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October 4 - November 10, 2013

Songs of Struggle –
The Radical Documentaries of Shinsuke Ogawa

Long overdue, this comprehensive retrospective devoted to the work of a giant of documentary cinema, Shinsuke Ogawa (1936-92), will bring more than a dozen of his films to North America for the first time in many years. While his films did circulate internationally when they were first released, Ogawa has been unaccountably neglected in the Western world in the decades since. With this series we hope to re-focus attention on his extraordinary, incisive and deeply committed body of work.

Fearlessly devoted to radical politics and to collective production, Ogawa began his career making films about the student movement, before turning his cameras on the increasingly violent conflict between the authorities and farmers who were being threatened with eviction to make way for the construction of the proposed Narita International Airport. Rejecting the notion that a documentary filmmaker must remain a detached observer of the events he or she records, Ogawa and his collaborators (who together formed Ogawa Productions, or “Ogawa Pro”) threw themselves into the protracted struggle, producing seven films over the course of almost a decade.

After the waning of the Sanrizuka protests, Ogawa and his colleagues soon came to devote themselves to an equally ambitious project, relocating to Yamagata Prefecture and beginning a series of films focusing on the rural village of Magino. Living and working with the farmers they filmed, the collective created an astonishing, unique portrait of a culture and a way of life that are rarely depicted. Remarkable both for his unforgettable films and for his radical approach to documentary cinema, Ogawa has been hugely influential within Japan and Asia and deserves to be far more widely known in the U.S. – Jed Rapfogel, Anthology Film Archives

Presented with invaluable support from The Japan Foundation. Organized in collaboration with Go Hirasawa – Meiji-Gakuin University and Markus Nornes. Presented with the invaluable assistance of the Athénée Français Cultural Center, Tokyo; the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and Icarus Films.

Special thanks: Kanako Shirasaki, Yukihiro Ohira and Grant Tompkins – Japan Foundation; Yuichiro Izumi – Athenee Francais; Masaharu Oki, Kazuyuki Yano, Asako Fujioka and Haruka Hama – Yamagata; Jonathan Miller, Livia Bloom and Colin Beckett – Icarus Films and Frederick Veith.

All film descriptions by Markus Nornes, Professor of Asian Cinema & Department Chair of Screen Arts and Cultures, University of Michigan, and author of the book Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary

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Friday October 4 at 7pm

The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka
(Nihon kaiho sensen – Sanrizuka no natsu)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1968, 16mm, b/w, 108 min. Japanese with English subtitles

In 1968, Ogawa decided to form Ogawa Productions and locate it at the newly announced construction site of Narita International Airport in a district called Sanrizuka. Ogawa chose to locate his company in the most radical of the villages, Heta. Some farmers immediately sold their land; others vehemently protested and drew the support of social movements across the country. Together they clashed with riot police sent in to protect surveyors, who were plotting out the airport. Summer in Sanrizuka is a messy film – its chaos communicating the passions and actions on the ground.

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Friday October 4 at 9:15pm

Sea of Youth – Four Correspondence Course Students

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1966, 16mm, b/w, 56 min. Japanese with English subtitles

After leaving Iwanami Productions along with most of his cohorts, Ogawa embarked on an unusual path. For his first directorial effort, he gathered young activists together to make an independent documentary on the plight of correspondence students. Many of the onscreen personalities featured plotting their activism would become core members of Ogawa Productions. Finding only mild success in fundraising, the production team was finally able to finish the film by selling their books and their blood.

Sanrizuka – The Three Day War
(Sanrizuka: daisanji kyosei sokuryo soshi toso)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1970, 16mm, b/w, 50 min. Japanese with English subtitles

After Summer in Sanrizuka, Ogawa Productions attempted a more epic scale with Winter in Sanrizuka. It was roundly criticized as a failure. In the wake of this criticism, as well as visits by Joris Ivens and Black Panthers Elbert Howard and Roberta Alexander, the collective became increasingly militant. They decided to make a quick and dirty report from the front – or “bullet film” (dangan pereiga) – shot over the course of three days as 2,500 protestors battled 6,500 police.

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Sunday October 6 at 7pm

Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress
(Sanrizuka – Daini toride no hitobito)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1971, 16mm, b/w, 143 min. Japanese with English subtitles

As collectives across America and Europe swapped film prints, Ogawa enjoyed his first international success with Peasants of the Second Fortress. The violence had escalated in Sanrizuka and farmers turned to a new tactic: they built large fortresses, and burrowed underground – under their ground. Ogawa follows the course of the protests, as police invade one after the other. Between the action scenes Ogawa pauses to chat with farmers, both above and below ground. One palpably senses the strong relationship the collective had nurtured with the farmers and the deep respect with which Ogawa approached his subjects.

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Monday October 7 at 7pm

Forest of Oppression – A Record of the Struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics
(Assatsu no mori – Takasaki Keizai Daigaku toso no kiroku)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1967, 16mm transferred to digital video, b/w, 105 min

After Sea of Youth, the film team turned itself into a full-fledged collective: the Independent Screening Organization or Jieso for short. The precursor to Ogawa Productions, Jieso networked social movements and film fans across Japan to create an alternative distribution route. Their next film, Forest of Oppression, turns to the phenomenon of students barricading themselves inside schools to various political ends. Audiences were shocked by the vigor and violence of this protest at the small university. The film’s radical style and content immediately put Ogawa on the map.

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Sunday October 13 at 5pm

Report from Haneda
(Gennin hokusho – Haneda toso no kiroku)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1967, 16mm, b/w, 58 min. In Japanese

After the explosive success of Forest of Oppression, Jieso organized their next film with a couple labor unions and political activists/filmmakers. Bristling with scenes of clashing protesters and riot police, Ogawa (who appears onscreen) carefully investigates the death of a young protester. The film’s analytical look at the effects of a baton strike on the human brain foreshadow a filmmaking strategy key to their later work.

Please note: this film does not have English subtitles

 

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Sunday October 13 at 7pm

Sanrizuka – Heta Village
(Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1973, 16mm, b/w, 146 min. Japanese with English subtitles

As their relationships with farmers deepened, the violence of the police escalated. People were being killed and arbitrarily imprisoned. However, Ogawa pushed this to the far background to concentrate on the village of Heta itself – its history, its customs and its people – as one of its youth commits suicide and others are detained by police. A quiet, patient film, its eleven scenes are mostly rendered in single takes in an attempt to render the “time of the village.” An extraordinary documentary about time and place, this was the first of two masterpieces by Ogawa Productions.

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Monday October 14 at 7pm

Sanrizuka – The Skies of May, the Road to the Village
(Sanrizuka – Satsuki no sora sato no kayoji)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 81 min. Japanese with English subtitles

In the mid-1970s, protests were waning across Japan after the Red Army scandal of Asama Cottage. In Sanrizuka, people were weary of the violence and the airport was well under construction. As for Ogawa Productions, they invited criticism by pulling out and moving to a quiet village in northern Japan. But when protesters back in Sanrizuka erected a tall tower at the end of one runway, they sent a crew to document what happened. This became the final film of the Sanrizuka Series.

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Monday November 4 at 7pm

A Song of the Bottom / Dokkoi! Songs from the Bottom
(Dokkoi! Ningen bushi – Kotobukicho: Jiyu rodosha no machi)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1975, 16mm, b/w, 121 min. Japanese with English subtitles

As the protests at Sanrizuka transformed, Ogawa began looking for other subjects. He eventually moved to Yamagata, but considered other subjects like this one: the brutal Kotobukicho district of Yokohama. Only 250 meters on a side, it was home to 6,000 people living in 90 run-down flophouses. This was where day laborers lived and died on the streets. Following the method they developed in Sanrizuka, Ogawa’s crew lived with the workers, tenderly filming the trials of their daily lives in this heartrending film.

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Friday November 8 at 7pm

The Magino Village Story – Raising Silkworms
(Magino Monogatari – Yosan-hen: Eiga no tame no eiga)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1977, 16mm, color, 112 min. Japanese with English subtitles

For Ogawa’s new series in Yamagata, the collective again lived with its subjects, this time in a small silkworm barn borrowed from a farmer-poet. They converted it into a home and film studio, where anywhere from ten to twenty-five men, women and children lived and worked. After moving, Ogawa immediately entered into a mental slump. His wife spearheaded this film, partly hoping to revitalize the depressed director. A look at the local raising of silkworms, the charming film deploys many of the filmmaking strategies which would reappear in subsequent work.

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Saturday November 9 at 7pm

“Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village
(Nippon koku: Furuyashiki-mura)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1982, 16mm, color, 210 min. Japanese with English subtitles

By the early 1980s, Ogawa’s production of a massive film about rice and village history was well underway when an unusual cold front caused serious crop damage in Furuyashiki, a village deep in the mountains behind Magino. While penetrating far into the history of the village, Ogawa plays with the conventions of the science documentary to examine the crop damage problem. In this tiny mountain hamlet, he discovers the entire history of Japan – from ancient sea creatures through the catastrophe of WWII to the quiet violence of the economic miracle. As one old man says, “We thought the paved road would bring modernity; instead, it made it easier for the young people to leave.”

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Sunday November 10 at 7pm

Magino Village – A Tale / The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches (Sennen kizami no hidokwi – Magino-mura monogatari)

Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa
Japan 1986, 16mm, color, 222 min. Japanese with English subtitles

With Sanrizuka – Heta Village, this film is Ogawa Productions’ other masterpiece, bringing together all the themes Ogawa explored throughout his oeuvre: farming, state violence, resistance, modernization and village time. The film masterfully combines the conventions of the science film with Griersonian documentary sequences about ghosts and gods, along with fictional sequences featuring cameos by the likes of Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata in his last performance and “pink film” star Junko Miyashita. It is a thoughtful meditation on history and the way it is never quite “past” in village Japan. If Ogawa’s first films and the Sanrizuka Series arc from the self-centered concerns of the student movement to understanding the communal way of life of the village, then the “Magino Village Story” displays a similar arcing movement away from the collective toward the powerful individual expression of Ogawa.

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