Tuesday, October 19, 2010

about Linda Hoaglund's "ANPO: Art X War"

On October 3, Sunday, at UPLINK, Shibuya, I saw Linda Hoaglund’s ANPO: Art X War, the film which describes how some Japanese artists have depicted American military presence in Japan, or how the military presence inspired those artists. “ANPO,” refers to a Japanese acronym for the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, which was originally signed by the US and Japan in 1951 when Japan regained its sovereignty, and renewed in 1960, and since then it has been almost automatically renewed every decade. The treaty allows American military presence in Japan. Japan has many US bases on its soil, and many of them are concentrated in the southern island of Okinawa, which was returned to Japan in 1972. 18% of the Okinawa main island is occupied by the US bases and 75% of all United States Forces Japan are located in Okinawa prefecture.

The fact that the film is titled ANPO in Japan, and ANPO: Art X War outside of Japan (it has already been screened at the international film festivals in Toronto and Vancouver) may imply that the filmmaker and the distributor expect that Japanese audience and the others would perceive the film differently: it is about “ANPO” for Japanese, “Japanese art” for the others. Here the filmmaker works as a curator. In fact, some among the Japanese audience question why such a film titled ANPO focuses on artworks instead of “ANPO” itself.

What I like about the film is, however, that it rediscovers some Modernist paintings and photographs, which appear to be influenced by Surrealism and Expressionism, because I am interested in the continuity between Pre-War Japan and Post-War Japan. Many of those artists who were educated before World War II were influenced by Modern artistic projects, such as Surrealism, Cubism, and Expressionism to name a few, but, in my view, the continuity tends to be ignored in the cultural discourse. It is also interesting that the film puts the pieces created by much younger artist such as Makoto Aida and Sachiko Kazama, who are usually seen as to some extent provocative, but not really political, in the context of those artworks of good old l’engagement, as if the filmmaker says to Aida and Kazama, “You’re making these as kitsch, but you’re actually serious.” In the film, Hoaglund interviews the artists she has chosen, asking what they think about the American military presence. Some of them, such as photographer Miyako Ishiuchi, in the film walks on a street near one of the US bases, talking about her memory of the street which was dangerous for young girls to walk. Though Hoaglund says her primary interest is rather in those artworks than in the politics, what she tries to listen to is rather those artists’ (kind of) political statements than their aesthetics. As the result, though the film appears to have a certain political statement to go against the military presence, I think what it implies is much more ambiguous.

In my view, what the film really depicts is neither the politics nor the aesthetics, but a kind of sentiment crystallizing around the Japanese experience of the US occupation and the succeeding military presence. It seems to me that the reason why Hoaglund focuses on the artworks is that she thinks that they can bring the sentiment to the audience effectively.

She lets the artists, especially those who participated in the anti-treaty movement which took place in 1960, talk about the memories of the movement. That year, a set of massive consecutive rallies against the treaty took place, surrounding the National Diet Building for a month, after the Lower House endorsed the renewed treaty without discussion. Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi forcefully pushed the opposition out of the building, using the police forces. Despite the majority of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Kishi was desperate. It is said that the way he organized the diet triggered the uprising. The fact that he reentered the political stage even though he had once been detained as one of the A-class war criminals--he had been a minister of the cabinet which had started the war against the US--also angered the people. Many might have seen that the military regime was coming back. Filmmaker Yukio Tomizawa in the film explains that the idea which united those who participated in the protest can be summarized as “No more war,” though the political agenda they had varied.

It is said that many participants did not know what the treaty was. Many simply did not like Kishi. Some radical students seriously wanted a revolution to happen. Unions wanted to revitalize themselves. In the 1950s, there was McCarthyism. Activities of the civil servants’ unions became restricted. And there was the Cold War. The rearmament of Japan progressed.

In a way, what had been seen as options for Japan’s future immediate after the surrender would be eliminated during the 1950s. Though I do not subscribe to the view that depicts Japan in August, 1945, as a blank slate, it has to be true that many people at that time had various ideas about the future of Japan. For instance, not a few argued Japan should be neutral, but Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida effectively defined (or confirmed) Japan as a member of the US allies, signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan as well as the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1951, in San Francisco.

It is always difficult to talk about what might have been. Probably the most shared view about the security treaty is that it was a practical choice and also inevitable: the living standard of Japanese was much improved partly by this treaty and it was impossible for Japan to regain its sovereignty without playing a role in the US foreign policy during the Cold War. And what I can say about this interpretation is, “I don’t know,” because things become a necessity only retroactively.

As the Diet automatically endorsed the treaty (in Japan, the Lower House has power to override the Upper House, and the Upper House apparently did not conclude the session at that time), the protest ended. It was basically non-violent, but a female student died and many were injured amid the clash between the protesters and the police forces. Many of the participants are still alive: some of them define the protest as an utter failure and some hail it as the Post-War Japanese democracy at its best.

What I see in ANPO: Art X War is that a certain sentiment crystallizing around those photographs, paintings, and fragments of films cited by Hoaglund. Her way of framing the images causes some emotional effects. Some footage she quotes shows the protesters’ beautiful solidarity. As I understand it, that is the way she responds to not only those artworks, but a certain “Japanese” sentiment: and I am almost naming it patriotism. I even suspect what she actually wants to see is this Japanese “hidden” patriotism. I am not saying all the protesters were patriots. But, in fact, some radical students among the protesters became nationalist later on. The similar thing is happening in Europe: those right-wing populists often proudly claim that they were among the protesters in 1968.

My assumption is that what led the people to the war and what led the people to the protest are not so different. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek explains that contemporary phenomena such as Islam fundamentalism, right-wing populism in Europe, and the Tea Party movement in America, can be summarized as “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution,” citing Walter Benjamin’s observation of Fascism. It may hold true for the Japanese military regime. In my view, the fact that the majority, including Socialists and various civil rights activists, supported the regime is more important than the state censorship or the lack of enough civilian control of the military at that time. Virtually everyone expected that the regime would bring something good to Japanese. Akira Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful (1944), the film which depicts female workers’ beautiful solidarity and is rather similar to those Soviet propaganda films, shows what Kurosawa perceived as ideal during the war. Though it might have been true that a lot of obscenity was going on in the war-time society, we should remember that what Kurosawa thought as what should have been was also shared by many. Can it be said that the people, who had seen that failed revolution, later on tried to translate what they had wanted during the war into a “just” revolution in 1960?

Moreover, one lesson of the war is that belonging to the majority does not necessarily mean being right. Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (1955), in which an elderly foundry owner so fearful of a nuclear attack tries to take his entire family to Brazil, despite that most of his family members are embarrassed by his obsession, is not a simple anti-nuke film. The protagonist, a failed Moses-like figure poses an existential question similar to what Eugène Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros (1959) does: “Do you still want to be a human when everyone becomes a rhinoceros? Which is insane?” Many among the protesters might have shared that question, and that was, as I understand it, why they protested despite that the majority voted for the LDP. Therefore I think that the view that hails the movement as Post-War Japanese democracy at its best overlooks the complexity of the movement.

Additionally, I note my another assumption that violence might have been an option for both the protesters and the state power, even though the protest was basically non-violent. A non-violent protest is effective when violence is legitimate. Gandhi might have chose non-violence because of this. He was not a simple pacifist. On the other hand, the tragedy of the radical students around 1968-1970 in Japan was that they chose (or, had to choose) violence when violence had already become illegitimate. For us living in the developed countries, violence is always illegitimate, but necessary, and the state power decides what necessary violence is and practice it in order to, often, “spread democracy” to “the Pre-Modern world.” The way Japan maintains the contradiction between its pacifist constitution and well-equipped armed forces may represent our very ideology of non-violence:

ARTICLE9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

I do not argue that Japan should amend this article in order to legitimize its armed forces. A right question may be, “Is this enough?”

What I do not like about ANPO: Art X War is that it tends to describe Japan as a victim of the US foreign policy. Especially the part Tim Weiner explains the CIA’s role in Japan is misleading: it tells as if why Kishi became a prime minister was because of the CIA’s conspiracy. That kind of rationalizing (there may be some truth in it, though) may lead us to overlook the fundamental problem. By the way, what Weiner studies is basically how immature as an intelligence agency the CIA is, but not Japanese politics. I assume Weiner simply said what Hoaglund wanted to hear. The relation between Japan and America probably is not unilateral as it is often said. Their “mutual cooperation” is effectively functioning in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few. I think even Japan’s pacifist constitution is playing a role in this global systemic violence and the narrative of an inequality that Japan is forced by America to maintain American military presence on its soil is obscuring this violence. I do not know how to solve this problem; though I am not for the military presence, I believe it will be a tragedy if it is Japanese patriotism or nationalism that ends it.

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