Film Review: ANPO

It begins with a close-up of a painted image of a dog with an unnatural human-like mouth smeared with bright red lipstick.  The camera moves about the canvas, zooming in and out, revealing a little more.  Above the dog is a dark monster, red tongue hanging out, who holds the dog by the tail in one claw-like hand and by one ear in the other hand.  Tied around the dog’s neck is a white napkin with the words “Yellow Stool” scrawled across it.  The scene then changes abruptly to another painted image, that of Manhattan in flames, encircled by a fleet of Mitsubishi Zeroes.

 

The film is ANPO:  Art X War (2010), a documentary by the American filmmaker Linda Hoaglund.  The word anpo (a shortened form of anzen hoshou “security”) refers to the Japan-US Security Treaty. The film deals, however, not so much with the Security Treaty per se but with the responses of Japanese visual artists to various issues connected with it, including the 1960 mass protest against the signing of the revised Treaty, the continued presence of US bases on Japanese soil, especially in Okinawa, the ill treatment of Japanese women by GIs stationed at those bases, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war guilt of the Japanese, and the fire bombings of Tokyo.  Because the film explores these issues through the eyes of the artists, it comes across more like an art exhibit than a documentary.  Some of the artists speak on screen so we have their words to mull over as well, but most of what we see is the art works themselves, and it is those works which speak most eloquently and appeal to viewers most forcefully.  Being works of art rather than reason, they do not argue what to do about the Security Treaty itself, but rather pose some troubling questions and leave the drawing of any conclusions up to viewers.

 

The scene of New York burning is from “Map of an Air Raid of New York” by Aida Makoto (1996).  It shows skyscrapers, many easily identifiable such as the Chrysler and Pan Am Buildings, engulfed in flames.  In the foreground a fleet of Zeroes forms a figure eight, the sign of infinity.  This scene, interspersed with shots of the artist being interviewed, is accompanied by a melancholy instrumental rendition of Takemitsu Toru’s anti-war song “All That the Man Left Behind When He Died.”

 

Mr. Aida:  “For the Japanese, whether or not we like America is a loaded question that isn’t easy to answer.  Whether or not you like France is a matter of personal taste.  But America is a more searing presence, with love and hate always flip-flopping.”

 

The rest of the film, and the artists and artworks featured in it, elaborate on this basic theme.  While many of the works depict the horrors of war, and some express anger not so much at the US military presence as at the Japanese politicians who allow it, the impression that comes through loudest and clearest is of a deep wellspring of unresolved and complicated anger toward America hidden beneath the quiet surface of Japanese society.  This unresolved anger and its implications is perhaps best expressed by the two paintings that open the film.

 

The Zeroes were, of course, designed as fighter jets, not bombers.  They were turned into bombers, however, in the latter years of the war when they were used for kamikaze suicide attacks on American ships.  Thus, “Map of an Air Raid” depicts New York being attacked by airplanes turned into bombs themselves.  The scene would be reminiscent of 9/11 were it not for the fact that it was painted five years before that event.

 

The “Yellow Stool” makes several reprise appearances, and eventually it becomes clear that the dog represents Japan, and the dark monster who holds it in his grip is the United States.  On another level, the dog represents the women who were hired by the Japanese government in the early days of the Allied Occupation to work as prostitutes serving the American GIs posted to Japan.  A bit of film footage shows a young white soldier with his arm slung casually around the shoulders of a pretty Japanese woman.  They are both smiling and looking happy, but the man keeps stroking the woman’s cheek with the hand that lies on her shoulder, and she keeps reaching up and pushing the hand away, even while she continues to smile, even while he keeps ignoring her signal and returning his hand to her cheek, while she continues to smile, like the dog in “Yellow Stool.”

 

Another painting:  “And Still They March” by Katsuragawa Hiroshi.  A man wrapped in bandages and barbed wire walks on crutches away from us down a long red-carpeted gray-walled corridor toward a black rectangle of a doorway at the further end.  One leg is in a brace and the other has been removed at the knee.  His bottom is unbandaged but also unclothed.  Around his head the bandages have been wrapped in such a way as to suggest the ziggurat-like dome of the Diet Building.

 

When I first saw the title, I thought the painting depicted soldiers going to war, again and again and again, despite the futility of war, despite its horrors, despite the damage that it does to everyone and everything.  But listening to the interview with the artist, and looking more closely at the painting, I realized he meant to depict the Japanese parliament.  Despite the widespread protests against the Treaty, in which millions of citizens participated, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Kishi effectively cut off all debate and shut out the opposition from the vote to approve the Treaty. “Parliament wasn’t functioning anymore so I wrapped it twice in bandages, but it’s Parliament hobbling along on crutches,” explains the artist.

 

“March” may also refer to the protest marches, and the determination of the people not to give up.  Parliament may not have been functioning, but ordinary citizens were filling the streets demanding that their voices be heard.  Artist Ikeda Tatsuo participated in that 1960 demonstration, and tells of a friend who marched with him.  Because he had had polio as a child, this friend walked with a crutch, dragging one leg behind him, “desperately chanting and zigzagging” for three kilometers.

 

ANPO includes scenes from a film made of that protest [Rage at ANPO (1960), Tomizawa Yukio, dir.], and in one of them, the march has arrived at the U.S. Embassy.  The camera zooms in on a white man standing on a balcony of an Embassy building watching the goings-on and smoking a cigarette. He flips his cigarette butt down at the crowd and exhales a cloud of smoke before turning away.

 

In the end, the protest failed to stop the signing of the revised Treaty.  One scene shows Mr. Katsuragawa’s painting being taken out of storage, perhaps on its way to be photographed for the film.  It had been stored not in a museum but in the attic of the garage of a kerosene salesman, a friend of the artist.  So too did the protest march end with everybody going home and putting their anger into storage, not to be shown in public.  As Mr. Ikeda asks at the end of the film:  “So what the hell is democracy?”

 

[To view a trailer of ANPO, visit <http://anpomovie.com/&gt;.  For an excellent critique of the film, see Ryan Holmberg, “Know Your Enemy:  ANPO,” Art in America, Jan. 1, 2011, at <http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/features/linda-hoaglund/&gt;.   Future screenings will be held at the Hong Kong Film Festival on March 24 and 27, at the Association of Asian Studies/ICAS Film Expo 2011 in Honolulu on April 2, and at the Harvard Film Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 11.]

 

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