Kōji Wakamatsu’s epic, operatic and ambitious magnum opus United Red Army – which was such a passion project for the maverick filmmaker that he didn’t just mortgage his house for financing it, he even destroyed it at the end of its climactic sequence – was crafted through intermingling of documentation and dramatization. And, this bold interweaving of the objective and the subjective – wherein, the news reel footage were accompanied by a meditative voiceover, while the enacted parts were kept deadpan to retain flavours of poetic realism – made this such a fascinating work. Clocking at over 3 hours and covering a broad temporal arc, this thrilling work chronicled in incredible details the rise and fall of the titular militant Marxist-Lenist-Maoist organization – formed through the merger of the Red Army Faction and the Japanese Communist Party – with considerable formal elan. Wakamatsu, on one hand, captured the idealism, revolutionary fervor and utopian dream borne out of student political movements, desire for societal reformation, fearless defiance of the authorities and staunch opposition of Japanese and American imperialism; while, on the other, he also covered the despotic attitudes among the power centers in the group, their acts of dogmatic violence, the growing disillusionment and paranoia, and their eventual collapse. The hyperkinetic first act made terrific use of archival footage – interspersed with short enacted bursts – that established the context and depicted the group’s formation; the middle section, set in makeshift training camps in the Japanese Alps, focused on the brutal heavy-handedness of its leaders that broke the group’s backbone; and the elaborate final episode followed the last-ditch escape attempt of 5 of its members which ended with the Asama-Sansō incident and an infamous media circus.
Director: Koji Wakamatsu
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Docufiction/Historical Epic