You said the people who remember the period will be very moved by your film. But those people are all responsible citizens now. They’ve left whatever ideology they had behind them.

KW: Yes, they live like nothing happened. That’s the generation that lived through the bubble era and also experienced its burst. It’s a big group of people, and if one in ten comes to see my film, I’d be happy. In the sixties, when they were young, it was easy to express your dissatisfaction. You could go out into the streets and demonstrate. Today if you do something like that, express your discontent in public, you’ll get arrested much more quickly. Back then, we threw stones when we were angry. When I meet kids today, I tell them they should throw stones while they’re young, because they won’t do it when they grow up. But nobody does that sort of thing anymore. Maybe today’s kids are more conservative in the sense that they think more about their individual futures. They figure that if they want a good job later, it’s better to not get in trouble today.

It’s interesting that the student activists of the 1960s were all from well-off, middle-class families. They weren’t poor. When you’re poor, you are too busy worrying about surviving. Even finding a bowl of rice to eat is a struggle in itself. But when you’re a little better off, you have time to spend on things like activism. It’s something for the young, though. When you have a job and kids, you can’t go out throwing stones anymore.

Do you believe that movies are still an effective way to inform young people?

KW: I’m not talking about education. What I’m after is telling the truth. Movies are entertainment, but that doesn’t stop us from telling the truth through them. In Harada’s film you get Beethoven on the soundtrack and Koji Yakusho as the chief of police. It’s a hymn to the cops, but it was those same cops that pushed those kids to go as far as they did. If it’s a profit you’re after, there are other ways to make money than by making films. Me, I try to at least remain truthful when I make my films. Also, a true filmmaker doesn’t make films from the point of view of those in power. To me, that’s a fundamental rule: you have to make films from the perspective of the weak. Take Akira Kurosawa, for instance. His films were always about the downtrodden.

Those five young people that wound up at that mountain lodge swore an oath to never reveal what really happened in there. Two of the survivors are still in prison waiting for their death sentences to be carried out, a third committed suicide in jail, but another one managed to escape and flee to the Middle East. I met him there and he told me the whole story. With this movie I tried to get his words across as faithfully as possible. I didn’t choose sides. My film doesn’t condone what those students did, but it’s also not on the side of the police. What I wanted to show was the truth. I wanted to show the history, what happened and why, how things changed. It’s their history. It starts with the riots against the Anpo treaty and the rise in university tuition fees that was the actual reason for the students to unite and start protesting, and continues all the way up to the aftermath of Asama-sanso.

Knowing your own history, your neutrality will come as a surprise to many viewers expecting a political pamphlet.

KW: I show the good sides, but also the bad sides of their actions. The truth is that they didn’t have enough courage. That’s the last line of dialogue in the movie. Once we get a bit of power, we start trying to consolidate it, because we are weak. That happened here too. The head of the United Red Army wanted to stay in charge, that’s why he had his own comrades killed. It’s like Joseph Stalin. Such people are completely responsible for the consequences of their actions, but at the same time their wish to stay in power is understandable, which also makes them very tragic. So both the victims and the perpetrators are tragic.

 

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15 of Koji Wakamatsu’s 107 films

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Secrets Behind the Wall (1965)
‘The first of Wakamatsu’s films to gain both international attention and national controversy when it screened at the 1965 Berlin International Film Festival, Secrets Behind The Wall is also the first of his films that can seriously be considered as an Auteur film, displaying both an increase in his artistic abilities as a director and a talent for turning the personal and sexual exploits of the films protagonists into metaphors for wider, political concerns. The film follows a young student, named Makato, as he studies for his university entrance exams and who knowing he is doomed to failure, spends his time reading American pornographic magazines and spying on his neighbours, one of whom is a woman having an extra marital affair with an ex-radical activist suffering from a radioactive keloid scar, a side effect of his exposure to the atomic blast at Hiroshima. As the film progresses, Makato becomes increasingly frustrated, both sexually, with his surroundings and at his impending failure with his exams, finally snapping and murdering his sister before he rapes the adulterous neighbour, who has by this point become so jaded that she openly encourages his aggressive advances, ultimately resulting in her death at his hands.’ — EG


Excerpt

 

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The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966)
The Embryo Hunts in Secret offers one of the first variations on a story that recurs again and again in the Japanese cinema of provocation, in which characters, either in a folie-a-deux or through coercion, usually by a man over a woman but not always, retreat into an oedipal space and begin devolving through a process of sexual and violent exploration of the body and the psyche. Certainly such a description also encompasses the likes of Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976), which Wakamatsu produced, Yasuzo Masumura’s The Blind Beast (1969), through to Takashi Miike’s Audition (2000). The Embryo Hunts in Secret, unlike some of Wakamatsu’s follow-ups (Violated Angels, 1967, Go, Go Second Time Virgin, 1969), isn’t based on a famous crime case, although it could easily have been. The story is simple in the extreme, commencing with a couple making out in a car, grappling in feverish ecstatics as rain pours outside. The man (Hatsuo Yamaya), manager of a department store left to him by his parents, invites the girl (Miharu Shima), one of his shopgirls from the men’s fashion section, into his house, which proves a Spartan space. Drunk and horny, the girl’s excited to be with the boss, but he has rather different intentions to mere sexual acrobatics.’ — this island rod


the entire film

 

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Violated Angels (1967)
‘As Noel Burch says about this film, it is “…emphatically and specifically informed by the rather mechanical association of unbridled sexual fulfillment with revolutionary politics, an association which characterizes not only much independent film-work, but also the ideology of certain ultra-Leftist groups in Japan”. It is this relationship or association between sexual fulfillment and revolutionary politics that I want to talk briefly about today. And while you can certainly argue, like Burch does, that in this film the association between sex and politics is rather ‘mechanical’, it nevertheless resonates with ideas prevalent not in only in Japanese Leftist circles but in the West as well. As Dagmar Herzog says regarding Germany in the 1960s and 70s, “Numerous New Leftists argued directly that sexuality and politics were causally linked; convinced that sexual repression produced racism and fascism, they proposed that sexual emancipation would further social and political justice”. Similar views were widely held in the US and the rest of Europe during that time as well. While these ideas that were prevalent in the Left during the 1960s are largely dismissed today, Noel Burch concludes that Violated Angels “proves that when erroneous concepts are put to work by gifted artists, they can be extraordinarily productive”. While the ideas I’ve presented are one way of approaching this film, it is of course not the only way and one of the reasons Wakamatsu’s films are still watched and discussed today is that they are so open to divergent interpretations, they are, as Burch says, “extraordinarily productive”.’ — Matt Winchell


Excerpt

 

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Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969)
‘It was shot in four days and represents probably the apex of Koji Wakamatsu’s early shock fests that so delighted the underground devotees and saw him labelled as a pariah to rank with Tekechi in Japanese film infamy. While Yoshida and Oshima were testing the limits of the cinema for the more intellectual audience, Wakamatsu was doing the same on his own cheap, guttural level. Go, Go, Second Time Virgin, if probably surpassed as art by Ecstasy of the Angels, is still probably the place where Wakamatsu virgins are best starting. Shot in monochrome (including a blue-tinted flashback to an earlier beach rape), the films bursts into colour for the orgy sequence, one which, urolagnia aside, now seems no more erotic than a game of naked twister. Even the rooftop rapes are cold, mechanical, almost functional, the victim so dispassionate as to give the whole a sense of the decrepit, of almost necrophilia, only emphasised more by the lyrics of the song, including even references to incest. “Love is a nitro”, so the heroine states, and it’s certainly a lethal cocktail. Put simply – you fuck, you die. “Tell me why you want to die and I’ll kill you” Tsukio says. “You can rape me, it’s really OK”, Poppo tells him, oblivious as to the contradiction in the statement, as if rape and sex were one and the same. As succinctly as possible, it’s a statement of nihilistic rebellion whose inflammatory spirit would later be captured by Sid Vicious, by Tim Roth’s skinhead Trevor in Made in Britain, by Malcolm McDowell’s Alex de Large and distilled in essence to Poppo’s fierce repeated cries of “fuck you!” to both the world and the audience.’ — Wonders in the Dark


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Violent Virgin (1969)
Violent Virgin (1969) is one of Kôji Wakamatsu’s early films. Although it is certainly part of his pink film oeuvre the film maps out many of the director’s later concerns. Like other filmmakers working in the late 60s and 70s, such as Melvin Van Peebles and Ruggero Deodato, Wakamatsu used the format of sexploitation as a way into an exploration of other transgressive acts such as extreme violence, amorality and oppression. The film does have a story: a man and a woman are held in captivity by a group of yakuza thugs and the film explores various shifts in power dynamics between the pair and this group and another group of well-dressed yakuza bosses. For a film constantly switching between numerous complex sexual and socio-political positions it remains elegantly simple in its poetic rendering. Wakamatsu favours an uncluttered mise en scène. Yamatoya is nude for much of the film or wearing a woman’s slip, and his lover Hanako, played by Eri Ashikawa, is topless and wearing only her underwear. So many shots depict nude flesh against the grassy wilds or bare earth. There is something levelling about this that creates a sense of equivalence between the characters, a grounding that is present at the same time as a sense of fluctuating structures. This suggests that Wakamatsu wanted to show the characters as base essence as if he was somehow trying to get close to the root of the motivations that prompt the members of the group to behave in the way they do. He, like us, is left with a sense of enigma but also the suggestion of myriad social configurations.’ — Electric Sheep Magazine

 

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Running in Madness, Dying in Love (1969)
‘As well as being Wakamatsu’s first colour feature, the heavily saturated colour schemes adding an almost psychedelic flavour to the usual freeze-frames and overlays, it is also the first of his films to incorporate Landscape theory into its structure. First formulated by Adachi, left-wing film critic Masao Matsuda and script writer Mamoru Sasaki, Landscape theory stated that our environment had the power to effect our personal and political identities and that through the use of urban design, state power became embedded in our very surroundings, it also theorised on the political implications of recording these landscapes on film. In Running in Madness, Dying in Love this theory manifests itself in the long durational shots of the protagonists’ surroundings, making their environments as important a part of the narrative as the actors and making their travels as much a journey through Japan’s political landscape as it is an attempt to escape from their crime. Throughout the film there is something of an air of bitterness that can be detected, most obvious in the film’s conventionally unsatisfying ending which can be seen as a reflection of Wakamatsu’s sense of dissatisfaction with the idealism of the political movements with which he was involved.’ — EG


Excerpt

 

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Sex Jack (1970)
‘Set in the near future, a small gang of revolutionary students are hidden away by a small-time thief. While they are hiding, all but the thief take turns having sex with an unhappy (and perhaps unwilling) girl who has had the misfortune to get involved with them. About Sex Jack, Kōji Wakamatsu said: “I wanted to show how the revolutionary movements are always infiltrated by the moles working for the government.”‘ — Wiki


Trailer

 

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Shinjuku Mad (1970)
Shinjuku Mad was released in 1970, a year after student activism reached its peak with the shutting down of college campuses in Tokyo. Although his previous films were critical of young people, his sympathies still lay with them. However, Shinjuku Mad seems to be going another direction. The father of a slain young man comes to Tokyo to find the killer, known as Shinjuku Mad. The police are no help so he sets out on his own, poking around in (sometimes literally) underground coffee bars and crash pads in Shinjuku, then ground zero for the Japanese counter cultural movement. He’s straight-laced and square but he’s not insensitive to young people. In fact, he likens what they’re doing to the architects of the Meiji Restoration, the men who helped bring Japan out of its feudal age. It’s clear Wakamatsu and his usual screenwriter, Masao Adachi, have more respect for the honest working man of Japan than the “revolutionary,” who talks a lot but never does anything except squabble with others. Even more than the fact that Shinjuku Mad feels like a real movie, complete with coherent plot and resolution, it’s this aspect that surprised me the most. That a revolutionary filmmaker should take the position of the conservative working class says a lot about how he felt about the state of the revolution.’ — yakihito

 

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Ecstasy of the Angels (1972)
‘Originally created in 1961 to distribute European art films, Japan’s Art Theater Guild (or ATG) began producing their own independent films in 1967, and soon unleashed a string of experimental, innovative, and highly controversial works that would challenge not only postwar Japanese society, but cinema itself. ATG captured the pulse of Japan’s blistering underground movements and cultural schisms, tackling everything from queer pride to the after-effects of World War II, communist radicalism to Situationist theater, pornography to politics. “We are going to war! Smash it all!” cries a revolutionary in Koji Wakamatsu’s incendiary cine-assault, Ecstasy of the Angels; ATG aimed to do just that, with film as its main weapon. This film is the creation of Director Koji Wakamatsu who, after filming the Japanese Red Army in the Palestinian territories, became a target of both the Japanese government and Interpol, and was blacklisted by the American government, unable to leave Japan. Maverick auteur Koji Wakamatsu once again marries softcore porn with radical politics with this trippy tale about a member of a militant group coming apart at the seams as it plans its latest strike against society. The members of the group, who all go by code names based on the days of the week, labor under the “Autumn” branch of the organization. Following a late-night weapons raid on a U.S. Army base that turns bloody, members of the “Spring” branch attack, torture, and rape Saturday and Friday, demanding the weapons cache. This betrayal echoes throughout the group, turning friend against friend, as one and all descend into paranoia and sexual decadence. Some go crazy, as others grow ever more revolutionary. Evidentially, a splinter group unleashes a wave of bomb attacks upon the unsuspecting bourgeois of Tokyo.” — Jonathan Crow, Rovi


Excerpt


2 excerpts


Excerpt

 

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Torture Chronicles (1975)
‘A cult film master, Koji Wakamatsu, reveals the Japanese taboo!! Shot by 35mm film. Various tortures have been executed in the Japanese history. Director, Koji Wakamatsu has put together a collection of these tortures to reveal its bloody history.’ — Cinema of the World


Trailer

 

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Erotic Liaisons (1992)
‘During the first few years of the 90s, 18-year old Rie Miyazawa was taking the Japanese media by storm. The half-Dutch/half-Japanese ‘talento’ (a catch all term that essentially equates to an all-singing, all-dancing “entertainer”) had debuted in a series of TV commercials when she was 11, her early career as a child model paralleling such wholesome girl-next-door types as Brooke Shields and Patsy Kensit. Perhaps what is most curious about Miyazawa’s initial two-pronged assault on the Japanese cinema screen is how it could have yielded such radically different results. By all accounts she acquitted herself well in the title role of Hiroshi ‘Woman in the Dunes’ Teshigahara’s lavish historical adventure, Princess Go (Go Hime). Her appearance in Koji Wakamatsu’s Erotic Liaisons, however, piques the curiosity as to what sort of public image she was exactly trying to cultivate at the time. Opinions on the film from Western critics vary wildly, with Thomas Weisser proclaiming it “a near perfect film” in his Essential Guide to Japanese Cinema, and Mark Schilling’s offhand dismissal of it as “dreck … made by dirty old men for dirty old men” in his Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. I wouldn’t say it’s either, really. Whereas the very title would seem to pitch it towards the erotic thriller end of the market, it is ponderously paced and decidedly unexciting, and its erotic content pretty sparse.’ — Midnight Eye


Excerpt

 

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Endless Waltz (1995)
‘Koji Wakamatsu’s documentary film about Japanese free jazz/improvisation saxophonist Kaoru Abe.’ — IMDb

 

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United Red Army (2007)
‘The most militant of the many radical political groups forged in late 1960s Japan, the United Red Army has also been among the most contested and controversial. After a string of bold and deadly attacks on the police in 1972, several URA members fled to a remote mountain holdout where the bloody events unflinchingly chronicled in Wakamatsu’s celebrated most recent film took place. A frightening exploration of the conflict between individual expression and ideological conviction, Wakamatsu’s powerful and unsettling film focuses with harrowing intensity on the disintegration of the group as its members gradually turn on each other in grueling sessions of critique and, eventually, torture. While drawing extensively from his own experience within radical politics, Wakamatsu also based his screenplay and story on exhaustive interviews conducted with those surviving Red Army members he was able to track down, many in prison or in exile.’ — Harvard Film Archive


Trailer


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Caterpillar (2010)
‘Aesthetically, emotionally, and intellectually crude, Koji Wakamatsu’s brutally effective Caterpillar finds the legendary fringe-relegated director making obvious points about Japanese nationalism/ militarism and less obvious ones about the sexual dynamic of marriage. Naturally, the two are intimately linked. Shooting in a unlovely palette of browns and employing barely functional framings and jagged shock cuts, Wakamatsu’s latest revamps most of the premise from Dalton Trumbo’s classic novel Johnny Got His Gun; our returning “hero,” fresh from the second Sino-Japanese War, similarly loses his arms, legs, and hearing, but maintains his eyesight and ability to speak. More importantly, Wakamatsu’s film places the soldier’s homecoming in the context of a small-town village brainwashed by wartime patriotism and focuses its attention on the veteran’s wife, torn between an indoctrinated sense of duty and her growing sense of the absurdity of her situation.’ — Slant Magazine


Trailer

 

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11·25 jiketsu no hi: Mishima Yukio to wakamono-tachi (2012)
‘On November 25, 1970, a man killed himself in the headquarters of the Japanese Army Command in Tokyo, a gesture that will permanently mark the land of the rising sun. He leaves behind a long list of literary masterpieces and a controversy that has never faded. This man’s name was Yukio Mishima , one of the most famous and respected novelists in Japan. What did Mishima want to express in his last acts? What was the meaning of his action and how did hundreds of students come to join him? In his latest great film, Koji Wakamatsu , the enfant terrible of the pink cinema, signs a harsh but fair criticism of the sacrifices inevitably entailed by extremist militancy, be it from the left or the right.’ — Films & Documentaries


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p.s. Hey. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Welcome back to you too! Thanks about my back. Luckily it’s heading towards normality, I think, I hope. The Home Haunt convention was fun, and it was research for Zac’s and my next film, which is about, or, rather, set at a home haunt, so it was useful too. Very belated but very happy birthday! And cool about the bookstore job! Starting today! What kind of bookstore is it? How was your first day? I hope maybe the regularity of the job will settle your mood? Routine can do that. My first day home was hazy, but okay. I have to get back to work today. There’s a few free days to work on the film script before the TV project starts eating me up again, so I’m going to try to get as close as possible to finishing a draft of the whole script as I can. I already asked how your first job day was, so how was it, and how was the non-job part? ** Steve Erickson, Thanks, Steve. Unfortunately muscle relaxers don’t really help. It’s more of a nerve thing than a muscle thing, but it seems to be retreating. Did you see any/many of the Lucretia Martel films? I don’t know Young M.A.’s stuff, but I’ll go see what it is. Thanks. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Thank you, and ditto. Very curious about the Schrader. A friend in LA had seen it and also said it’s Schrader’s best in a while. Huh. ** Sypha, Thanks, James. Good to see you too. Funny you mention Bret. While I was in LA, the art school that brought me over had a dinner for me, and Bret came, so I got to see and talk with him for a long time for the first time in years. He was great, really funny. He and I have always had these strange parallels in our ‘careers’, and now we’ve both put novels aside for now to make films, so that was interesting to discuss. Btw, he reads the blog regularly, so I’m pretty sure he saw the repost of your ‘AP Day’, although I forgot to ask him if he did. Feel free to send the N-D Day to me whenever you’re ready. I’m reasonably good to go. And thank you! That’s very exciting! ** Chris Cochrane, Hi, Chris. It’s nice to be home, yeah. Re: ‘Them’, there’s a big, not good issue on my end that I just discovered a couple of days ago, and I’m going to write to you and Ish about it today. Erk. I’m so sorry about the heartbreak. Very tough stuff. What’s the band you rehearsed with? Love, me. ** JM, I’m very glad to hear you are good, and you certainly sound it. Wow, amazing, these letters. Let me read them. Hold on. (No problem whatsoever about writing in books. I do it.) Uh, I guess I can understand why people say my stuff is post-modern since a lot of stuff I love and am influenced by is tagged as post-modern, but I never think about my work that way. I’m excited for you to see PGL too, naturally. I do like my own work, yes. Is that weird? I assume everyone likes their own work. I have my faves and less faves, but I like pretty much like all my books. Cliff is the most alien, I think. Part of it is that the way I build and structure my books, there is inevitably a place in them where I think the machinations necessary to make the overall structures work become a bit too paramount, and, in ‘Closer’, the Cliff section is that place where, as hard as I tried, the section’s and character’s utilitarian function remained a bit too present. Thanks: the second George section and the Philippe section are my favorites. Paris was a choice, but I think given my nearly lifelong Francophilia, it was destiny that found its tigger when and how it did maybe. Thank you so much for the very kind words, man. Mm, my 80s self was not incorrect, but I have figured out how not talking also creates intimacy since then, and now I work with that a lot too. When you see PGL, you’ll see that operating a lot. I don’t know what photo of me they use on goodreads. I guess I should find out. Really heartening and great of you to write those missives, buddy. It means a lot. Very best of luck with the theater intensive. I would love to hear how and what that was when you come up/in for air. ** Chris Dankland, Hi, Chris! Great to see you! Can I just say how great XRAY is and what a total boon and inspiration it is? Well, I did. A GBV question, hooray! Similar albums, okay. ‘Propellor’, ‘King Shit And The Golden Boys’. I assume you’ve done the great, arguably greatest GBV album trio ‘Bee Thousand’, ‘Alien Lanes’, and ‘Under the Bushes, Under the Stars’, yes? If not, absolutely do. I’m hugely fond of their early EPS, especially ‘Japanese Spin Cycle’, which was the first GBV I bought/heard and the one that addicted me, ‘Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer’, ‘The Grand Hour’, … I’ll stop there before I swamp the p.s. with GBV. Generally when pressed I usually say ‘Under the Bushes, Under the Stars’ is my favourite GBV album. Hard choice though. Thanks so much, Chris! Rock hard and rock here whenever you can. ** Kooten, Glad to be back, and glad you’re back. We both made it. Vegetarian? Well, you know I’ve been that since I was 16 and that I super highly recommend it and that other than a stupid back thing I’ve always been in fairly impeccable health. 20 pager! I think so, yes. ** _Black_Acrylic, Howdy, Ben. You too. By the 16th, cool, no problem. I’ll start dwelling in my brain’s pre-blurb writing workshop area today. ** Benjamin, Hi there! Over email would be best, yes. ** H, Hi, h! Thanks! Nice to see you! The Art Center thing seemed to go really well, and the response was very good, I think. I hope you transition into mysterious perfect health soon. I guess all physical states are pretty mysterious. Mr. Ehrenstein just alerted me to Joan Murray the other day. I’ve never read her, and I am of course determined to. ** Nik, Hi, Nik. Thanks, man. I was in LA to do an event/lecture at Art Center, one of the big art schools there, and to do studio visits with grad students, and I managed to do those things. Long story very short, the TV series is about a female ventriloquist and her dummy. But it’s complicated, and a lot happens. Yes, Blanchot’s reclusiveness is very legendary. I have a friend here who actually knew him and spent time with him before he kind of disappeared himself, and I think my friend is long since sick of me constantly asking her to tell me what he was like. Have a good day! ** Okay. I decided to give a day over to the strange and kind of wonderful Kôji Wakamatsu. See what you think. And see you tomorrow.

15 Comments

  1. David Ehrenstein

    April 12, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Being a dedicated masochist it’s no surprise that Noel Burch is a fan of Kôji Wakamatsu, whose “Violated Women in White” recreates a mass murder that took place in the U.S, That Wakamatsu has made a film about Mishima is interesting. Mishima is a giant question mark floating over Japan as a whole and Japanese gay culture in particular. Paul Schrader tried to make a biopic but was blocked by Mishima’s widow (gay Japanese bourgeois of his generation were all married to women — Ozu being the exception to the rule) He artfully made a film about Mishima’s work instead. I am haunted by the observation made by gay Japanese at the time that Mishima’s suicide was spurred not by nationalism but personal vanity. He had developed his body as far as it could go for a man of his age and realized it was all downhill from there — so he killed himself. Gore Vidal was like so many others who thought they knew him were gobsmacked by the suicide. Gore said he was “fun to cruise with.”

  2. I haven’t seen any of the Martel films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center retro going on right now in that context, but I’ve seen all of her features repeatedly. I’d like to see the 2 shorts and the doc about ZAMA’s making that they’re showing, but as always, there are a ton of films playing NYC competing with that series. (I’m seeing the Nick Cave concert film DISTANT SKY tonight.)

    UNITED RED ARMY is a harrowing masterpiece, one of the few films where a director comes to term with the excesses of the New Left and realizes that they could be as bad as what they were fighting. (Last year, a critic attacked Godard on Twitter for becoming a Maoist, never apologizing for this, and still having a very high reputation. I told her that UNITED RED ARMY is the film she seems to want JLG to make.) I prefer it to the softcore porn films I’ve seen by him, although ECSTASY OF ANGELS is quite good.

    There was a gay “pink film” set in Mishima’s private army that got some circulation among American film festivals and might’ve received a video release in the U.S. The point seemed to be that his “soldiers” didn’t care about his ideology and just wanted to cruise each other.

  3. Dennis, cool that you got to hang out with Bret. When was the last time you got to do that? I recall how, in the very early days of the blog, you mentioned running into him at… was it a release party for THE SLUTS? Maybe I’m misremembering things, but I seem to recall him calling that book your STAR WARS, ha ha. Interestingly enough, one of the earliest blog days for the old blog that I can call to mind was one that was dedicated to LUNAR PARK. Anyway, rereading his books has been an interesting experience for me. A few of his books I re-read during my ten year reading experiment of 2008-2017, but a small handful (such as RULES OF ATTRACTION and GLAMORAMA) I have not read in over a decade now.

    Okay, I sent you the Neo-Decadence Day a few minutes ago, thanks!

  4. Hi!

    Thank you for the birthday wishes!

    I’m very glad to hear your back is finally getting better!!
    I imagine the Home Haunt convention also served as a huge surge of inspiration for the script, then! How’s it coming along? Could you work on it today as planned?

    As far as jobs go, this one seems okay, maybe even good. Everyone was really nice and friendly, the pace in which they started teaching me everything I need to know is absolutely fair and manageable. It’s a foreign language bookshop, mostly focusing on language books but there are lots of novels too. I’m afraid I won’t be able to resist some of them and a certain amount of my salary will stay there every month, haha.
    How was the day on your end? I hope it was satisfying script-wise – and otherwise too!

    • Interesting piece. I’d heard rumors that Nichols was gay or bi, but didn’t know it involved such a long-term relationship with another famous man. As I’ve said here, a psychiatrist I used to see told me I was the only gay man she knew who thought male bisexuality was a legitimate identity and not just a way for gay men to stay in the closet.. It seems like it’s more common for millennials who have attraction to both men and women to identify as bi than men of my generation, who summed themselves up as gay, straight or maybe queer (a la Michael Stipe, who says he uses that term instead of bi because he’s 80% into guys, 20% into women.)

      • David Ehrenstein

        April 13, 2018 at 4:17 am

        Bisexuality is most definitely an identity. Just ask Joe Dallesandro. As for Avedon and Nichols their affair took place within a context where it wasn’t publically acknowledged. That was how it was back in the day, though its obvious from the book had anybody asked Avedon he would have spoken of it then. Not Nichols however. He was sealed shut.

        I love his performance in Wallace Shawn’s one-character play “The Designated Mourner” which is available on DVD.

    • David Ehrenstein

      April 13, 2018 at 4:11 am

      “Zama” sounds fascinating. Astounding that it took so much time and diverse financing to get made.

  5. It’s not weird to like your own work, the question just appeared to float past my head at the time I imagine due to a combination of Kaurismaki’s ironic “I hate all my films” comment and, I suppose, something one of the characters in Closer said. Though, I’m always interested in the works that creators find lacking – Pynchon and Crying of Lot 49, Fincher and Alien^3 etc… (I love Alien^3 so…)

    PGL might as well be my most anticipated film at the moment… though, I’m excited for the new Schrader, too, First Reformed – have you heard much about it? I’ve never seen a Wakamatsu but I have seen bits and pieces and he seems to be great. I should finally make the dive… I saw the new Spielberg last night, Ready Player One. It comes from source material that might be the worst I’ve ever read (bits of) but I didn’t think it was half-bad. It was a bizarre experience to watch Spielberg grapple with the identification and identities his own work impose in relation to both a physical and non-physical body *whilst* also experiencing a bizarro deja-vu sense in author-surrogacy and, I suppose, the fallacy of author-surrogacy in reading Frisk (if those words make sense applied to it, they’re not particularly well thought through or ordered).

    I won’t be around to respond because of the aforementioned theatre intensive for a bit now, but may check in if I get the chance to read some Days and stuff. Hopefully when I get back I’ll have made my way through Try and have some more things to say and ask…

    J

  6. The Yuck ‘n Yum Compendium foreword is now this big “letter from the editors” type thing that all the collective members are contributing towards. The idea is that it tells the story of YNY, which is kind of an ambitious undertaking but we seem to be getting there.

    I’m wondering, how about a “welcome to the world” post that covers the Compendium launch in Dundee and also the Interregnum exhibition opening in Seattle? Both events happen on May 3rd and there should be plenty of documentary evidence once they’re done.

  7. Dennis! Welcome back, sir.

    I hope the back is infinitely better.

    Nothing to report here. Well, I am hella tired right now. I’m going to bed.

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

    But yes, welcome back. 😀

  8. Hey!

    Glad the lectures and workshops went well! Oh, I am a massive sucker for puppet stuff, that sounds super interesting. I was like, bizarrely into puppets growing up, it’s all pretty embarrassing. I had this obsession with avenue q way before I was old enough to get the humor. I think in elementary school our morning announcements were actually done via broadcast puppetshow from the principles office, and the students who did “good deeds” were allowed to visit the puppets and be on the TV. I think that like, ate away at me that I never got to see the puppets haha. Lol, anyways, this is super exciting dude!!! You’ve worked with puppet themes before, yeah? How’s scriptwriting going?

    That’s funny about your friend who knew Blanchot, I do that with one of my aunt’s friends who grew up with David Lynch as a close family friend. The legitimacy of his stories are debatable, since he was a kid and the stories are crazy, but I don’t think he minds. What was Blanchot like, I’m curious now?

  9. haha, i think ive lost 10 lbs already. watching Dracula for the billioneth time. it looks totally different every time i watch it. so how can i see PGL? back stuff sucks. hope you get to feeling better. ill send a story in a few days to help. going costume shopping tomorrow for some reason everyone around here celebrates Halloween in April, at least 2 Halloween-themed parties to go to.

  10. Welcome back Dennis. Sorry to hear about the back issues; that’s a sure way to ruin a trip.

    Glad you liked the new Wes Anderson. Will have to check out Wakamatsu.

    Work has been pretty exhausting, but that’s not new I guess! I did catch “A Quiet Place”, which I thought was fun but over-rated.

    Bill

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