Movies to watch on the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japanese rule

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the official transition of Okinawa Prefecture from American to Japanese control. Although the post-war occupation of Japan by the United States officially ended in 1952 (although its military presence in the country remains significant to this day), it was not until two decades later that it relinquished control of Okinawa, which occupies a highly strategic position in the Pacific. The 1971 reversion highlighted multiple social and political issues on the archipelago regarding its colonization by both Japan and the United States – issues that remain unresolved to this day. This year, Japan Society in New York observed the half-centenary of reversion with its series of programs Okinawa in brief, highlighting Okinawan culture and history. The last episode of this series, Cinematic Reflections, brings together a variety of films that consider Okinawa and its relationship with Japan.

Since Motoshinkakarannu

The selections run the gamut from a yakuza image to level five, the latest feature film from Chris Marker. But of particular note are two documentaries from the Nihon Documentarist Union (NDU), both of which were filmed in Okinawa amid social upheaval around the reversion. Active from 1968 to 1973, the NDU was a collective of radical left-wing filmmakers, an offshoot of the intense youth activism in Japan at the time. The group was so determined to break down traditional forms of film production and form non-hierarchical structures that it avoided individualism almost entirely – everyone in it was anonymous and uncredited in their work. The population of the NDU ranged from several dozen to hundreds of members during its brief but successful existence.

Since Motoshinkakarannu

The two NDU films on the program, 1971 Motoshinkakarannu and 1973 Asia is one, bookends the reversion of Okinawa, with the first filmed before the event and the second during and after it. Both documentaries are thrilling low-fi affairs, scraped from all available material with pure youthful grit. (Preservation of these films, essentially buried for decades, has been so patchy that sound is completely absent for some periods. Japan Society has helpfully posted transcripts on its site.) Motoshinkakarannu, several crew members had to forge documents to travel to Okinawa, as at the time it was officially foreign territory and a visa was required to travel. The sound is often deliberately asynchronous with the images, negating the idea of ​​single authoritative voices in favor of constructing a kind of heteroglossia of Okinawan visuals and oral testimonies that allow the region to speak “for itself. -same”.

Since Asia is a

The title of Motoshinkakarannu is an Okinawan term meaning “business without seed capital”, local slang for dodgy business ventures in general, but referring to prostitution in particular. The film indeed spends a lot of time with sex workers, whose trade is largely fueled by the American military presence in Okinawa. In fact, much of the industry – and social tension – in the region revolves around the foreign presence. (U.S. military bases in Japan, particularly Okinawa, were key to its war with Vietnam.) A fascinating sequence sees NDU members hanging out with black U.S. soldiers, unhappy with their role in the war. army and finding political common ground with the Japanese and the Okinawans.

But the United States is not the only colonizing influence. Okinawa and the rest of the islands in the Ryukyu region are culturally distinct from the rest of Japan, which only brought the archipelago under its jurisdiction several hundred years ago. Some of the protests at the time of the reversion were that the islands should be independent, rather than “returned” to their former colonizer. (Some sentiments to this effect also appear in both films.) While the NDU captures many voices critical of US dominance over the islands, it also does not spare scrutiny of the role of Japan as an imperialist power, dismissing post-war stories of blameless wholesale victimization. by the West.

This theme comes to the fore in Asia is one, with its title both speaking candidly about the need for international solidarity among workers in Asia and ironically referencing Imperial Japanese WWII-era propaganda aimed at forging the “Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of the ‘East “. It pays special attention to migrant workers from Taiwan and Korea who carry out dangerous and often abusive mining work in Okinawa. We also see local attempts to revive the widespread practice of Okinawan culture through dances and festivals. Years from the fall of the Empire of Japan, capitalism ensures the continuity of unequal relations. Still 50 years later, these problems don’t go away. For this reason, NDU films about Okinawa have lost none of their power.

Visions of Okinawa: Cinematic Reflections until May 21 at Japanese company (333 East 47th Street, Manhattan), with Paradise view, Motoshinkakarannu, and Asia is a available to stream online until June 3.

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