Revolution, more or less – An Interview with Masao Adachi

Revolution, more or less – An Interview with Masao Adachi


How do you choose the venues and which is the setting in which you would like your film to be seen and discussed?

The film is very overtly political, which meant that most movie theaters were reluctant to show it. The venues we picked were simply the few that were willing to include it in their programme. For me personally, it doesn’t matter whether we show the film in a theater or not. It could be screened in a music venue as well. What matters is that the film gets shown.


You produced and edited this film in a very short timeframe. During the preview screenings of “Revolution+1” you showed a shorter edit as well. Can you comment on the changes you made to the film afterwards and why you made them?

During production, the current prime minister announced that he will organize a state funeral for Shinzo Abe. I wanted to put all my energy into making a political statement against that event – even if it meant I would be presenting an incomplete version. Basically, I’ve always shot my films in a short time throughout my career. I already started to plan “Revolution+1” three days after the assassination took place. It took us one week for the first draft of the script to be completed, and not much changed after the first version. Actually, the full edit of the film was already completed before Abe’s state funeral. But I wanted to emphasize certain political points in the film for its presentation on 27 September 2022, so I created a different version for this event. The shorter version focused on the political motivations of the protagonist. It was screened at events that were organised as statements against Abe’s state funeral, and they took place in three or four locations on the date of the actual event.


During a press conference which you held in Tokyo in December, you mention that you saw the careers of politicians like Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump as an opportunity for those observing their work. You mentioned through their actions, conspiracies might have come to light. Could you specify the kind of conspiracies you refer to with this statement? What is to be learned from these governments about politics and the current moment of the world?

Years ago, Donald Trump became the U.S. President and Shinzo Abe became the Japanese Prime Minister. In that press conference, I was referring to these two politicians, their populist followers, and their political allies. My theory is: If these kinds of populist leaders become leaders on the national stage, conspiracies usually hidden from us before might come to the surface and become visible via their mistakes. A lot of information about the government is hidden from society. When those two became national leaders, I almost looked forward to the mistakes they’d make and what they’d reveal.

In Japan, Abe’s assassination and the subsequent discussions it sparked made clear that political factions of the ruling Liberal Democractic Party are entangled with a religious cult, the Unification Church. Since the assassination, the Japanese media is debating this on a regular basis, even though contemporary politics are usually obsessed with trying to hide such things. To fight against this secrecy and suppression of information, I want to invoke and utilize surrealism and “scandalism.” I want to address these questions, make them visible, and to declare that we won’t be shying away from them.

As a Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe spent his time and energy on the preservation of power – rather than doing anything actively for society’s progress. Both him and Donald Trump would do anything to preserve power. During the time they were in power, there was a lot of discussion on how society has become divided. But in fact, I feel that their political careers made preexisting divisions within society more visible.


Towards the end of Revolution+1 there is a scene in which the sister of your protagonist talks directly into the camera, about her choice to take a different path than him, doing it her way. She raises the question of how to defend democracy in a non-democratic state with other tools than terrorism. Is there some sort of opposition at the moment in Japan which is visible and which creates options for change? I am not only referring to protestors. I mean also potential political parties, which are a real opposition.

This is a really important question. In her monologue the sister addresses the camera directly, which is uncommon in fiction films. It is usually a technique you’d see implemented in documentaries. This happens frequently in my film: what should be a dialogue between characters is often presented as a dialogue with the audience. A monologue is basically how most characters in my film speaks –and this is because I feel young people in Japan today don’t have direct conversations about politics.

Basically, in Japanese society things are not going very well. This is why I felt I should add a +1 to my film’s title. In order to make space for real change to take place, we need to replace all politicians. At the moment, I don’t feel there are political movements that have the strength to overthrow the ruling party. The only thing we can do is to keep hoping.

The protagonist of your film chooses to change his situation by attacking a politician – and he is of course based on the murderer of Shinzo Abe. Would you defend violence as legitimate for political purposes, from your perspective today?

There are no easy answers to this question: I think we should consider this on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think that all violence is legitimate and I don’t see many examples of violence that I feel is legitimate. Yet, I feel it’s impossible to give one simple answer to this question. Basically, I feel nobody should be using violence for political purposes. But I don’t deny violence as an option. There are times when violence against the enemy is necessary. Still, there is never one correct answer, even within the same political situation.


How do you decide whether to reproduce violence within your films? In your new film there are scenes of violence: The most explicit one is the documentary footage of the attack on Shinzo Abe in which we see the assassination. Then there are destructions of images: We see images of people being shot, faces being destroyed. Could you comment on your image politics in that sense, also in relation to your other films?

In Revolution+1, I wanted to discuss the inevitability of violence. Violence becomes the only option for the protagonist. As you mention, the film includes scenes of the assassination of Abe. But the film’s focus is on what led the protagonist to commit this attack.

There are lots of ways of showing violence, but I feel I always present violence in a matter-of-fact manner. I don’t think I use violence as a way to convey something else. I don’t beautify violence or make it tragic. Perhaps that’s because my existence in and of itself is considered violent by many people. Violence is just one possible action and, in a sense, it is also the result of an action. It is not beautiful or tragic, it is simply what happens in certain situations.

In recent months, the media has focused on the war in Ukraine. What we see in the news and in the media are often the results of violence. We don’t see the violence itself taking place, but we see its aftermath, which is usually shown from a distant perspective. I personally want to show the act of violence in and of itself, but from a similarly cold and distant perspective.


Early on in “Revolution+1” there are scenes showing a friend of Yamagami’s father, a friend of his family. The man left Japan and participated in the Lod airport attack in 1972. You show a reenactment of the airpot attack. Could you comment on your choices to include these scenes?

The protagonist of my film is based on Tetsuya Yamagami, who murdered Shinzo Abe. Through my research, I found out that Yamagami’s father actually knew someone who was involved in the Lod airport massacre. As such, I am not creating a random connection and I did not include it for the sake of my film’s narrative. It felt important to share this. It’s not that I’m claiming there is a direct connection between the Lod airport attack and the death of Yamagami’s father or the fate of Yamagami’s family. Yet, I can imagine the incident, which Yamagami heard about from his father, might have served as an inspiration for him. Yamagami hit a wall after he lost his father. What he saw in the Lod airport incident is people taking their fight against oppression into their own hands and in their own way. In my film, the protagonist feels a connection with that incident.


You were heavily attacked and put in a connection with the Tokyo Reels programme screened at the documenta in Kassel. Those who followed the public discussion and watch your film today might see the Lod Airport scene as a provocation.

Although it’s not directly related to this new work, I want to make it clear that I was not informed about documenta nor what would be included in the exhibition before the exhibition took place. In Japan some years ago, I was interviewed by a Palestinian archive group, who I advised that there may be films left behind in Tokyo that they might want to have a look at. But nothing more and nothing less. After the uproar in documenta and after being asked to sign a protest statement, I was surprised to hear that Wakamatsu Productions and I were credited in the exhibition, although I don’t know whether we were credited as exhibiting artists or something else. Therefore, I can’t offer much more detail on what took place at documenta and suggest you ask the organisers in Kassel and Palestinian archive group involved, rather than me, for further information. Nevertheless, I would like to make some kind of rebuttal against the campaign labelling me as an anti-Semite that I have received since, but I will not do so on this occasion. I intend in the future, after giving it some thought, through my own work and statements.


There is also a quote you use in Revolution+1, which is repeated many times: “Becoming a star in the sky.” This is a quote of one of the surviving attackers of the Lod airport massacre. Could you comment on that choice to have it so present and also recurring within the film, haunting both the protagonist and the audience.

The activists you see in the Lod airport incident were part of a larger plot. But individually, they also had very clear motivations. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to take on this role and this action. In my film, they were very clear about wanting to become, metaphorically, one of the stars in the Orion constellation. The protagonist of my film is almost their polar opposite, even though his final act seems purposeful. In the scenes where he reflects on who he is, what he finds is a lot of uncertainty. This is why he keeps on asking what kind of star in the sky he should become. Like him, we have to reflect on and question ourselves: We need to think about what activism is today and what it can be. Are we in a position today to even ask this question? This is another reason why my film’s title involves a +1.


You mentioned that your work is very personal, yet you include in your films direct references to realities and political struggles. In Revolution+1 there are two political connecting lines: Your protagonist is connected to the airport attack. And you yourself were a part of the Japanese Red Army, as well as the PFLP. What effect does it have on you when you stage a reenactment of a terrorist attack like this? And what thoughts come to mind when you see the images yourself? Do they connect you with your own past? Is your filmmaking a way of moving forward for you? How do you feel about the Lod airport scene in your film, as an artist and as a spectator of your own film? How do you position yourself towards your own work? 

I am not saying that violent revolution is the answer for everything. I don’t say that in my films nor in my personal statements. In fact, it’s a question I continuously return to – you see me work through this question in my films, like “Prisoner/Terrorist”. The film is centered on a protagonist inspired by Kozo Okamoto, the surviving attacker of the Lod airport attack. By making that film and now “Revolution+1,” I wanted to address this question. From today’s perspective and my current position, I try to reflect on my past, what I did and perhaps what I should’ve done, and on failures of my past actions. I try to reflect on these questions via my characters in my films. I am trying to reflect on how I can continue to be part of a movement without necessarily being an activist. I think you can find this kind of reflection in all my films, including “Revolution+1.”

In short, my recent films are based on two key ideas: firstly, that violence isn’t necessarily an answer to political issues and questions; and secondly, that we have to change ourselves for things to change, for politics to change, and for society to change. I think that’s the only way for real change to take place. In a way, I am making these films to take responsibility for my past actions.


There are several scenes in your film in which you break the realism of a setting. For example by showing rain inside of buildings, or when a bright light flashes in the hospital scene. Could you comment on these choices? Why is it important for you to break the illusion or immersion within your film?

I began working on the script for Revolution +1 three days after the assassination. Already at the outset, I decided on two things. Firstly, I decided the film’s story and cinematic approach would be inspired by the protagonist. Secondly, I decided for it to rain whenever the character is shown to be in a moment of reflection or whenever he faces uncertainties. You could describe the scenes as illogical, but also as alienating or surrealistic. I also go from scene to scene in quick succession. These choices might remind people of Bertolt Brecht or Samuel Beckett. I guess I could be referencing either or both or neither.

In my previous film “A.K.A. Serial Killer,” I showed landscapes which the protagonist may have seen during his life. In “Revolution+1,” by contrast, the camera is always on the protagonist. It was important for me to create a kind of contrast with my previous film. To what extent I made the right choice is not up for me to decide.


Could we further discuss the relation of your new film to older works, in particular “Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War”? When the public thinks about your work today, this might be a film they have in mind, it seems to tell a lot about your politics and your position towards Israel. Could you speak about the aspect of propaganda in that film and in “Revolution+1”?

Thank you for this serious question. It is important to ask and discuss whether art can be propaganda. From my perspective, I think propaganda is a form of expression. Propaganda promotes something, just like TV commercials or public relation films do. In a way, we could also say TV commercials or PR films are propaganda films – if we use a broad interpretation of the term. In guerrilla warfare, weapons are the central tool. Guerrilla campaigns and actions could also be described as propaganda. In some ways, for example, hijacking was a tool for the PFLP to promote, in other words, send a message to the world that the Palestinian conflict is something we should be paying attention to. In a way, these actions are a kind of propaganda campaign.

In “Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War,” the film I made many years ago, I wanted to explore what it means to create propaganda. This is why you see the everyday life of guerrilla fighters in this film. I wanted to explore what it means to create these campaigns rather than repeat what these fighters wanted to communicate. In a way, “Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War” is a film about the construction of a landscape, about the moments before the acts of violence. “Revolution+1” is very similar in that sense. Both films are quite different to my film “A.K.A. Serial Killer,” for example, which is a film about how the landscape is oppressing individuals.

In “Revolution+1,” the central question is: What now? I feel currently there is no space or landscape for revolutions to take place. So I wanted to explore potential starting points. The film might not look or feel like a propaganda film in the narrow sense of the word. But in “Revolution+1,” I was trying to explore how to be a revolutionary.


Are many filmmakers in Japan able to address politics through their work and inspire citizens to take political action?

I think there are a few examples. But many films and filmmakers address political topics instead of using their art to change the contemporary condition. I think I’m the only filmmaker in Japan who addresses political situations directly. This is a real issue and a problem. I don’t feel contemporary art, nor poetry, nor novels commit themselves to this purpose. It seems to me that many contemporary artists are invested in psychological dramas. Of course, they have intentions and desires for things to change, but they don’t have the strength themselves to take on an active role in this change. This is why I get irritated. This is why I continue to make films.

I think individual nations around the world are dealing with different sorts of questions like environmental issues, racial discrimination, and globalization. I think these are all important crises, but I do think there is a more fundamental crisis of stagnation that pervades society that I want to address: a crisis on an emotional level, an interior crisis. I feel there is no solid ground on which we can take on the various contemporary crises. As an artist, I try to transform this situation through artistic expression. I don’t see many artists trying to do the same. I feel this lack of motivation is, in a way, the main issue.


This interview was conducted by Dennis Vetter and Petra Palmer
Translation: Julian Ross

The interview does not represent the positions of the Artistic Directors’ collective of the Berlin Critics’ Week. Our collective would like to distance itself from statements made in this interview referring to terrorism and aggression against Israel, as well as statements which suggest that there is a campaign against Masao Adachi.