Koji Wakamatsu: Film-maker who was unafraid to explore the less palatable aspects of Japan

 

Koji Wakamatsu was in a permanent state of rebellion throughout more than 50 years of making films in Japan. In the last year of his life he completed three films with radically different settings to add to over 100 films of controversial reputation.

Financially successful as a film producer, backing films such as Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, he produced films for many contemporaries. But he was known for most of his career as a leading maker of "pink films" – low-budget sexploitation. Wakamatsu was ready to embrace the genre for his own purposes, particularly the portrayal of violent oppression.

His career underwent an extraordinary late revival with a three-hour historical drama in 2007, United Red Army. He had long been an idol of the revolutionary left: although he was primarily driven by a visceral anti-establishment attitude, he had links with many hard-left figures, especially Masao Adachi, with whom he made Red Army-PFLP-Declaration of World War in 1971.

The following year a detachment of this group, took hostages at a ski-chalet called '"Asama-sanso". Several people died and the chalet, which gave its name to the incident was destroyed. Only afterwards did it emerge that far more lives had been wasted in the group's internal purges. More than 30 years later Wakamatsu returned to the event, using the testimony of insiders to make True Record: United Red Army – The Way to Asama Sanso. Because he had close friends among those who were purged he took unusual care in making the film, paying uncharacteristic attention to detail. The convincing depiction of group dynamics that transformed the film into something horrifying and memorable.

Wakamatsu said that much of his motivation for sinking all his capital into the film was to counter a heroic police-procedural of the same incident by Masato Harada. But in putting his own heroes centre-stage, Wakamatsu made the most devastating critique of revolutionary politics I have seen.

Wakamatsu resumed film-making with Caterpillar, set during the second Sino-Japanese War. A powerful indictiment of right-wing militarism and nationalism, it won the 2010 Berlin Silver Bear. At the recent film festival at Busan he was as boisterous as ever. Speaking of Caterpillar, he said: "The motif is war and the question is, who are mostly the victims? It's women and children. Film-makers in Japan have not portrayed this. They just make films about dogs and cats" (an illusion to Naoko Ogigami's film Rentaneko, or "Rent-a-cat"). Chutzpah was always Wakamatsu's strong point.

Of Wakamatsu's three-film comeback, the most remarkable was 11.25: The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate. which was shot in 12 days – Wakamatsu was a one-take director. What surprised me was how favourably the film portrays the novelist's failed coup. "When the suicide happened, I truly hated Mishima," Wakamatsu said. "He was my enemy. I thought it was a really stupid thing to do – to make a 'toy army' to do such an absurd thing. However, as I was making United Red Army, I came to find out that, in both cases, youngsters acted in the same way without any selfish motivation. That's where I started to respect Mishima for leading those youngsters."

Several scenes seem to have been taken from Paul Schrader's earlier masterpiece on this much-lauded writer. But whereas Schrader had Mishima's speech realistically drowned out by helicopters, Wakamatsu conveys every word and homes in, melodramatically, on Mishima's sidekick, sobbing as the people fail to heed the true words of the prophet. The film was not well received at Busan. Was he getting old? Wakamatsu was asked. "I do not think the way I have made films has changed at all over time," he said. "While I have been making films for 50 years, I've always been consistent and not deviating, I believe." The actor who played Mishima, Arata Iura, supported Wakamatsu's claim to consistency in taking the side of the down-trodden.

Arguably the most shocking thing about Wakamatsu's film is the complete absence of sex – Mishima's sexuality is not even alluded to, an absence that looks cowardly.

Wakamatsu's sudden death after an accident crossing the road will not stop controversies about his significance but will at least spare the censors with a film he was still threatening to make at Busan., "I try to make films that give ammunition against the authorities. I feel like killing all the Members of the Diet, and since killing them in a film is not a crime, I am going to make a film in which I keep on killing them."

Roger Macy

Koji Wakamatsu, film-maker: born Takashi Ito, Miyagi prefecture, Japan 1 April 1936; married Keiko Ito; died Tokyo 17 October 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...