United Red Army is a Japanese film, originally released in 2007, and directed by Koji Wakamatsu. It tells the story of the famous Japanese leftist militant group, from its origins in the student protest movements of the Sixties, to its eventual self-destruction.
I had been wanting to see this film for some time. The first thing to stress is that the movie is long, clocking in at over three hours in duration. On reflection it is perhaps too long. It is divided into three parts. The first section looks at the protest movements in the 1960s, the second at the training camps which they established in the remote mountainous regions of Japan, and the concluding "act" depicts an infamous stand-off with the police.
The first part of the picture was for me the most interesting, and the most impressively put together. The course of the protests in the Japanese universities is related using archive footage and narration, as well as some acted scenes. The mingling of these ingredients works surprisingly effectively, and I suspect that the rigour and scale of the student demonstrations will have surprised many Western observers who were unfamiliar with the Japanese scene from those times.
Some time is taken to explain the grievances which fuelled the anger of the students, such as the Vietnam War and the security treaties signed between America and Japan. This first part of United Red Army is done in almost a "docu-drama" style, and the dramatic nature of the subject matter ensures that the interest is maintained for a while, but after that the film becomes rather mired in an exploration of the internal squabbles and purges which bedeviled the group(s), and things only pick up again towards the conclusion of the picture, with the "siege" sequences in the mountains.
The middle part of the movie I found quite disturbing, and it is easy to imagine the terror and despondency felt by many of the people. It is ironic, or perhaps not, that an enterprise which was ostensibly undertaken in the name of "liberation" was beset by so much misery and cruelty.
Although I found this film to be flawed in some respects, I am glad that movies like this are being made, as they throw some light on major events of the past which have been slightly forgotten, and they hopefully provoke some thought amongst people of all generations, not just about decades past, but about the world we live in today.
It seems that the budget for this movie was not especially lavish, but I didn't find this to be a problem as such. It means that there are no manufactured crowd scenes and over-lavish sets. This one is all about the story, the issues and the people.