September 21, 2011

Film Studies Center hosts screening and discussion with filmmaker Linda Hoaglund.

Linda Hoaglund’s new film ANPO: Art X War, which the Film Studies Center will be screening on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m., is more art-history lesson than history lesson. The film focuses on a brief, turbulent period of Japanese history, but does so almost entirely through the work of about two-dozen contemporary artists, to whom the mere facts of that history seem insufficient, unreliable, or unknowable. Hoaglund will discuss the film following the screening.

Hoaglund is the daughter of two American missionaries who settled and worked in rural Japan. She was educated in Japanese schools, she speaks Japanese with utter fluency, and she has written English subtitles for Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well, Hayio Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and more than 200 other Japanese films.

Despite her deep connection with Japan, Hoaglund considers herself American. Having learned history from the Japanese perspective, she cannot help but feel ambivalent about the place of the United States—which she nonetheless calls her country—in that history.

Japanese point of view

“I don’t think that many American kids learned about Hiroshima in Japanese school, from the Japanese point of view,” Hoaglund says. “Because I grew up in a country that my country defeated in war, I learned about war from the victim’s narrative. And that’s a very different narrative to grow up with than the conqueror’s narrative.”

In the conqueror’s narrative—the one wherein America’s Greatest Generation joins with its allies to save the world from imminent destruction—fire bombings and internment camps represent a regrettable but understandable ethical lapse, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are “leveraged back into the heroic narrative.” After all, dropping those bombs “saved a million American lives,” Hoaglund says with more than a hint of sarcasm, “Sort of like the yellowcake in Iraq.”

“Anyway,” she says brightly.

ANPO: Art X War explores, from that same fundamentally Japanese point of view, what happened after the national trauma of World War II. It is about the post-war anxieties of Japanese artists specifically and Japanese citizens generally. It is about a progressive, oppositional strain in Japanese culture that never quite took root, and about a revolution that never quite happened, all viewed through the work of about two-dozen artists. “I decided to tell the history through art because that’s how I learned about it,” Hoaglund explains. “I didn’t start with a history book.”

In the course of translating and subtitling Japanese films, Hoaglund could not help but notice that the whole of the country’s cinema took a dark turn in the year 1960. She wondered what had happened to make Shōhei Imamura go from the essential optimism of My Second Brother to the almost oppressive darkness of Pigs and Battleships in just two years. She wondered what made Akira Kurosawa, whom she had never considered a particularly political filmmaker, confront injustice and conspiracy so directly in 1960’s The Bad Sleep Well?

Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security

What had happened, Hoaglund found out, was this: When Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, ending World War II, they also signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (ANPO). ANPO allowed the United States to establish military bases throughout Japan, over 100 of which are still there today. Hoaglund describes ANPO as “the most unequal treaty the United States has ever signed with anybody.”

As United States waged the Korean War, making judicious use of its new Japanese bases, it became all too easy to imagine Japan itself being pulled back into global conflict. Add to that the habitual crimes of young soldiers against local civilians, and it is easy to understand why, when Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi brought the ANPO treaty up for amendment and renewal in 1960, tensions were high.

Hoping to put an end to ANPO, the county’s opposition parties staged a sit-in. Kishi responded by having all of the parliamentarian protestors arrested, in the full view of television cameras. It was then that the widespread protesting began, led by students but inviting participation from a wide swath of citizens. Despite this overwhelming popular resistance, the ANPO treaty was renewed by means of a shadowy process called automatic ratification.

The Economic Miracle

And then—what, precisely? Neither Hoagland nor any of her interview subjects can say quite why the protests stopped. “Many student leaders became quite successful corporate executives, and so there’s a sense of taboo associated [with the protests],” says Hoaglund. There is a strange sense in which the 1960 protests are seen as shameful because they were in no way limited to some small group of dissidents. Virtually all of the protestors went on to be productive members of Japan’s reemerging middle class, leading players in the decades-long resurgence that came to be known as the Economic Miracle.

Hoaglund asks us to imagine, in the Egypt or Libya of today, if “everyone gave up one day and said ‘oh well, too bad’ and all went and got really nice jobs,” as though calls for political change were nothing more than foolish, youthful transgressions. Then imagine the cultural and historical value of the art that documented those abandoned social projects. These are the stakes in ANPO: Art X War, and in the art that it chronicles, celebrates, and reconsiders.

By Drew Messinger-Michaels, AM'10

The Film Studies Center is proud to present "An Evening with Director Linda Hoaglund," including the screening of her film ANPO: Art X War, on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.