When I was about 15-years-old I was obsessively interested in mythology - legends and tales of the Ancient Greeks, Romans, the Viking sagas, Hindu stories and of course stories from Japan. An interest in mythology will of course lead you to the writings of Joseph Campbell and his seminal 1949 book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces". Why would I mention mythology and Jospeh Campbell in a review of a documentary on the cultural and artistic impact of the U.S./ Japan Mutual Security Treaty, better known as the ANPO Treaty (an contraction of the Japanese name Nichibei anpo jōyaku)? Because as I sat to watch the international premiere of "ANPO" directed by veteran translator Linda Hoaglund I couldn't help thinking of how her film will have the same impact as Campbell's book had on me when I was a boy. Let me explain.
Linda Hoaglund is probably the only person who could have made a film like "ANPO". Born in Japan to American missionary parents, she was educated in Japanese schools and is fluent in the Japanese language. Growing up Hoaglund was too young to appreciate the immense schism that was occurring in Japan around the extension of the ANPO Treaty, legislation passed in 1960 that would allow U.S. military bases to remain operational on Japanese soil for decades after the U.S. post-war occupation had ended. Japanese, everyone from members of parliament down to high school students protested in the millions in the streets against the ANPO Treaty, but like so many chapters of Japan's tumultuous 20th-century history this huge conflagration is only dimly remembered today. Hoaglund herself only began to get inklings of these events when she was translating and subtitling films by Kurosawa and Oshima from the early 60's. Something terribly traumatic had occurred in the country she grew up in in 1960, but what exactly?
Hoaglund, straddling both her American heritage and her country of birth, Japan, has already asked questions about Japanese history that many Japanese would never be brave enough to ask. She worked with director Risa Morimoto on the enlightening documentary "Wings of Defeat" about the Kamikaze pilots of WW2. With "ANPO" though she began her excavation of the ANPO Treaty and its impact on Japanese society not through dry political reports and history books, but through art. She already had access to films such as Oshima's highly politicized "Night and Fog in Japan", but her real discoveries came through the paintings of artists like Hiroshi Nakamura, Tadanori Yokoo and Tatsuo Ikeda as well as the photographs of Hiroshi Hamaya. These artists lived through and chronicled the heady days of protest against ANPO, but their works and the stories behind them have languished in obscurity in the decades since. Hoaglund and her crew sought out not only these paintings and photographs but met with the artists themselves and in one insightful interview after another they revealed to Hoaglund their memories of life under the threat of continued political and military U.S. influence. Hoaglund didn't stop there though. She also spoke with contemporary artists like Sachiko Kazama, Chikako Yamashiro and Makoto Aida - all artists who share the spirit of dissent and protest of their 1960's predecessors.
The interviews and imagery that ultimately make up "ANPO" present viewers with a Japan that few had dreamt possible - a country still reeling from their wartime defeat, struggling to recreate their national identity, but meanwhile taking to the streets to stop what many felt was an attack on their sovereignty. It was not and still isn't a pretty picture and Hoaglund doesn't shy away from content that some may view as inflammatory while others will view as inspiring - Makoto Aida's painting "Map of an Air Raid on NYC" which shows Japanese war era Zero Fighter planes flying formation over a burning New York City, news reel footage of Socialist MPs being forcibly dragged from the Diet chambers so that the ANPO Treaty could be pushed through using unprecedented "automatic ratification", and author and historian Tim Weiner's observation that the relationshiop between the U.S. and Japan has always been that of "a prostitute and a pimp".
What in the end makes "ANPO" such a masterpiece of a documentary is the fact that Hoaglund understands that to discuss the politics of the ANPO Treaty she can't focus solely on politics. Painting, poetry, photography, film, history, personal recollections - all are brought to bear on the national dilemma that is ANPO; and it's this way of coming at the Treaty from all different angles that makes "ANPO" the film such a compelling experience. This of course brings me back to the unorthodox beginning of my review of my 15-year-old self reading "The Hero with a Thousand Faces". When I read the fisrt few pages of Campbell's book all htose years ago I was a young man with tunnel vision, interested only in mythology, but as I finshed the last chapter I had had my eyes open to art, literature, philosophy, history, anthropology, and I was eager to broaden my horizons and soak up this new world Campbell had introduced me to. It was a moment where child-like thinking had ended and a new adult world was revealed; and it was this same sense I found myself watching "ANPO".
In the post-screening Q&A of "ANPO" at the Toronto International Film Festival Linda Hoaglund expressed her wish that her documentary will help open the eyes of young Japanese about the history of protest and dissent in their country. What she has done with "ANPO" is that, but so very much more. Like Campbell and his "Hero with a Thousand Faces" Hoaglund has created a Rosetta Stone of art and history that takes the ANPO Treaty as its core, but that will ultimately broaden the concept of what it is to be Japanese for so many young men and women grwoing up in Japan today.