The Independence and Revolution of 1960s Japanese Cinema: Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi
Written by Lim Kah Wai, translated by Francisco Lo
Japan’s Independent CinemaPerhaps many of us have harboured a beautiful misunderstanding about the Japanese New Wave. We might have presumed that it was a film movement influenced by La Nouvelle Vague of France. The truth is that directors such as Nagisa Oshima and Yoshishige Yoshida were already important players at Shochiku around the year 1960, as they were promoted from assistant director to director. It was about the same time when Godard and Truffaut were making their debut feature. Interestingly, the ending of Yoshida’s first feature Rokudenashi (1960) finds a distant twin in Gordard’s Breathless (1960). Forget about the coincidence and synchronicity, or Oshima’s anger and displeasure in critics hailing his Cruel Story of Youth (1960) as a trailblazing work of the Japanese New Wave. The main point is that when the likes of Oshima and Yoshida flew the coop—leaving Shochiku and establishing their own independent production companies, the Japanese film industry has already lost the luster of the late 1950s when masters such as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa were at the peak of their careers.
The rise of television in the early 1960s signaled the end of cinema’s reign as the public’s number one choice for entertainment. As the movie-going population decline, the five biggest studios attempts to give a jolt to the industry by bolding hiring newcomers to tackle contentious subjects such as politics and sexuality. These conditions opened doors for the legend of the Japanese New Wave that is associated with filmmakers like Oshima and Yoshida. However, major studios’ conservative ways mentality often got in the way of putting out any meaningful take on sex and politics. Hence filmmakers began to establish their own independent production companies—Oshima’s Sozosha in 1961 and Yoshida’s Gendai Eigasha in 1966. This is the pinnacle of Japanese cinema at its most energetic and creative period. 
Due to issues with the American military base in Okinawa, Japan/US Security Treaty and Korean immigrants, the 1960s is the most radical era in Japanese politics. In an era filled with anti-establishment sentiments, young filmmakers were unlike the past masters of the studio era. They were eager to inject their films with political themes and messages, which made them very popular with students and young people. In the most passionate era of Japanese independent cinema, the best selling and most explosive films with the most forward and experimental spirit came from a company that had long been omitted by textbooks—Wakamatsu Productions.
Wakamatsu ProductionsEven though textbook film history has largely ignored Wakamatsu Productions, industry professionals and independent filmmakers alike hold the notorious company in high regard. Founded in 1965 by Wakamatsu, the company had attracted quite a few young Nikkatsu screenwriters—Atsushi Yamatoya, Yozo Tanaka and Chusei Sone, to name a few—to join their ranks. Since they were still employed by Nikkatsu, they all use pen names when they write for Wakamatsu. Besides these screenwriting intellectuals, there were also a lot of other forward-thinking cultural types—including Wakamatsu collaborators Shuji Terayama, Juro Kara and Tadanori Yokoo—getting drunk while talking about arts and politics inside the bars of Shinjuku Golden Gai. In other words, Wakamatsu Productions was a base camp for alternative artists who were rebelling against the establishment and mainstream culture. Among these youngsters, Masao Adachi stood out as the most active and mythical figure.
When Wakamatsu Meets AdachiIt is easier to understand why film schools struggle to define the position of Wakamatsu and Adachi in the history of Japanese cinema. The industry had long considered Wakamatsu a ‘malignant tumor’. Unlike many directors who were graduates of prestigious universities, Wakamatsu was a high school dropout and former Yakuza member who had served time in prison. He was mostly remembered for making disreputable soft-core pornography known as ‘pink films’. When the Berlin International Film Festival selected his 1965 film Secrets Behind the Wall over the art film recommended by the Japan’s five biggest studios, it was a huge scandal in Japan. Wakamatsu was at the centre of the storm in what the cultural and political circles saw as a national embarrassment. Yet at the same time, young critics and filmmakers—such as esteemed critic Shigechika Sato and master filmmaker Nagisa Oshima—embraced and defended his work. Perhaps another reason why the studios hated him was that Wakamatsu could produce box office hits with a five-day shoot and three-million-yen budget. Also, Wakamatsu had a knack for topical subjects that took aim at the system in power, political machine, terrorism, societal violence and sex crimes. His interests were often taboo subjects that most people avoided and ignored. 
Young Masao Adachi was already a hotshot in film production and social movement before he joined Wakamatsu Productions. Besides joining the earliest protest against the Japan/US Security Treaty, he and other students had collectively two important 1960s experimental films—Bowl (1961) and Closed Vagina (1963)—while he was studying film at Nihon University. He was also the organiser of shows for the likes of pioneering avant-garde musician John Cage and multimedia artist Yoko Ono in Japan. After joining Wakamatsu, he wrote screenplays for the director, bringing his artistic and political vision to Wakamatsu’s violent and erotic pink films. With Wakamatsu as his producer, Adachi shot several acclaimed features that led to further collaborations with other acclaimed artists. Seeing something special in Adachi, Oshima hired him to act in Death by Hanging (1968) and join the writing team for Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968) and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969). Logically, such a crucial figure should have a bigger reputation instead of fading into obscurity. Due to his commitment to the Palestinian cause in 1970s, he was living in hiding as one of the Japanese Red Army’s globally wanted leaders in the Middle East. After his arrest in Lebanon and a three-year prison term, he was repatriated back to Japan. It was only then when the limelight is on the mythical filmmaker once again.
Cinematic Revolution and the Possibility of IndependenceJapan possessed the highest possibility for (political and cultural) revolution in the 1960s. It was the country’s freest and most independent era. Wakamatsu and Adachi are the two quintessential filmmakers of this era. With the advancement of information technology, western scholars have begun to study the work of these two filmmakers and reevaluate the repertoire of Wakamatsu Productions. However, they are still relatively unknown in Chinese-speaking regions. While Hong Kong International Film Festival had screened some of Wakamatsu’s films ten years ago, there was not any sort of in-depth presentation or suitable reading. We hope this current retrospective can help viewers to rediscover and reconsider the possibility of revolution and independence in cinema. We have invited acclaimed Japanese critic Inuhiko Yomota, a foremost expert in Wakamatsu and Adachi, to present and further the discourse of the two filmmakers’ work. Filmmaker Junichi Inoue, who was mentored by Wakamatsu, will also share his experience working at Wakamatsu Productions. Although Adachi has been unable to leave the country since his repatriation, he will communicate with the audience via online video chat.
 The likes of Nagisa Oshima were not the first in independent production. Kaneto Shindo founded his own company in 1950. Coincidentally, Shindo and Shochiku also parted ways because his films had too much social commentary. Additionally, Shohei Imamura left Nikkatsu and formed his own Imamura Productions in 1963.
 They were part of cult film master Seijun Suzuki’s screenwriting team, which used the pen name ‘Hachiro Guryu’ in the credits of films such as Branded to Kill (1967).
 In the late 1960s, Wakamatsu’s disreputable soft-core flicks were already playing at the prestigious Art Theatre Guild (ATG). There was also retrospective of his films yet many sanctimonious individuals still looked down upon his work.