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ABOUT THE FILM

ANPO Art x War

ANPO: Art X War depicts resistance to U.S. military bases in Japan through a collage of paintings, photographs and films by Japan’s foremost contemporary artists. The artwork vividly resurrects a forgotten period of Japan’s history, while highlighting the insidious effects of “ANPO”, Japanese shorthand for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty.

The treaty permits the continued presence of 90 U.S. military bases in Japan, an onerous presence that has disrupted Japanese life for decades. The film’s stunning artwork grabs the viewer from the opening scenes and never lets go. “Japan’s relationship with America has always been complicated,” muses contemporary artist, Aida Makoto, “always vacillating between love and hate…” The film briefly surveys the contemporary impact of the 30 U.S. military bases on Okinawa before traveling back to 1960, when Japanese citizens from all walks of life came together in a democratic uprising largely forgotten today. The massive protests had been foreshadowed throughout the 1950s in clashes over U.S. military bases.

By 1960 these protests had grown into a nationwide movement as millions of citizens took to the streets to expel American bases from Japanese soil. The demonstrator’s hopes were soon crushed by then Prime Minister Kishi, backed by the C.I.A. As Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA, comments, “During the Cold War, the U.S. would work with any son of a bitch, as long as he was anti-Communist.” But the movement endured to resurface in protests against the Vietnam War. It also left an indelible mark on the creative output by the artists who participated, many of whom eventually rose to international prominence. ANPO tells these artists’ stories through their art, most of which has been hidden from public view in museum vaults, for over half a century.

ANPO: Art X War also showcases films from this contentious period of Japanese history. Footage shot by an ad hoc coalition of filmmakers, including Oshima, vividly telegraphs the passion protestors brought to the struggle against the renewal of the security treaty in 1960. Photographs from the personal archive of Magnum photographer, Hamaya Hiroshi, capture the ferocity and violence with which the Japanese government clamped down. The viewer is transported back in time to experience the hopes and fears of millions of students, housewives, shopkeepers, and laborers terrified of getting sucked back into war.

The film’s iconic artwork acts as a mesmerizing guide, escorting us back and forth through history to explore the origins of the 1960 protests and the effects of the government response that reverberate in Japanese society to this day. As the film progresses, the artwork expresses the humiliating experiences of those living with the crime, environmental degradation and noise pollution spawned by U.S. military bases. Closing scenes from the film show how contemporary artists continue to fashion their own creative resistance to the enduring American presence.

There are signs that Japan’s citizens are following suit. Japan’s Prime Minister was recently forced to resign after failing to keep a promise to the Okinawan people to relocate a dangerous U.S. military base off the island. For the first time in decades, the Japanese are beginning to openly question the terms of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The film ends by suggesting that Japan’s democratic spirit remains alive and well, waiting just below the surface of everyday life for the right combination of individuals and circumstances to resurrect long-buried resentments and passions.

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