Left Alone


In order to find some fresh air in this season of Pop Cultural Malaise, I’ve recently being reading about the Japanese student movement of the 1960s. So much to my delight, I discovered that a documentary film about the Japanese New Left called Left Alone was showing in Shibuya. We hurried to Eurospace last night to see the late show, paid our $13 — and were then subjected to the worse hour-and-a-half of cinema ever.

Shot on video, with audio courtesy of the camera’s built-in mic, the film tells the entire history of the decade’s riots and tribulations through poorly-shot long interview segments with four or five of the ex-student leaders. The standard “talking heads” style would have been a delightful departure from this inexplicably bad, rambling, pointless mess of a film. I wanted to say it was probably edited on iMovie, but I think iMovie lets you do more than 25 cuts in 90 mins.

Although I often revel in critical bashing, I was honestly disappointed with what could have been a very interesting documentary. I could have ignored the technical and narrative problems had they shown lots of archival footage, but we got 5-10 book covers and the occasional photo. Maybe, however, there just isn’t much film stock of the student riots. Celluloid was expensive in ’60s Japan, and the powers that be didn’t want to give it any more attention than it was getting. TV stations probably have some reels in a back closet, but I don’t get the sense that there’s actually that much footage of the events.

Left Alone 2 coming to theaters next week!

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 21, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

4 Responses

  1. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I somehow think there’s got to be better documentation of the student movement than this, though unfortunately I can’t really point you towards any sources. I still think Norwegian Wood gives a pretty interesting account of the era. Murakami himself was disillusioned by it, as apparently, were many people who participated in the events of ’68 in Paris.

    Slightly tangential, but perhaps this is of interest to you. Have you heard about Donald Phillipi, who was a scholar and student activist with the Kakumaru, in Japan in the 60’s and also part of the San Francisco punk scene as a biwa player calling himself Slava Ranko and making music inspired by legends of the Ainu?

    His biography and a series of interviews are linked to this memorial page:


    Part 2 of the interview mentions a history of the Kakumaru revolutionary movement.

  2. marxy Says:

    You’ve pointed me to that link before, but I had forgotten he wrote about Kaku Maru.

    A really good documentary would obviously take the disillusioned side into focus as well, but at this point, I’d take anything that said something about what happened.

  3. Alin Says:

    I strongly recomend a movie 鬼畜大宴会 (kichikudaienkai).

    It might not only answer a lot of your questions but actually help you stop draining your brains to rationalize the stuff till it fits into some familiar framework. If you get it please do share your thoughts. More poingnant, get the dvd and and watch all the extra bits and pieces as well.

    the director was some 20 yo at the time (late 90s) and he really did do a fabulous job.

    Alo plenty of good stuff made at the time nipponreinen, a doco. plenty of stuff by oshima nagisa ( shinjuku dorobou nikki) etc etc

  4. marxy Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Alin.

    I rented 鬼畜大宴会 and I’ll tell you what I think.

    I also found an NHK documentary on the student protests and finally saw some decent footage.