Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Japanese Red Army

A wave of student radicalism swept through the whole world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Vietnam war, American civil rights movement, May of 1968 in Paris, the "Spring of Prague" followed by Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in the same year and the 1973 military coup in Chile were catalysts in this international turmoil. Here in Finland the pinnacle of cultural radicalism was the Marxist-Leninist Taistolaiset movement, who leaned heavily in their ideology towards the Soviet Union. There was a lot of heated discussion on revolutionary dialectism, but in the end the dogmatic Taistolaiset rhetoric was more violent than their actions. This was not the case in Japan, however, where the terrorist organisation Japanese Red Army was formed.

The Japanese Red Army had its roots in the leftist student movement, who opposed the US-Japan security treaty of 1960, which was renewed ten years later. Japan hosted American military bases, and arms shipments (including napalm) and maintenance for the Vietnam war were operated from these bases. Furthermore, the leftist students pointed an accusing finger to Japan's own past as a "fascistic occupator".

The revolt against high officials started at the elite university of Todai as well as at Nichidai, which was a more working class-based university with the massive attendance of 100.000 students. In 1967 in the village of Sanzurika north of Tokyo students together with local farmers were waging war with the government over the construction of Narita International Airport. Farmers were expected to relocate from the lands of their ancestors, which they refused, and they were joined by students who saw the construction of Narita purely in geopolitical terms. Students also blocked in October 1968 the Shinjuku Railway Station through which travelled the trains carrying arms supplies meant for the Vietnamese war. The student activist organisation Zenkyoto demanded academic reforms and democratization of the university. Different Japanese activist factions were known for their helmets of different colours (for example, Communists wore yellow helmets): these were useful in the incidents of gebabo or gewalt, violent staves.

Zenkyoto prevented the entrance examination for fiscal year by barricades and then they occupied the Yasuda Hall of Todai in January 1969. There was a riot police siege around the building and Molotov cocktails were thrown. When the occupation ended after three days, 768 students were arrested, 170 policemen and 47 students having been injured.

The Yasuda incident was a major blow for the Japanese student movement, after which took place the fragmention into various of socialist, communist and anarchist fractions.

Some of those undertook the way of armed revolt. The Red Army, which had reorganised itself in 1971, attacked banks and police stations. They carried out a series of attacks around the world: the most notorious was the machine gun and grenade attack at Israel's Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion) in 1972, a massacre which left 26 dead and 78 injured. There were also two Japanese airliner hijackings -- in 1970 a Red Army faction forced a JAL plane to fly to the North Korean capital Pyongyang -- and an attempted takeover of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The group based itself in Lebanon in the 1970s, where they linked up with Palestinian extremists.

On February 19, 1972, five members of the Red Army, or Rengô Sekigun, took a hostage and shut themselves up in a Asama mountain villa in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, but were finally arrested on February 28. The battle between the radicals and the police was broadcast live on television: both NHK and commercial broadcasters relayed more than 10 hours of footage of the incident. Police ended the siege by crushing the villa with a crane and demolition ball. After the suppression of the revolt, it turned out that the far-left radicals had committed brutal purge murders within themselves under the name of sôkatsu (summary) while they were leading a fugitive life. To many people the Asama Sansô incident meant the final failure of the New Left mass movement. Purge murder victims numbered 12. Three were shot dead in the Asama Sansô battle.

Radical film-makers such as Shinsuke Ogawa also joined the student revolt with their controversial films (not to talk about the era's other films of subversion and violence, or such Japanese sexploitation genres as pink eiga or roman porno -- and of course Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of Senses). Shinsuke had already documented the struggle against the construction of the Narita Airport.

Films directed by Koji Wakamatsu, Yoshishige Yoshida, Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima pursued revolutionary politics and questioned the repressive side of Japanese society. After 1968, Wakamatsu's films had become increasingly political -- not least because Wakamatsu's screenwriter Masao Adachi became heavily involved with the politics of the extreme left. Adachi, who directed seven pink eiga, eventually became a member of the Japanese Red Army. In 1973 he left Japan to join the Palestinian Liberation Front PFLP in Lebanon where he stayed until he was extradited to Japan in March 2000. After a trial and brief prison term, he has returned to the film industry with plans for a new movie.

In April 1988, Japanese Red Army operative Yu Kikumura was arrested with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike, apparently planning an attack to coincide with the bombing of a USO club in Naples, a suspected JRA operation that killed five, including a US servicewoman. He was convicted of the charges and is serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States. Tsutomu Shirosaki, captured in 1996, is also jailed in the United States. In 2000, Lebanon deported to Japan four members it arrested in 1997, but granted a fifth operative, Kozo Okamoto, political asylum. Red Army's long-time leader Fusako Shigenobu, "the Red Queen", was arrested in Osaka in November 2000 after having been previously living in Lebanon for thirty years.