ANPO opens as a squadron of F-16 fighter jets thunder directly over local traffic to land on Kadena, the largest U.S. airbase in Asia. Ten miles south, the urban homes that crowd Futenma Marine Corps Air Station shake from the numbing drone of C-130 cargo planes whose novice pilots repeatedly practice “touch-and-go” take-offs and landings. The U.S. base at Futenma is one of 30 bases in Okinawa, an island that makes up only 1% of Japan’s land mass while shouldering the burden of 75% of the U.S. military installations in Japan. That presence includes over 28,000 American troops, rivaling the number deployed to the active war zone of Afghanistan. America’s military presence was negotiated in 1951 under the terms of the lopsided U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, known in Japan as “ANPO.” Under its provisions, American soldiers who rape Japanese women and girls are often protected from local prosecution. Prime farming lands have been confiscated from farmers to extend air force jet runways. Civilians are killed in hit-and-run accidents by drunken US servicemen with few held to account. In one particularly egregious case, a woman collecting shell casings to sell was shot in the back and killed by a US soldier who served no time for her death.
Protests by Japanese enraged by the onerous terms of the security treaty have generally been ignored by Japan’s ruling party. Yet for a brief window of time during the summer of 1960, shopkeepers, children and housewives joined a coalition of artists, farmers, students, laborers, and intellectuals in a series of massive demonstrations to block the renewal of the treaty. Tens of thousands of protestors marched on the Japanese parliament to demand an end to the unequal partnership with Washington. Among the protesters was a small cadre of Japan’s most talented artists. They used the creativity of their paintings, film, photography, manga, and music to give a powerful voice to the protests and to document the many ways in which the American military presence has intruded upon Japanese life and sovereignty.
ANPO uses the resulting artistic treasure trove that has heretofore been locked away in Japanese museum vaults and film archives to take an unprecedented look back into a forgotten period of Japanese history, when a nascent democratic movement almost changed the course of an entire nation. The artists speak about how the events of that summer forever changed them and their art. We hear from a survivor of the Lucky Dragon, a Japanese fishing vessel that was in the path of deadly fallout from a 15 megaton thermonuclear test blast whose effects became a rallying cry for the Japanese protesting against nuclear armament and the U.S-Japan security treaty. The film also incorporates film clips from Japanese classics and riveting archival footage that shows the passion of the protestors who flooded the streets to fight for democracy.
ANPO aims to entertain its audience with a fascinating look at an unknown period of Japanese activism through the eyes of the world-class Japanese artists who lived the experience. But its lessons about American overreach and the anger its unwanted military presence engenders can just as easily apply to U.S. plans for permanent military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. As we enter into an age of greater political transparency under different administrations in the U.S. and Japan, now is as pressing a time as ever to examine the complexities and limits of America’s presence on the world stage.
Most of the film has already been shot in high-definition by director of photography Yamazaki Yutaka, one of Japan’s most accomplished cinematographers. He has filmed hundreds of documentaries, worked on the celebrated films of Kore-eda Hirokazu and filmed the 1960 ANPO protests as a student. Playing a key advisory role is Dr. John Dower, Professor of History at MIT and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat, the definitive study of postwar Japanese culture and politics.
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