“What can we do without Aizawa?”
Kazuyoshi Kumakiri‘s student film (made with only $30,000) is a very solid, if flawed, debut. It is divided into three sections; compartmentalized by Enkai (banquet) parties and depicts a leftist group of university students who enact various forms of political unrest – robbing post offices and whatnot. The group is unorganized and full of misfits. Their leader, Aizawa, has been imprisoned for an undisclosed (to the audience at least) crime, but is soon to be released. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Masami, has assumed leadership. To maintain control of the group, she employs Machiavellian techniques. Eventually she obtains a shotgun and resorts to having sex with members of the group to secure their loyalty. At the very celebration of their leader’s return (the first Enkai party), Aizawa disembowels himself in prison. News of their leader’s death begins Masami’s descent into madness that is violently insightful of the human condition when stripped of morality and societal expectations. Masami’s transition from mere political whore to raving psychopath is sudden; the logical progression from one obsessive disillusionment to another.
In addition to Masami and Aizawa, we meet the ill-tempered Yamane who is introduced at the beginning of the film having sex with Masami. He is displeased at what the group has become. After hearing of the post office robbery and the death of a police officer related to the incident, he accuses Masami of incompetence and leaves in a huff. We meet the young, guitar-playing, Kumagaya. He is loyal to the cause and also resents the direction the group has taken but is less inclined to publicly state it. He accuses Masami, “All you talk about is collecting money. It makes us sound like a gang.” In retaliation, she likens him to Yamane; he reluctantly denies it. Kumagaya has never met Aizawa, but admires the tales of his charisma and strong will. Another character, the katana-wielding Fujiwara, arrives at the group’s hovel to join (per Aizawa’s request). He is Aizawa’s friend, recently released from jail, and soon realizes that the group is in disarray.
There are some great moments in the film (apart from the outrageous violence). When Kumagaya is asked by Masami to accompany her to a backroom, all of the other men become suddenly quiet and gaze with envious and disappointed faces (despite their former rambunctious cavorting) like pouting beasts deprived of pleasure. Eventually, Yamane returns and attempts to recruit Kumagaya and another member from Aizawa’s group, named Sugihara, into a new Communist group. He reveals that he ratted out the group on the post office bust. Kumagaya and Sugihara are shocked and refuse his proposal. Kumagaya incapacitates him and Sugihara leaves the apartment to find Masami – she is there in the hallway waiting for them. Masami knows her organization is dying and realizes that she must reinstate order. What follows is, of course, the main focus of the film (though it takes over fifty minutes to arrive at it).
Kumakiri has said that the film is loosely based on an infamous event in Japanese history: the Asama Sanso Incident, where a group of students connected with the Allied Red Army turned upon themselves and murdered everyone who was not radically dedicated to the cause. With that as background, the film accomplishes (more or less) what it set out to do; the horror Kumakiri felt when hearing about the Asama Incident is thoroughly depicted on the screen. The film is very experimental in both its editing and cinematography – this is its strength and its weakness. The camerawork is frantic and voyeuristic (shots often have a lot of blocking), but there are moments of odd serenity that is unsettling like the aftermath of a car crash. Some scenes run longer than they should but this is self-aware and, at times, revealing about certain characters. There is constant intercutting between scenes of the group progressively deteriorating and Aizawa brooding in his cell for the first half of the film that is occasionally effective but also distracting, disrupting the flow of the narrative unnecessarily. For a student film, however, it’s wonderful in that special way only student films can accomplish and is a thought-provoking study of human nature when ideals overshadow morals.