Review: 100 Years and Hope

The release of this documentary about the Japanese Communist Party, which, as the title indicates, has been around for a century, is meant to coincide with the Upper House election taking place July 15, and while it does a fair job of presenting the JCP platform its main thrust is conveying a political sensibility that voters may not be familiar with. JCP needs this kind of publicity, since its very name alone is probably its greatest liability. Both the ruling coalition and fellow opposition parties can easily demonize the JCP because they are communists, though they abandoned the aim of world revolution many years ago, and no longer work toward the demise of the emperor system. However, they do see themselves as the party of the people in that they espouse social and economic policies designed to lift those at the bottom, and are strictly anti-militaristic. As one woman explains, she joined the party because her mother has always had a hard time getting by and the JCP was the only party in Japan that understood her mother’s situation. Nevertheless, once she joined and became involved in party activities her mother lamented, “I didn’t think I raised you to be a red.”

The movie’s loose structure focuses on a few individuals and the workings of the party organ, Akahata, which is a legitimate newspaper in that it has an investigative staff that often digs up stories the mainstream press doesn’t. The purpose, of course, is to provide fodder for party members who hold legislative office, whether at the local or the national level. Oddly, the movie doesn’t dwell on the fact that Akahata is almost the sole revenue-producing source for the JCP, which doesn’t take political donations from organizations or even the usual political susbsidies from the government. Perhaps they assume everyone already knows this, but it seems more like a case of refusing to boast about a policy they think every political party should follow.

Director Takashi Nishihara follows two election campaigns. The first is that of Yuichi Ikegawa, a young member of the Tokyo assembly running for reelection, mainly on a platform advocating that “students are citizens.” Though the casual viewer may find his focus on high school students being unfairly punished for their hairstyles rather trivial, Nishihara gets a lot of thematic mileage out of the issue, as it points up the JCP’s insistence that common sense should rule politics. When school officials are asked why a certain haircut is deemed “dangerous,” they can’t really answer. It’s just their feeling. Ikegawa wins, but the other candidate profiled, Saori Ikeuchi, who is running for a Lower House seat in Tokyo, isn’t as fortunate. Ikeuchi’s brief is recognition of rights for women and sexual minorities. She runs a web radio program with the provocative title, “Feminists are Communists,” and attracts a passionate following of mostly young women whose reaction to her defeat is quite devastating. Ikeuchi and Ikegawa were obviously chosen as subjects to highlight JCP’s self-determined image as a party of young people and women, two demographics that traditional Japanese politics has ignored. (The fact that Ikegawa has four kids is probably his strongest claim as someone who deserves to be listened to.) The JCP’s agenda is solidly liberal-progressive, even if some of the planks, like their anti-Olympics stance, seem reflexively so. But the point is that the demonization that has always kept the party down is at the service of a status quo which shuts out a good portion of the Japanese public. The movie tries to show what the JCP stands for, though it’s so low-key in spots you may wonder how much their heart is really into it. Some will call 100 Years and Hope propaganda. If only it strove for that kind of stark effect.

In Japanese. Now playing in Tokyo at Shibuya Eurospace (03-3461-0211).

100 Years and Hope home page in Japanese

photo (c) ML9

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