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.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone