Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Back Page

We have come to assume that Japan is a relatively safe society, free of social unrest and violence. Sure, there is the sliver of attention that Japanese gangs command in foreign media, through directors like Beat Takeshi, or the Yakuza (龍が如く) video game series from Sega. You may even be familiar with the Aum Sinrikyo (オウム真理教) sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway in 1995. But even before that, there was the Japanese Red Army. A communist group that formed in the early '70s with the goal of overthrowing the Japanese government and monarchy.

Released in 2011, My Back Page chronicles the early career of mutli-award winning journalist and critic Saburo Kawamoto at Asahi Journal (朝日ジャーナル). Kawamoto, who is at first sympathetic to the ideological driven students who form the Japanese Red Army, is played admirably by Satoshi Tsumabuki  who also appeared in 2010's critically acclaimed Akunin (悪人). Opposite Matsuki is Kenichi Matsuyama who already feels like a veteran of Japanese cinema at the age of 27. Matsuyama enjoys throwing himself into a wide range of continuously challenging roles, and I think that kind of hurts his performance here, as he doesn't seem believable as the driven leader of an underground socialist movement.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita also deserves some attention here for creating a believable early 1970s Japan. The film was even shot in 16mm, which almost gives the film a documentary feel in some segments, and matches the images with the time period.

I highly recommend My Back Page to anyone looking to dig a bit deeper at Japan's recent history into events that have molded it.

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