„A Mountain Pass Demands a Decision From Us“

Extracts of Makabe Jin and Ogawa Pro

“Passes are places of decision.

The familiar melancholy of parting drifts at passes.

Squeezing the mountain road

The ridges loom over your exposed body

And before long you put them behind you.

Two views are woven together.

Without losing one world,

You cannot enter the other, separate one.

Only by enduring a great loss

does a new world unfold.

When standing on a pass

the path you’ve passed us a charming memory

and the path unfolding below is pleasing.

Paths do not answer.

Paths do nothing but invite.

The sky above the pass is as sweet as a dream.

Even if you know the route

there

you must abandon one world.

To hide such feelings

the traveller stops to pee

pick some flowers

enjoy a cigarette

and take in the view as far as the eye can see.”

– “A Mountain Pass”, Makabe Jin

~

While protesting in Sanrizuka, student-activist Higashiyama Kaoru was shot in the head with a tear gas canister at the hands of a riot police officer. He died shortly after the fact. Kaoru is pictured below.

“When Kaoru was born the leaves were green and the sky was serene. Today is the same kind of day, with serene skies and full of green. That sky sees many tragedies in the world of the humans. A heart as broad and pure as the sky is the finest tribute to my son.”

– Higashiyama Kaoru’s father, from “Sanrizuka: The Skies of May, the Road to the Village”

“Humans are amazing, no?

Trees and flowers and beasts in the snow

They can’t live properly.

The time when words are abandoned is coming.”

– Post-screening report card from a 26-year-old woman from Tokyo, re: “Nippon”: Furuyashiki Village

~

“Will I support you? If all this means is screening films, then I’m against you. Basically, it’s the problem of peddling humanism. If we can’t provoke revolution, then making films that inspire sympathy is nonsense. The beginnings of struggle may start with sympathy (as long as it does not befall oneself). However, does not one need an after-film discussion that makes this sympathy your own problem?”

– Survey written by a worker from the Nakano Ward Office after a screening of “Summer at Sanrizuka”

“After one of his publications, a coal worker broke into the Ueno’s home. He approached the author with a knife, plunging it into the floor and demanded to know why Ueno wrote what he did. Ueno defended his work rather than running away. In documentary, one must bet one’s life. Ueno once wrote: “Don’t be frugal with money; don’t be frugal with time; don’t be frugal with life.” Only Ueno Hidenobu could do this. Ogawa Shinsuke didn’t have the guts.”

– Honma Shusuke (former member of Ogawa Pro) on author Ueno Hidenobu

(all extracts taken from Abé Markus Nornes‘ Forest of Pressure)

~

Makabe Jin in Toge – Zao to Makabe Jin (Magino Village – Pass, 1978)

more: Village Time – Shinsuke Ogawa Pro’s Sanrizuka: Heta Village

Village Time – Shinsuke Ogawa Pro’s Sanrizuka: Heta Village

A scene in which a father mourns his son’s suicide takes place. The village farmers – or, what’s left of the “Parents Alliance” – gather for a meeting in the midst of Narita Airport’s imminent construction, one set to destroy Sanrizuka’s agricultural community in the process. Two of the villagers’ sons – named Haruo and Masahiko, who make up the part of the “Youth Action Brigade”– are being held prisoner and interrogated for 90 days by the police after a violent protest took place at the Toho Crossroads near Sanrizuka, involving 260 riot police. The “Parents Alliance” hold a meeting discussing ways to keep the community strong and maintain the crops as their sons’ resolves are beaten down. To fray the bonds between the farmers further, detectives go from house to house, spreading the lie that each neighbour has confessed to their son’s guilt and will bend to the demands of authorities, which will lead to the levelling of Sanrizuka. None of the families have bent, but the manufactured mistrust necessitates a strengthening of ties and re-assertion of ethics.

Before imprisonment, farmer Sannomiya Takeji’s son, Sannomiya Fumio, hanged himself from the tree of a nearby shrine. Takeji now holds court in the meeting and is greeted with a prolonged silence. After two title cards provide the context for his son’s death, Takeji explains the process by which a local detective scrutinised him and his wife in the weeks following their son’s suicide. Takeji summarises his final response to the detective’s scrutiny as follows:

“I don’t like talking to you about this, but I think my son was a great man. And I still think so, no matter what anyone says about him. I’ll never change my opinion. And from now on, I’ll never entertain the possibility that my son was a fool, so I’ve nothing to say about him to you.”

In order to capture this moment, the camera and sound have to be recalibrated to “village time”, a concept coined by the Pro to describe the farmers’ process of thought on film. The process begins with a farmer speaking during a meeting then promptly scanning the room, watching their words absorb among their neighbours. “Village time” is, contrary to its name, the designation of outsiders looking in – of a collective settling a relationship to their “taisho” (object). Every filmmaker could learn from “village time” as it’s shown in Heta Village, and would more accurately be called “Ogawa Pro time”, as it’s a process by which the filming apparatus tunes into a dialogue without traditional means of coverage and cross cutting. Instead, a single camera and its 400’ 16mm magazine pan the room for 11+ minute long takes. The film’s form is, by dint of technological and artistic advances, adjusting to a greater function. It was a clearing towards a greater solidarity, partially manifested by proxy of the extra minutes available on the extended magazines new to Ogawa Pro. Regardless of the rural connotations implicit to the designation of “village”, the “time” alluded to isn’t merely “time” that comes from Heta’s farmers, it’s an opening that – even for the professed allegiance of Ogawa Pro to Heta village’s cause – allows for the filmmakers’ eyes, ears, lens and microphone to synchronise and assume a life implicit to their subjects; a life beyond their craggy faces, dirty hands and simple, “village” antics. The strength in Ogawa Pro’s technique is that it assumes and doesn’t discover. The difference is inherently political, as Tokyo’s media outlets and their vested interest in the construction of Narita airport “discovers” only peasants not understanding the industrial drive towards progress, another word for destruction.

Implicit to the “village time”, also, is something beyond a dialectical form. There’s a silence after a suicide, then a revelation, if one is willing to wait long enough. This is where Ogawa Pro’s outsider status proves fruitful, as the film begins with an interview of a villager affectionately called Grandpa Tonojita, who speaks of the “mura hachibu” (village ostracisation) enacted upon the local Niya family. Their residence has been levelled and leaves an open field in its wake, one the village has to tend to keep from growing fallow. The Niya family bent under authoritative pressure and “sold out” their land to the developers of Narita Airport. The ostracisation isn’t elaborated upon by Tonojita, though he informs Ogawa of what drove them out of Heta. The other villagers, though it was a local custom, refused to assist in the burial of the Niya patriarch after his body had been returned home from the hospital. With no assistance and nowhere to bury the body, the Niya’s drove their patriarch to a crematorium and, in the process, heard the beating of an oil drum from their Heta neighbours, intended as a call to action as police forces encroached in on the village. The Niya’s, hearing the drum after this unspoken ostracisation and further neglect, thought the villagers were coming to kill them.

Former member of Ogawa Pro, Fukuda Katushiko, was shocked upon hearing the villagers’ further plans to ostracise another family who’d caved in, as he and the other Ogawa Pro members assumed the “mura hachibu” tradition was a rural myth that had long been apostatised. The “village time” is now bifurcated in its effect. Both heterogeneous and stereotypical assumptions of the villagers are now true, despite how antiquated the latter, “mura hachibu” appears, seemingly counteracting whatever radical dialogue took place in Sannomiya’s “Village Time”. Katushiko left Ogawa Pro after the completion of “Sanrizuka Village”, remaining there as the Pro left for Magino and he continued making films tertiarily related to the Sanrizuka struggle. One of his later films, Kusa tori soshi (A Grasscutter’s Tale, 1985), returns to the site of an ostracised woman with no mention of the Sanrizuka struggle. The woman, Someya Katsu, tends to what Abé Mark Nornes describes as “her shockingly green plants”. I haven’t seen the film, so I can only rely on Nornes’ description, one already distinct from the Sanrizuka series in what is described as colour footage, a film stock never previously used to document Sanrizuka’s farming communities (Ogawa Pro’s Sanrizuka – Gogatu no sora Sato no kayoijim (Sanrizuka – The Skies of May, The Road to the Village, 1977), the last film in the Sanrizuka series, was shot in colour but prioritised the waning Sanrizuka student-radical struggle). With 16mm colour stock being ubiquitous enough by the mid-80’s, “Village Time” has now been relayed from the villagers’ patience onto a former Ogawa-Pro’s filming apparatus, now evolved from the interceding years spent waiting. His lone status and ability to render the verdant gardens of Someya Katsu bring him closer to what the other members of Ogawa Pro had given up on. The green garden is now a by-product of something greater than “Village Time”; a time that goes by without a name (i.e. a more meaningful one), guided not by the Pro but by Katsu’s resistance. By remaining with her, Katsuhiko makes it a shared resistance unseen in the earlier films.

Katsu may have been the woman Heta’s farmers were about to ostracise, the discussion about which Katushiko was so shocked. But at the other end of village ostracisation yields a woman tending to her green plants and working at a pickle factory still obstructing Narita. Even beyond “village time”, form and function’s fusion evolves with this lone filmmaker who watches the lone farmer, each separate from their former communities and persisting on the other side.

The End of Summer/Early Spring

The sun from two hemispheres.

~

„Here’s a song about the sunshine, dedicated to the sunshine“

– Health and Efficiency, This Heat

I.

II.

The sun flared and died

beyond my horizons.

The earth rotated

unnoted in my notebooks

– May 16, 1973, Wisława Szymborska

III.

PETRUCHIO –
I say it is the moon.

KATHERINA –
I know it is the moon.

PETRUCHIO –
Nay, then you lie; it is the blessed sun.

KATHERINA –
Then, God be bless’d, it is the blessed sun

– – The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare

IV.

Then tracks were lain
across the plain
By broken old men
in torrid rains
The towns grew up
and the people were still
Sleeping in the midday sun
Sleeping in the midday sun
Sleeping in the midday sun
Sleeping in the midday sun
– Buffalo Ballet, John Cale

Roberto Bolaño / Andrei Tarkovsky

– Excerpt taken from the short story Days of 1978 by Roberto Bolaño, from his collection entitled Last Evenings on Earth (trans. Chris Andrews)

This might be a good time to leave, thinks B. But instead he opens the bottle and offers them a glass of wine, which the pale girl accepts without without batting an eyelid, as does U, although he seems unwilling or unable to drink and takes only a sip, as if not to offend B. And as they drink, or pretend to drink, the pale girl starts talking, telling them about the last film she saw; it was awful, she says, and then she asks them if they have seen anything good, anything they could recommend. The question is, in fact, rhetorical. By posing it the pale girls is tacitly establishing a hierarchy in which she occupies a position of supremacy. Yet she observes a certain queenly decorum, for the question also implies a disposition (on her part, but also on the part of a higher agency, moved by its own sovereign will) to grant both B and U places in the hierarchy, which is a clear indication of her desire to be inclusive, even in circumstances such as these.

U opens his mouth for the first time and says it’s a long while since he went to the cinema. To B’s surprise, his voice sounds perfectly normal. A well-modulated voice, with a tone that that betrays a certain sadness, a Chilean, bottom-heavy tone, which the pale girl does not find unpleasant, nor would the people shut in the bedroom, were they to hear it. Not even B finds it unpleasant, although for him that tone of voice has strange associations: it conjures up a silent black-and-white film in which, all of a sudden, the characters start shouting incomprehensibly at the top of their voices, while a red line appears in the middle of the screen and begins to widen and spread. This vision, or premonition, perhaps, makes B so nervous that in spite of himself he opens his mouth and says he has seen a film recently and it was a very good film.

And straight away (though what he would really like to do is extract himself from that armchair, and put the room, the house, and that part of town behind him) he begins to tell the story of the film. He speaks to the pale girl, who listens with an expression of disgust and interest on her face (as if disgust and interest were inextricable), but he is really talking to U, or that, at least, is what he believes as rushes through the summary.

The film is scored into his memory. Even today he can remember it in detail. At the time he had just seen it, so his account must have been vivid if not elegant. The film tells the story of a monk who paints icons in medieval Russia. B’s words conjure up feudal lords, Orthodox priests, peasants, burnt churches, envy and ignorance, festivals and a river at night, doubt and time, the certainty of artand the irreparable spilling of blood. Three characters emerge as central, if not in the film itself, in the version of this Russian film recounted by a Chilean in the house of his Chilean friends, sitting opposite a frustrated Chilean suicide, one beautiful spring evening in Barcelona: the first of these painters is a monk and painter, who unintentionally brings about the arrest, by soldiers, of the second character, a satirical poet, a goliard, a medieval beatnik, poor and half-educated, a fool, a sort of Villon wandering the vast steppes of Russia; the third character is a boy, the son of a bell caster,  who, after an epidemic, claims to have inherited the secrets of his father’s difficult art. The monk represents the Artist wholly devoted to his art. The wandering poet is a fool, with all the fragility and pain of the world written on his face. The adolescent caster of bells is Rimbaud, in other words the Orphean.

rublev-fresco-2

The ending of the film, drawn out like a birth, shows the process of casting the bell. The feudal lord wants a new bell, but a plague has decimated the population and the old caster has died. The lord’s men go looking for him but all they find is a house in ruins and the sole survivor, the caster’s adolescent son. He tries to convince them that he knows how to cast a bell. The lord’s henchmen are dubious at first, but finally take him with them, having warned that he will pay with his life if there is anything wrong with the bell.rublev-fresco-3

From time to time, the monk, who has renounced painting and sworn a vow of silence, walks through the countryside, past the place where workers are building a mould for the bell. Sometimes the boy makes fun of him (as he makes fun of everything). He taunts the monk by asking him questions and laughs at him. Outside the city walls, as the construction of the mould progresses, a kind of festival springs up in the shadow of the scaffolding. One afternoon, as he is walking past with some other monks, the former painter stops to listen to a poet, who turns out to be the beatnik, the one he unwittingly sent to prison many years ago. The poet recognises the monk and confronts him with his past action, tells him, in brutal, childish language, about the hardships he had to bear, how close he came to dying, day after day. Faithful to his vow of silence, the monk does not reply, although by the way he gazes at the poet you can tell he is taking responsibility for it all, including what was not his fault, and asking forgiveness. The people look at the poet and the monk and are completely bewildered, but they ask the poet to go on telling them stories, to leave the monk alone, and make them laugh again. The poet is crying, but when he turns back to his audience he recovers his spirits.

rublev-fresco-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so the days go by. Sometimes the feudal lord and his nobles visit the makeshift foundry to see how work on the bell is progressing. They do not talk to the boy, but to one of the lord’s henchmen, who serves as an intermediary. The monk keeps walking past, watching the work with growing interest. He doesn’t know himself why he is so interested. Meanwhile, the tradesmen who are working under the boy’s orders are worried about their young master. They make sure he eats. They joke with him. Over the weeks they have become fond of him. And finally the big day arrives. They hoist up the bell. Everyone gathers around the wooden scaffolding from which the bell hangs to hear it ring for the first time. Everyone has come out of the walled city: the feudal lord and his nobles and even a young Italian ambassador, for whom the Russians are barbarians. Everyone is waiting. Lost in the multitude, the monk is waiting too. They ring the bell. The chime is perfect. The bell does not break, nor does the sound die away. Everyone congratulates the feudal lord, including the Italian.

The celebration begins. When they are over, in what had seemed a fairground and is now a wasteland scattered with debris, only two people remain beside the abandoned foundry: the boy and the monk. The boy is sitting on the ground crying his eyes out. The monk is standing beside him, watching. The boy looks at the monk and says that his father, drunken pig that he was, never taught him the art of casting bells and would have taken his secrets to the grave; he taught himself, by watching. And he goes on crying. Then the monk crouches down and, breaking what was to be a lifelong vow of silence, says, Come with me to the monastery. I’ll start painting again and you can make bells for the churches. Don’t cry.

And that is where the film ends.

When B stops talking, U is crying.

Notes on Franz Biberkopf

fassbinder_ba

The face of Rainer Werner Fassbinder can be seen off to the side, dragging on a cigarette inside a slaughterhouse where his Franz Biberkopf (Gunther Lamprecht) is bound up to a pole ready to be stuck. Margit Carstensen and Helmut Griem stand behind him – the golden angels of death – narrating Biberkopf’s descent out of the film’s now distended narrative. But Fassbinder’s adaption didn’t give Biberkopf his first rebirth.

fassbinder_ba

Another Biberkopf rebirth took place in 1959, when a 14-year-old Fassbinder read Berlin Alexanderplatz for the first time. He would promptly memorise the book and, when the time came 21 years later, write the adapted scripts automatically and faithfully, an act that sanctified a prolificacy and fastidiousness nascent well before dependencies on coke and sleeping pills. There was a boy before all of this, remember?

Stating the obvious would be to say that this is no longer Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. The logical (and more instructive) conclusion from then on is that this was never Döblin’s Biberkopf, nor Gunther Lamprecht’s, nor Fassbinder’s. Fassbinder’s placid voiceover up to this point recited the book’s newspaper-clipping narration, words so familiar that this narratorial voice never resembled Fassbinder’s. In the slaughterhouse, neither possessing nor possessed by the text, he merely watches. The bisected creation – not quite his, not quite Döblin’s – now refuses to die. We’re merely halfway through this epilogue when Biberkopf cheats death at the slaughterhouse.

I don’t know when Biberkopf was first reborn, but within 14-year-old Fassbinder wasn’t the first time. Many other rebirths happened in this time between 1959 and 1980, however. He was reborn as Herr. R in Warum Läuft Herr R. Amok. Then as „Franz Biberkopf“ in Faustrecht der Freiheit, played by Fassbinder himself. These two films, made before Fassbinder was 30, wield the „Biberkopf“-ian figure with a once-teenaged death drive. With not much of a self to draw from at the age of 14, there’s an adolescent fecklessness persistent in these early works, manifesting versions of this Fassbinder/Biberkopf creation that are assumed as quickly as they’re discarded. Herr. R’s climactic murder-suicide sees him as Fassbinder’s first sacrificial lamb, preceding both Berlin Alexanderplatz and In Einem Jahr mit 13 Monden’s literal slaughterhouses, after which the questions persist: How does one reconcile the death drive intrinsic to this adolescent identification, specifically to Biberkopf? And once this reconciliation has been tried, what next? Usually another film, with another Biberkopf and another death. Sometimes they were called Franz, other times not.

Unlike the previous Franz’s, the one in this epilogue can’t be killed so easily. Several attempts were made prior in this adaptation. We now see Fassbinder looking at his last manifestation, across the slaughterhouse room and sensing the assertion that is now ending. He’s no longer Franz Biberkopf. He stands silent to watch him die, hiding behind aviator glasses. But we don’t see them die, neither Biberkopf nor Fassbinder. They both died young, but their deaths punctuate lives that flirted with this fatalist-romantic complex. Fassbinder as Biberkopf or vice versa, his multiple deaths both depicted and – in so doing – stalled the inevitable. This delay still keeps something alive. The delusion is enough, at least for a while yet.