4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2012
United Red Army chronicles the emergence of this radical leftist group and follows its members to imprisonment, escape, or death. The film begins with an amazing sequence of archival footage from the 60's showing the rise of the radical student movement in Japan, its clashes with police and subsequent militarization. After two of their 29 members are executed as defectors, the remaining URAs travel to a hidden mountain training camp which ends in a kind of despotic insanity. Forced by the leaders to undergo "self-critique", many of the young fighters naively admit such petty wrongs as egotism, love and vanity. One by one, twelve more are executed for "defeatism".
Mr. Wakamatsu seems to be asking: How could so many young and beautiful people, with clearly noble aspirations, spiral down into such a tragedy? This question haunts us throughout the film as the huge cast of actors, almost like models in tableaus, "play characters" whose names and ages (and fates, for some) appear in subtitled freeze frames. This approach lays the foundation for a fresh and detached meditation on the subject, while at the same time, imbuing names and dates with flesh and blood. As the story develops, the acting seems to take over the space of "docudrama" and events become frighteningly lifelike.
Form and content fuse in the last third of film as the heartfelt motivation of the last five members is revealed in dialogue in the ten-day standoff with over a thousand police at the tiny Asama Mountain lodge where they keep the innkeeper's wife as hostage. Here the ending lines belie their sadness and unmasks their honorable yet terribly misguided passion. The sole teenage member of the group finally cries out: "We had no courage!" The final shot of the film punctuates the epic for a jarring effect.
Koji Wakamatsu's three-hour masterpiece won two prizes at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival, and, Wakamatsu, himself, sacrificed his country home for the final scenes of the film. His characteristic self-reflexivity is heightened by an almost constant background of sometimes edgy, sometimes melancholy music composed by Jim O'Rourke. Mr. Wakamatsu, so outstanding in his art, lays it on the table. This is not a "fiction". This is not the "news".
I am very sorry to learn that Mr. Wakamatsu died on October 17, 2012 after being hit by a car in Tokyo. He was a unique director who will be sorely missed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2014
This is one of the most powerful and disturbing films you're likely to see and it's a shame to see so many reviews actually reviewing Amazon, or one going over point by point real history vs this film.
The film follows highly idealistic students wanted to see revolutionary change. But as time goes by they live more and more in a bubble of self delusion. They imagine a world wide revolution is coming. They imagine all of Japan will follow them.
And then they retreat to the country to train, imagining a few dozen rebels can bring down Japan's government. Once there they turn from a radical group to an outright cult. They begin to accuse each other of not being radical enough. They punish, beat, torture and finally start killing each other over minor supposed offenses that aren't offenses at all.
The two main villains put in powerful performances. Just looking at them one comes to expect another person to die. Not speaking Japanese, I can't say how well it comes across in their own language, but it certainly comes across to non-speakers. The most central female victim has quite a fine performance too, able to win your sympathy just by a subtle look.
By the end you find yourself wanting to shout at them to get out, or to just wise up and see how they are throwing their lives away. I imagine some conservatives will watch this and perhaps feel smug, ignoring that there's no shortage of self destructive cults in their ideology too. (Everyone who watches Fox News...) Everyone else will feel somber over how a noble intent can go so wrong.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
From the 1960's through the 1970's, it was a turbulent time in Japan.
Dismayed about America's involvement in the Vietnam War, dismayed of Japan for the renewal of the Security Treat with the US, allowing the U.S. to refuel in Yokota Air Force Base and the American military presence in Okinawa to dismay of the treatment of students at the university but most importantly, anger towards then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.
Seeing how student revolutions were taking part all over the globe, especially in the United States against the Vietnam War and revolutions taking place in other countries, it was a beginning of the Japanese Student Left.
Massive demonstrations took place in Japan in which protestors (which included many students) would fight against the police and in the process, a few protestors were killed but the demonstrations by students against their universities due to tuition increases would lead to boycottts of classes but others had bigger ideas in mind. A revolution that would transform a group of students to form one of the most radical groups in Japan, the Red Army Faction.
Using violence and even terrorist methods, the Red Army Faction would be known for hijackings, bank thefts, munition thefts and eventually, these radical ideas would play a part in the demise of the Red Army Faction as distrust among members would lead to internal purging in which several members would kill some of their own because they were not completely dedicated to the Red Army Faction ideals.
The story of Japan's left movement had not really been fully explored as a feature film until 2007, when filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu known for this pink eiga films of '70s would release his film "Jitsuroku Rengo Sekigun: Asama sanso e no michi" (United Red Army), a film that would provide historical background on the Japan's student movement of the '60s and '70s and focusing on the beginning of the Red Army Faction, the military training in the mountains by members and what happens when URA chairman Tsuneo Mori (played by Go Jibiki) and Hiroko Nagata (played by Akie Namiki) feel that a few of their members aren't completely dedicating their life to the Red Army Faction and communism.
Wakamatsu's "United Red Army" gives viewers a visual sense of what had taken place during the early 1970's as the United Red Army tried to harden their members in order to dedicate their lives to communism with the use of violence and murder. What the group did not know was that by going into this violent direction, they would essentially destroy their own group.
The film would chronicle the student protests in Japan from the '60s leading up to the creation of the United Red Army and what took place at their training camp. The story is non-fiction and while true, there are some elements that are fictional to humanize each character before they left to training camp. And also featuring the murders of a dozen of the Red Army Faction members through the decisions made by Mori and Nagata and the infamous "Asama-Senso Incident".
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"United Red Army" is presented in 1:85:1 color (and archived footage). The historical footage is as one can expect, not in the best quality but when the film focuses on non-historical footage, picture quality was good for DVD. If anything, the combination of historical and modern footage helped to document the student protests and the creation of the United Red Army.
Audio is presented in stereo, Japanese with English subtitles. Japanese dialogue was clear, while subtitles were white with a black background and was easy to read.
"United Red Army" comes with the following special features:
Trailers - Trailers for "Army of Crime" and "Kimjongilia".
"United Red Army" is absorbing but also a horrific chronicling the leftist Japanese student protestors as they dedicate their lives to become terrorist seeking for a new revolution. Koji Wakamatsu's film provides insight to this true story of how a group with the same ideals would end up having severe internal problems and lead to the murders of their own members.
As a person who has covered so much about Japanese culture, one area that I have never delved into is the political activism that took place during the '60s and '70s. Like many other countries which were going through turbulent times especially with the Vietnam War affecting the United States and other students protesting it in their country but also using it as a way to unify other students to protest their dissatisfaction of their university or own government, it's one thing to read about the clashes with the police and those who have been injured in those clashes.
But when you watch "United Red Army" and then research further of how these young individuals ended up destroying themselves in the process, it's a film that is quite absorbing but also can be difficult to watch as we see how these internal problems become quite violent.
As their leader Mori wants each member to "self-critique" themselves and their failures and each time these members come back with an answer of "this situation has made me become a better person and dedicate myself to the revolution", it's not the answer he wants. And because these members enforce the "self-critique" to their mentally and physically weaker members, we see how other members start to resent the violence, while those who are hard dedicate, start to resent the weak minds of the others.
Needless to say, the weak become fodder and instead of focusing their anger towards getting anything accomplished in their revolution, the group starts to self-combust and the United Red Army starts to focus their anger more towards themselves and their ways of doing it, if torturing is not your cup of tea, "United Red Army" may not be easy for some to watch.
Where Koji Wakamatsu was able to bring some realism is its characters. While, I'm not so sure the characterizations are factual, there is somewhat of a chilling factor when you see Hiroko Nagata (played by Akie Namiki), when she starts seeing the negativity around her. In some way, the look on her face is sinister, while the other female members are normal. Each time she shows up on screen, I was always feeling dread that someone is going to get hurt or killed.
While Tsuneo Mori (played by Go Jibiki), you knew that he was always not happy with the way things are going with his group. He was the URA-chairman and it was interesting to see how his character evolved, from a weakling to the leader but to see him become more maniacal and demanding, obviously he has come to terms with death and trying to force others to not be afraid of it.
Unfortunately, his tactics as seen in the film may have made a few members dedicated to their cause but also scared and made others feel that perhaps the URA was not what they expected. These people joined to create a revolution but instead, they were forced to become hardened soldiers which many could not be and were punished for it.
In some way, "United Red Army" resembles a horror film because of the amount of violence and deaths that take place, but the intention is to give the viewer an idea of extremism of any sort and how people change because of it. While here in the United States and other countries, we have seen it with terrorist groups and religious cults, every decade always has its share of extremism.
But in a country like Japan, while the country is seen for being peaceful in modern times, from the feudal era to 1995, the country has had its share of extremism as well. Even from the '70s United Red Army, Japan would face tragedy from the Aum Shinrokyo cult responsible for the 1995 sarin attacks on Tokyo subways and other murders.
While there have been films on groups vying for a revolution, may it be "Che", "Carlos" or "The Baader Meinhof Complex", there really hasn't been a Japanese film that would go in-depth into showing one group's extremism, but most importantly how extremism can destroy a group within.
Koji Wakamatsu's "United Red Army" is absorbing, intriguing but also shocking, unnerving and brutal!
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2012
Only problem with this overly long "fillum" was a dire need of editing plus the director totally blew the ending because, as you could probably tell from the flat soap opera TV quality to the cinematography, they had zero budget. The final day of the siege was actually broadcast all day on TV nationally in Japan and the iconic image of that day was this huge wrecking ball dangled from a helicopter that was swung into the inn to kick-start the police charge to free the lone hostage. Also, the police charge into the building was not shot very well as the movie doesn't show what actually happened as two cops got killed and a further hour-long battle ensued trying to get at the lefty loonies who were holed up on the top floor. Then there was another cop who lost an eyeball thanks to one deadeye United Red Army shot. Plus the whole layout of the inn used in the movie was so wimpy. The actual inn was massive and solid as a rock really as it was built basically into the side of a mountain.
The other hugely bogus thing is the epilogue doesn't do anything but list future arrests and brushes over the Red Army's ramping up the violence starting with their infamous attack on the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel being still one of the signature events still burned into most Japanese people's consciousness that occurred a month later (let alone the various hijacking and hostage-taking that ran its course all the way into the late '80s mainly outside Japan and those planes exploding at the end were never explained as to what incident they were showing). I get this was focused on the one event, but the director wasted three hours telling a story that could have been told in an hour and a half or as an actual documentary as the first hour is terrific with the whole TV/newsreel footage rundown of most of the leftist protests in Japan.
The director also doesn't explain that the events depicted in this movie led to a huge loss of support from the general public.
Vastly overrated. Great topic. Great story. Very poor acting bar a few soles. Terrible editing. Flat TV-like video quality especially in the second hour which is basically shot like a TV soap opera. Relied way too much on narration to fill in the blanks. Overall, worth seeing for the historical content, but don't expect a masterpiece.