The Way Wakamatsu Chose His Own Fate:
Political Mortality & Radical Dramaturgy
published in Senses of Cinema No.65
- Melbourne, 2012
(excerpt only currently published online)
11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate might not be the best film to end Wakamatsu’s career. He died in late 2012 after being run over by a taxi cab in Tokyo. Some might prefer the equally fascinating yet comparatively linear film United Red Army (2009). It shines a harsh lens on the psychological realities which beset members of the RAF and the RLF in their attempt to unite in radicalism to overthrow Japanese mainstream society. Ultimately they imploded their political energy amongst themselves in a nihilistic frenzy of self-analysis and communal decimation. But 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate is arguably a more compacted and anti-linear excavation of the terrorist mindset. Technically, Wakamatsu’s last film was also released the same year as his death: The Millennial Rapture, a story about a cursed blood line of womanizing Burakumin men living out their hedonistic but fatalistic generations in a remote village in the 1920s. Like 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate, it’s a low-budget video production, with limited visual style, muted audiovisual impact, and a generally under-polished amateur veneer. In fact, it is hard to make a case for any of Wakamatsu’s later films as cinematic gems deserving auteur accolades. But 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate eschews axiomatic models of ‘quality aesthetic cinema’: Wakamatsu is not necessarily a fitting model for international art house auteurism. The undeniable lack of audiovisual cinematic crafting in the film is a coded sign to consider the film under different terms. Wakamatsu’s films have always generated a strange sense that they are hovering somewhere else, away from an audience’s engagement with its stories. That place is the political netherland of imploding politics: a near-Godardian praxis of how sounds and images can interrogate and be interrogated, and how they implicate themselves devoid of either consensual authorship or audience desire.
In the case of 11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate, it means the film presents itself as an interrogation of how Mishima himself constructed his own ‘netherland of imploding politics’. Wakamatsu is careful to hardly show a moment where Mishima is engaged in writing. In the decade between the Asanuma assassination and his suicide, Mishima wrote sixteen novels, twenty short stories, and eight plays. Yet the film depicts how Mishima wasn’t a writer: how he desired something else and to be something else. Wakamatsu focuses instead on how Mishima imagined himself—from his identification with the televised debate to his controlled direction of his own image-making (hence the film’s deliberate quotation of the posed portraits he commissioned of his Storm Shield group, plus the photographs of him atop the building at his attempted coup d’état), to his delirious enrolment in the Ground Self Defence Forces to undergo their rigorous military training. Most tragically, the film depicts the ‘delusional praxis’ of Mishima’s distribution of leaflets from atop the GSDF building and his inane yelling out to the gathered soldiers below who likely couldn’t have heard a single word he said. This is how ‘the political message’ gets swept away in the wind. This is the voice at its most withered, its most constrained, its most ineffectual. Wakamatsu plays the scene out to drain it of all drama: it’s a powerful scene of dramatic lack. One wonders if Mishima was putting into practice the true notion of a ‘suicidal performance’: he spent more time preening himself in uniforms than he checked on how far his vocals could carry.