Sticking it to the Man (With a Doohickey) – Revolution +1

I came up in a very liberal household, one in which there was vocal support for left-leaning policy that advocated for equality. The reason for this could be my eclectic ethnic background, with relatives on both sides of my family having either escaped or overcome oppression in one form or another over the years. Consequently, I have found myself voting blue in every US election since I’ve become an adult. And while the left in the US has arguably seen some political success during the time I have been alive, the overbearing shadow of the ultra-right has also been strong since I was born. With Trump set to run for office a third time, I see this influence growing even more. While my move to Japan was driven entirely by me being a total weeb, in retrospect I’m happy not being caught up in the tumultuous politics of the US. That said, Japan’s well-documented political issues are real, and not to be ignored. The Japanese government is extremely right-leaning, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it can be seen as a benevolent dictatorship.

I’ll be first to admit that I shouldn’t dig too deeply here–in the end I’m just a fucking dork, and can’t hold my own in a political debate. But with the world gradually being overtaken by the radical right, I have found myself moving farther left over the past decade. In recent months, I’ve gone into a deep rabbit hole researching Japan’s ultra-leftist movements prevalent in the 1960s and 70s. While I can’t support the wanton actions of these groups, the ambition they held resonates with me. This fascination with the Japanese left crossed with my growing interest in Japanese film eventually led me to Adachi Masao–an experimental film director, who was also once a member of the Japanese Red Army. For the uninitiated, the JRA was a hard-left armed political group formed in the 1970s, mostly known for its support of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. While armed leftist activism in Japan mostly died after the 1970s, with political violence more or less unheard of now, one incident in recent years stands out–the killing of former Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzō by one Yamagami Tetsuya. This incident obviously struck a chord with Adachi, inspiring his film Revolution +1.

Revolution +1 is a fictionalized account of Yamagami Tetsuya’s hit on Abe. Renamed Kawakami Tatsuya in the film, it covers his real-life personal history told in a slightly surrealist manner, while mixing in extreme political messages rooted in Adachi’s hard-left leanings. The film was rushed into production after the assassination, with a rough cut dropping in line with Abe’s state funeral in protest of the ceremony[1]For the record, I also found the state funeral completely unwarranted.. The final version was released on Christmas eve in 2022, and made its way around the international film festival circuit. That said, the film has yet to see a home video release, be it on disc or via streaming. As such, the only way to see it is to catch a screening[2]However, it seems a rip of a press screener is finally floating around on the internet.. When I learned that Uplink Kichijoji would be screening the film, I canceled all previous engagements[3]Read: work. to go see it.

Revolution +1 is a steady build-up of anger and madness, likely mirroring how Yamagami felt in the days leading up to what would become a history-making moment. It sets the stage by laying out the basic facts of Yamagami’s life, via his fictionalized version played by Tamato Soran. The fictional Kawakami sits in a prison cell as it rains–with the rain starting to flood his cell, he recollects his father and brother’s suicide, and his mother’s fall into the clutches of the Unification Church. He also recalls a moment with his sister at the dinner table, in which she demands to have hamburg steak for dinner, rather than eating cheap fish everyday because of their family’s debt to the church.

It’s not too long before Adachi harks back to his past in the JRA. While Kawakami is reflecting, he recalls that his dad regularly played mahjong with a close friend in college, who is soon revealed to have partaken in the Lod Airport Massacre. While I thought this was just something Adachi was throwing in, there is some reporting by way of Shūkan Bunshun stating that Yamagami’s father was mahjong buddies with Yasuda Yasuyuki, one of the perpetrators of the attack who supposedly blew himself up. The film smash cuts to a snippet of the assault, depicting this fictionalized version of Yasuda as devoted, and brave–seemingly expressing Adachi’s continued loyalty to his cause over any feelings of remorse for the loss of innocent human life. Adachi then goes the extra step and forces Kawakami to ponder, “I wonder if my dad wanted to join in on that, too.” 

Adachi continues to push his agenda further on in the film, when Kawakami shares a drink in his next-door neighbor’s apartment–a lady whose father also joined the JRA and fought for Palestinian freedom. It’s at this point that the film actually name-checks the Red Army, firmly demonstrating that Adachi still has a strong attachment to the group, if it wasn’t clear already. On a lighter note, Adachi drops in references to bits of pop culture like The Blue Hearts–in this case, specifically to the song Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka (The Future is in Our Hands), with characters almost breaking out in song at one point. While it’s clear that Adachi loves the band, it’s hard to say if the real-life Yamagami also does. I enjoy artists who unabashedly weave their kinks into their work, but Adachi’s proclivities are beyond the realm of mere “kinks.” I mean, no normal director of a film like this would pull on the tenuous connection to the Red Army and portray it positively–but then again no normal director would rush to make a film like this as a form of political protest. It’s this distinct madness (and let’s be fair, legit cred) that makes Revolution +1 morbidly enchanting in a way that only Adachi can pull off.

Aside from these hard pulls, Adachi does use Kawakami’s internal monologue to make valid criticisms of Abe and the LDP’s corruption, specifically with regards to its dirty connections with the Unification Church. “But wait, the hard right hates Koreans–so why do they support a politician like Abe, who is feeding money to a Korean cult?” ponders Kawakami at one point, highlighting the inherent hypocrisy that defines politicians like Abe. By the time we get to the end of the film, Adachi straight-up uses Kawakami’s sister to say in no uncertain terms that Abe himself was an enemy of democracy. It’s up for debate whether this criticism is “valid” or not, but I stand by it. Being a film about Yamagami, Revolution + 1 is also very deliberate when it comes to depicting the church’s destructive influence on the lives of children whose parents were sucked into its charade. It mostly does this by plainly depicting Kawakami’s oppressive home life, but it also shines the spotlight on the suffering children of other cult members. 

Putting the political angle aside, the film also convincingly portrays Kawakami as a relatable person, with Tamato pulling a lot of weight in his portrayal. Be it his attempts at keeping it together at home, painfully attempting suicide, or just talking to people, Kawakami has a constant nervousness that comes through realistically in his voice and heavy, awkward movements. While there are times where Kawakami is simply used as a mouthpiece for Adachi’s politics, his regular internal monologues describing his burning hate for the church–and ultimately Abe–come through as authentic.

I haven’t seen many other films by Adachi yet[4]I have seen Diary of a Shinjuku Thief which he was a writer on, and Ecstasy of the Angels, which he wrote with Wakamatsu Kōji in the director’s chair., but I do know that his body of work consists of experimental and erotic films. While this film leans more on the experimental side, with dreamy flashbacks and strange moments of skewed reality, it does lean a bit in the other direction as well. While I personally enjoy Adachi’s unwavering devotion to a style he developed decades ago, the few moments of sexual tension in Revolution +1 may throw some viewers off. That said, despite some touches of surreal weirdness, the film is mostly very straightforward in its depiction of events. This approach helps us connect back to the actual shocking reality of Abe’s assassination, and given the low seven-million yen budget, the film is smart to keep its weird and expensive moments few and far between–but the few we get are beautiful and striking. 

Of course, I could nitpick that despite running at just over one hour, it does feel like Kawakami spends one too many scenes practicing with his gun. I could also say that despite noise genius Ōtomo Yoshihide putting together some great pieces of music for the film, perhaps they are repeated too much. However, those points are tied to the film’s low budget, so it’s hard to raise them as criticisms. And ultimately, those points aren’t important. What is important is the very existence of this film–the very act of making it. Say what you will about the past actions of Japan’s far left, what’s important is that they took action. Yamagami also took action, which inspired not only this film, but also a thorough investigation into the LDP’s connections with the Unification Church that continues to this day.

Adachi has always been a man of action, making politically charged films from the very start of his career, joining the JRA to support the Palestinians, and coming back to Japan to make even more films directly protesting government corruption. I’m not saying we all need to be violent revolutionaries[5]But who knows what I’d be doing in another life…, but rather than just sitting around and retweeting stuff on Twitter all day, it’s important to take action in the form of voting, protesting, or making art such as this. With the world continuing to be overtaken by the vicious grip of the ultra-right, we can’t afford to be inactive. While Adachi has been involved in some really bad things, he continues to protest against oppression well into his 80s. We all should do the same.

1 For the record, I also found the state funeral completely unwarranted.
2 However, it seems a rip of a press screener is finally floating around on the internet.
3 Read: work.
4 I have seen Diary of a Shinjuku Thief which he was a writer on, and Ecstasy of the Angels, which he wrote with Wakamatsu Kōji in the director’s chair.
5 But who knows what I’d be doing in another life…

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