Film looks at ’72 Asama ultraleftists

by Akemi Nakamura

More than 30 years after Japan’s student movement, a new film by Koji Wakamatsu aims to shed some light on the 1972 Asama Mountain Lodge incident perpetrated by the United Red Army ultraleftist group.

“I wanted to let people know why young people who in those days entered universities and had promising futures did such things,” Wakamatsu told a news conference Wednesday night in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

The antigovernment movement raged nationwide from 1960 to the early 1970s as the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was revised in 1960 and 1970. The URA was formed in 1971 by young ultraleftists who wanted to start a world revolution by force.

Wakamatsu’s film, “Jitsuroku Rengo Sekigun — Asama Sanso e no Dotei” (“United Red Army — The Path to Asama Mountain Lodge”), depicts the notorious standoff and shootout between five URA members and police at a lodge near Mount Asama in Nagano Prefecture in February 1972 — a nine-day-long siege that was broadcast round-the-clock by Japanese media.

Wakamatsu said he simply wanted to show what really happened.

“I believe in Japan, the mass media and politicians tried to cover up (what happened),” he said.

Exploring the history of the student movement, Wakamatsu’s film, which won the Japanese Eyes Best Picture award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October, also illustrates how and why the URA radicals had lynched 12 members under the guise of helping them “self-criticize” themselves and buried their bodies on the mountain.

“Self-criticism” was supposed to mean learning from their experiences to move to a new direction, but it ended up denying and destroying them, said Yasuhiro Uegaki, a former URA member who spent 27 years in prison for murdering the members and other charges. He was not involved in the Asama shootout.

Uegaki said he joined the URA as he thought fighting the government could lead to ending the Vietnam War because under the security treaty, Japan let the U.S. use bases here to send military forces to the Southeast Asian country.

“There were lynching incidents in many leftist organizations in the past (in Japan). Our group’s lynching incidents formed the most extreme case,” he said.

“I know it may sound self-serving, but I’d like to make the point that revolutionary movements always go too far. What’s important is that when things go beyond the line, we have to think about what we’ve done. Unfortunately in Japan, we have not done that yet.”

The film will be shown in Japan this spring.