Hiroshi Hamaya: Untitled, from the series “Days of
Rage and Grief,” 1960, black-and-white photograph.

The San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed on Sept. 8, 1951, formally ending World War II and dissolving the Japanese empire. Later on the same day, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was signed as well, announcing to the world that a sovereign and peaceful Japan would also be an intimate American ally. A keystone of Cold War policy, Anpo—short for the Japanese name for the security treaty, Anzen Hosho Joyaku—allows for the stationing of American troops on Japanese soil in exchange for American protection of Japan from foreign threats. Without Anpo and a secure foothold in Asia, the U.S. could not have waged the Vietnam War. Without the close relationship with the U.S., Japan could not have grown at the rapid rate it did after World War II. But as far as the Japanese constitution is concerned, the treaty chafes against Article 9, which renounces war as a means to resolve international disputes, and flouts the commitment to peace ensconced in the constitution’s preamble and upheld by a large portion of Japanese civil society. Still, Anpo endures, remaining one of the most contentious political issues in Japan, as demonstrated by last year’s protests against the planned relocation of Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, leading in the summer of 2010 to the ouster of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The security treaty and the opposition to it is the subject of a recent documentary by Linda Hoaglund, titled ANPO: Art X War (2010, 89 min.). Though there have been numerous texts, exhibitions and films on separate aspects of the subject, ANPO is the first comprehensive treatment in any format of its impact on Japanese art. Hoaglund has previously produced one film, titled Wings of Defeat (directed by Risa Morimoto, 2007), about Japanese kamikaze pilots, and has written the subtitles for over 200 others, by filmmakers as diverse as Akira Kurosawa and the animator Hayao Miyazaki. In Japan, ANPO was released with much fanfare, with articles appearing in many prominent newspapers and magazines. In North America, it has been shown at DOC NYC (New York’s Documentary Festival), the Toronto International Film Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival and in screenings on university campuses.

The core of the movie is an examination of the decades-long culture of protest against the various aspects of the Anpo arrangement, which culminated early in the summer of 1960 with large-scale popular demonstrations in Tokyo against the revision and renewal of the security treaty. Hoaglund intends her movie as a tribute to that much-celebrated high point of postwar Japanese democracy: a portion of ANPO was first screened at Tokyo University on June 15, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the death of Michiko Kanba, a 22-year-old student killed in the clash between radicalized students and the riot police at the gates of the Japanese parliament. However, according to the director in a brochure for sale at screenings in Japan, the idea for the movie came from art. Shot in lavish high-def digital, with the camera poring over painted detail and photographic emulsion, occasionally diving into storerooms to uncover forgotten masterpieces, ANPO offers as many opportunities for esthetic appreciation and art-historical discovery as it does for insight into social and political history. For all her impressive research, however, Hoaglund’s movie has one major flaw: in its eagerness to show the underside of Pax Americana it tends to simplify issues of responsibility.

The movie's interviewees make up a who’s who of postwar Japanese art. They include Makoto Aida (who works in various mediums), graphic designer Tadanori Yokoo, photographers Shomei Tomatsu and Miyako Ishiuchi, and painters Tatsuo Ikeda and Hiroshi Nakamura. As one of the initial inspirations for ANPO, Nakamura’s work receives particular attention. He is the paradigmatic Anpo artist: a young painter with left-wing sympathies working in a mixed surrealist-reportage idiom during the 1950s, often depicting incidents concerning American military bases and the security treaty. The most famous of his paintings, Sunagawa No. 5 (1955), shows local farmers, massed like Diego Rivera’s Mexican peasants, heaving forward with the force of Ilya Repin’s barge haulers, physically struggling against the Japanese police and the expansion of American military facilities in western Tokyo.

Considerable time is spent with Nakamura’s Base (1957). In the foreground, an oversize helmeted skull is looking through the sight of a machine gun. In the distance, upon a furrowed landscape, there is an American tank engaged in training exercises and a body posed ostrichlike, buttocks thrust into the air. This depicts the “Girard Incident” of January 1957, in which a Japanese woman was shot and killed by one Specialist Third Class William S. Girard while she was collecting empty cartridges to sell as scrap metal from a field used as an Army shooting range. After much opposition from the U.S., Girard was tried in Japanese court, where he received a suspended three-year sentence. This theme of meaningless death at the hands of careless American brutes, and the powerlessness of the Japanese to exercise full justice in their own country, recurs later in ANPO, once attention turns to Okinawa. In a famous photograph by Kyoko Ureshino from 1965, a group of white American soldiers surrounds the body of a small Japanese girl just run over by their truck. A local stares at them accusingly from the left. The central soldier returns the look defiantly. Though the movie does not mention this, the driver was never tried.

Another guiding theme of ANPO is prostitution. The film considers how official brothels known as Rest and Amusement Associations (RAAs) were set up immediately after the surrender by the Japanese government as a buffer against incoming occupation forces and their feared sexual voracity. Various photographs show uniformed G.I.s with their arms around Japanese women. Often, Japanese men look on, distraught. A drawing from 1953 by Tatsuo Ikeda shows an American soldier, this one lazily smoking a cigarette, his arm nonchalantly draped over his fawning Japanese lover, crammed inside a ramshackle wood house. At the end of the sequence comes the most discomfiting image in all of ANPO. It’s a candid clip of footage from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. Again the jocular G.I., again a diminutive Japanese woman, this one smiling but clearly uncomfortable, removing the man’s hand from her face as he pinches and rubs her chin and cheek, again and then again.

In both historical and fictional narratives about postwar Japan, it is common to find the metaphor of prostitution pushed beyond the literal cases of the RAA and the streetwalker, and into the realms of politics and diplomacy. The analogy is voiced in ANPO by Tim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting on the Pentagon and the CIA. “The long-term consequences of this relationship, which is the political equivalent of the relationship between a prostitute and a pimp, can be felt in everyday life.” He is speaking in general of the chummy alliance of the White House, the CIA and the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is (despite its name) the reactionary corporatist bloc that ruled Japan for most of the postwar period. It is the party that has been most vocal in advocating constitutional revision and remilitarization. When it comes to the history of Anpo, the LDP’s most notorious representative is Nobusuke Kishi, an untried Class A war criminal, Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, and public enemy number one during the protests of 1959-60 for his support of renewing the security treaty against widespread parliamentary and popular opposition. One photo from the 1960 demonstrations shows a sculpture of Kishi’s head impaled on a pole.

June 1960 is an important moment, and Hoaglund creates a crisp picture of its near-mythical status among Japanese born in the ’30s and ’40s. For period images, she relies mainly on footage from Yukio Tomizawa’s June 1960, Rage against Anpo (1960) and selections from Hiroshi Hamaya’s photo book Days of Rage and Grief (1960). The latter, an anomaly in the oeuvre of an artist known for his romantic images of rural folk and customs, has been cited by Hoaglund as a major artistic inspiration for her movie, along with the work of Hiroshi Nakamura. Depicting a range of protest participants, Hamaya’s photographs illustrate a truism about Anpo ’60: it marked the emergence of the common citizen into the public political sphere, marching side by side in anti-Kishi demonstrations with labor unions, antiwar organizations and left-wing student groups.

“During the 1960 Anpo protests,” explains historian Hosaka Masayasu in ANPO, “taxi drivers and shopkeepers, even regular housewives cheered us on.” Despite this broad base of opposition, however, the treaty revisions were driven through parliament and ratified on June 19, 1960. ANPO echoes the conclusion traditionally drawn from this experience: real power rested with the ruling elite, backed by the U.S. and deaf to popular opinion, revealing postwar democracy to be a farce. While this might have meant defeat for some, others continued the fight, organizing protests against the American military presence during the Vietnam War and the Japanese government’s support of that conflict. But ANPO skims over that period, making 1960 seem more of an endpoint than it actually was. Like many paeans to Anpo ’60, Hoaglund’s movie can be a bit melodramatic.

There is a surprising emphasis in ANPO on the A-bomb. Tomatsu is introduced to discuss not his “Chewing Gum and Chocolate” photographs of G.I.s out on the town, but his Hiroshima and Nagasaki series. Ishiuchi chats about her hometown of Yokosuka, site of an American naval base, but more time is spent with her recent backlit photographs of the tattered clothing of Hiroshima bomb victims.

How is this relevant to Anpo? In the movie, two answers are given. First, popular opposition to Anpo was informed by the deep aversion to war, militarism and nuclear weapons established among Japanese by the experience of World War II. Second, as a product of the compromised situation in which Japan found itself at the San Francisco Peace Conference, Anpo represents a condition of institutionalized surrender, a “de facto occupation” as Ikeda describes it. These notions, however, have limited applicability. Since 1952, Japan has been a sovereign nation. The 1960 revisions to the treaty removed its most egregious imbalances, such as the right of the U.S. to intervene in domestic political conflicts. Since 1970, at which point the treaty could have been allowed to expire, the fate of Anpo has been fully in Japanese hands. If Japan has been compromised by a military alliance with the U.S., its own government is to be blamed first, but one should not overlook an electorate which kept that government in power for over 40 years. No doubt, American pressure has always been immense, and to reject Anpo would bring serious economic and diplomatic repercussions. Still, the Japanese majority has opted for the status quo, which means choosing economic growth and military security over geopolitical autonomy and adherence to the pacifist principles of the constitution. The emphasis on American wrongdoing in ANPO and the repeated returns to the traumas of defeat and occupation obscure Japan’s own responsibility to itself as a sovereign democratic nation, and just how much the Japanese public, contrary to the outcry of Anpo ’60, has desired and economically depended on the American military “embrace.”

Hoaglund does point in this direction. There is a nice transition in the film from 1960 to the era of high economic growth and the rise of the Japanese middle class. The revised treaty has been rammed through parliament, and all that’s left of the spirit of ’60, we are told, are leaflets littering the streets. “The Demonstrations are Over, Time to Get a Job” was the new call to arms, explains Kazutoshi Hando, a journalist at the time. Historian Masayasu then describes how the government sought to appropriate the energies of the broken protest movement and reinvest them in the economy. Hoaglund illustrates these points through a series of photographs by Shigeichi Nagano that show kowtowing “salary men,” a business training program operating like boot camp and the tubby, cigar-puffing, self-satisfied representatives of Japan’s business elite. Last in her sequence is a photograph by Yutaka Takanashi from 1965 of a suited man crammed in a little white car beside his wife and their chubby child. Hoaglund holds up an accusing mirror to Japan’s middle class—but too briefly, and with too little commentary, to make a real impression.

At the end, the film jumps forward four decades to the present day in Okinawa. While American bases still exist on the mainland of Honshu, the true anti-Anpo spirit continues to thrive only here. Until 1972, Okinawa was under direct American military rule, serving as the main way station for weapons and soldiers to Vietnam. After the island’s reversion to Japanese sovereignty, the American presence decreased only marginally, despite Japanese government promises to the contrary. Today, about 20 percent of the land area of Okinawa Island hosts approximately 75 percent of U.S. base territory in Japan. The presence of the American military has caused significant environmental damage. Crimes against the local population are not rare. Most notorious is the abduction and rape in 1995 of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen. But Okinawa is in a bind. As the poorest of Japan’s prefectures, it has been economically dependent on subsidies from a central Japanese government that consistently prioritizes the security treaty over Okinawan opinion.

Only some of this background is examined in ANPO. Hoaglund deals mainly in generalities. Activist Kayoko Sakima leads a tour of Japanese high school students from the mainland. From a building top, they look out on the vast greenery of Futenma base. She asks, “Have you heard of Anpo?” Those who respond at all shake their heads “no.” If mainland ignorance is an issue, why not be more informative and at least provide an outline of the history of the Okinawan struggle? There is the peppery writer and photographer Mao Ishikawa. Her words are sharp: “I have nothing against the soldiers. But I hate the U.S. military. They’ve done so many bad things. I hate the Japan that has let them even more. And I hate those of us who let them even more than that.” But Hoaglund does not show Ishikawa’s most trenchant photographs. The chosen images of barbed wire, roaring planes and jarheads—territory still occupied and the intruder still refusing to leave—do little to illuminate the distinctiveness of the local situation. Likewise, there is some footage of the 2009-10 protests against the relocation of Futenma to Henoko, but we are not told what exactly the issue is, nor that those protests were aimed primarily at a central Japanese government readying once again to sell out Okinawa.

As Ishikawa’s words suggests, while detesting the American military, most Okinawans view the “base question” within a wider history of Japanese colonization and exploitation. Its flash points are the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 (waged largely as a means to delay American invasion of the mainland), the concession of Okinawa to continued American military rule during the San Francisco Peace Conference and the maintenance of extensive bases as part of the terms of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese sovereignty in 1972. One gets some sense of this in ANPO from comments by local artists and activists. But the stronger sequences, informed by Hoaglund’s fixation on bad America, argue just the opposite. For example, she shows Iri and Toshi Maruki’s painting The Battle of Okinawa (1984), focusing on details of women and children chased by fire. The images go by too fast to see that some protagonists are killing themselves. Just before, Hoaglund shows footage of American marines in landing exercises on Okinawan beaches. Right after, activist Sakima explains how Futenma was created in 1945 by the razing of a village and the forced relocation of its inhabitants by the American military. This is a specious piece of editing. It suggests that the Marukis’ painting is a condemnation of American atrocities, while its actual theme is the murder of Okinawans by Japanese soldiers and the natives’ compulsion to group suicide. Sentiment and biases in ANPO sometimes get the better of the objectivity one expects from a documentary.