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Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War

March 24, 2011

Sekigun-P.F.L.P: Sekai sensô sengen (Japan, 1971)

“This is a news film for the construction of the world Red Army.”

Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi were among the most important political filmmakers in Japan in the 1960’s. The duo regularly “disguised” their works as pink cinema, but that didn’t keep the audiences from finding them, not to mention a whole generation of future filmmakers who were inspired by their film radicalism.

Wakamatsu (Go, Go, Second Time Virgin, 1969) was on his way back from the Cannes Film Festival when his screenwriter partner and director Masao Adachi (Gushing Prayer, 1971) suggested they would do something different. Wakamatsu, somewhat tired of working in the pink genre by then, agreed.

The two men found themselves in Palestine, shooting a “news film” of PFLP (The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) for the Japanese extreme leftist group The Red Army. Wakamatsu himself was closely connected to some members, and also directed a film (United Red Army, 2007) of the movement almost three decades later.

Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War is not a documentary in the purest sense, but more of a propaganda film. Its message, directly encouraging the Japanese“comrades” to violence and taking up arms, would be quite disturbing if not seen from today’s point of view – that is, 40 years after the film was made. But then again, the world hasn’t changed all that much since then.

The film got Wakamatsu on USA’s black list – up till today, he’s never been allowed to set his foot on American soil. While beyond ridiculous today, it was a very understandable decision at the time of the film’s release.

As a movie, Red Army/PFLP isn’t all that special. The majority of the film consists of propaganda speeches, typically accompanied by images of the Palestinian countryside. Wakamatsu and Adachi have, however, also captured interesting material of PFLP fighters. The value of this footage is not to be underestimated.

Red Army/PFLP was intended for native Japanese speakers, although subtitled versions were also created for foreign markets. In this case, however, dubbing would have been preferable. In subtitled form the heavy monologue floods easily distract from visual offering.

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