A story about the rise and fall of United Red Army, a real life 70s short-lived Japanese armed revolutionary communist movement similar to more famous Red Brigades in Italy or Baader-Meinhof Group (a.k.a. Red Army Faction) in West Germany.Written by
Koji Wakamatsus latest entry in a line of more than 100 films is narrated in the style of "jutsuroku": a mixture of documentation and fictional scenes. In the very beginning of it's 189 minutes, an overview of the Japanese student movement in the 1960s is given almost à la history Channel. In uncomplicated language, a voice-over speaker reflects the political occurrences, mentions the protagonists and, where necessary, explains the backgrounds. Slowly the fictional parts, which are woven into the documentary material, step in the foreground; even then all new characters are introduced with name, age and other details which are written on the screen above their heads. Based on various sources that witnessed the actual events, Wakamatsus surprisingly straight narration retells what happened within the Japanese Red Army Fraction after it's unification with fellow underground political party RLF. In their aim to overthrow the Japanese society both by terms of terrorist methods as well as with socialist agitation, the two groups got together in the mountains of the Gumma district to train for the "war" and to endlessly discuss their ideological basis. More and more, their exclusion from the outer world due to pressure from the police lead them to restrict to their own world and to heighten their political ideas to a sort of fundamental religion. Forced to put onto "self-trial", 14 of the 26 members fail to express sincere devotion to the communistic aim and are subsequently killed by their fellow fighter. Inevitably, what started out as a student movement to the world to the better, ends as an internal slaughter of fanatics killing each other. Compared to other left-wing terrorist movements from the 1970s (such as the German RAF, the French Action Directe or the Italian Brigade Rosse), the Japanese United Red Army or at least what Wakamatsu shows us is significant in it's harsh internal struggles; the war they wanted to fight, it seems, was more a war against their own insecurities and fears than against the Capitalist world. Although an important factor, it was a wise choice not to try to "explain" the events with the specialties of Japanese culture. By giving a chronological retelling of historical reality with the attempt to strictly remain with the facts, Wakamatsu rejects the option of fantasizing about motives and motivations, which is ever more intriguing given the fact that he knew many of the actual people personally. (He was himself involved in some of their early actions in the founding years). In the end, after three hours went by incredibly fast, what left is a deep and strong impact from a brilliant film that asks for repeating viewing and will most likely lead to further discussions and research on the viewers' side. It's a gripping, intelligent, tense and, yes, an uncompromising as well a stimulating film.
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