ASAKUSA is delighted to announce the opening of “Kino-Pravda: A Tribute to Prokino”: a screening exhibition with a dedicated archive of newsreels and periodicals by the filmmakers’ collective Prokino (1929-1934), and a day-long programme of contemporary documentaries which seeks to explore a subterranean field of non-knowledge about social psychologies, site-specific memories, and historical truths. In the tradition of cinematic realism that inspired Prokino filmmakers, presented works portray the lives of people in distrust, and turn the screen into a site of persecution and protest. With each work pointing to a singular political event, the exhibition considers core subjects of modern politics including class struggle, state crimes, and violence, reflected in today's post-ideological conditions where real images are subsumed neutralizing rhetoric of the quasi-fictional media space. The title “Kino-Pravda", or "Film-Truth" in Russian, refers to a pioneering newsreel series in the early 20th century by Dziga Vertov, which constructed fragments of present actuality to reveal a deeper truth, otherwise inconceivable to the naked eye.
Marked as a historical point of reference will be the short films of Prokino (The Proletarian Film League of Japan, 1929-34), a collective body of young leftist filmmakers active only for 5 years. During increased tensions of an anti-communist campaign, leading politician Yamamoto Senji was assassinated by a right-wing activist. The news was followed by the sudden suicide of Communist Party chairman, Watanabe Masanosuke, after being tracked down during his exile in Taiwan. The Worker-Farmer Funeral of Yamamoto Senji (1929), by the Kyoto branch of Prokino, is an 11 minute video footage shot in 16mm that records a combined funeral for both leaders, wherein participant workers and taxis formed a procession line from the Kyoto Station to Yamamoto's home. The Tokyo branch of Prokino's The 12th Annual Tokyo May Day (1931) is the only remaining trace of their May Day films from 1927 to 1932, and shows the end of the parade route and a rally in Ueno Park. In other works such as Earth, (1931: dir. Ko Shukichi), and All Lines (1932: Screenplay and dir. Furukawa Ryo), the news film features are mixed with elements of staging and reenactment, where the heightened gestures constitute a critique of labour struggle in the Marxist tradition. Prokino was forced to dissolve in 1934 due to clean-up arrests of its members.
Screened alongside and in a separate room will be four full-length – and relatively recent - documentaries. Mitsuo Sato & Kyoichi Yamaoka's Sanya - Attack to Attack (1985) shows the abysmal conditions of day laborers in the impoverished Sanya district at the high time of Japan's economic growth. Illustrating violent conflicts of the labourers against local Yakuza exploiters and eventually costing the lives of both film directors, the film ends with a remark about their fellow workers who fled from the Korean Peninsula. IM Heung-soon's Jeju Prayer (2012) reflects on this causality through the silence of Mrs. Kang Sang-hee, who lost her husband in the Jeju Uprising (An attempted insurgency followed by an anti-communist suppression in 1948). It sheds light on the intersection of a personal family history and collective trauma systematically obliterated in modern Korean history, while suggesting the concurrent rise of eco-tourism and militarisation through the recent controversy about the construction of a naval base in the island.
Uncovering the manipulation of state media, Taiwanese American filmmaker duo James T. Hong & Yin-Ju Chen confront Japanese historical revisionism with their documentary, Lessons of the Blood (2010). Consisting of archival materials, film clips, and interviews with survivors, the film exposes Japan’s use of biological weapons and human experimentation during the Second World War outside Harbin, China, and reveals the open wounds of elderly victims, who have suffered for years and still harbor hatred for their Japanese perpetrators. Sociologist known for radical demystification of official histories by testimonial records, Eiji Oguma presents his new and only film production Tell The Prime Minister (2015), the 109 minute film documenting an anti-nuclear demonstration, which gathered over 200,000 people, otherwise unreported by existing media coverage. Bringing together found videos from the internet, and the interviews with individuals including ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, it projects compound viewpoints through multiple lenses converged on the issues around the Fukushima catastrophe and the nuclear state apparatus.
The end of the 20th century faced the closure of an epoch marked by ideological confrontation. Although the subsequent era blurred the distinction between political opponents and neutralised the relevance of the ideological struggle, the contemporary media demonstrates that it is developing again with renewed vigour. As the society fails to cope with a new challenge of the post-ideological world, the documentary screen may well serve as a catalysis for historical contradictions. What is an ideology in the cinema of testimony? What constitutes the bias of the medium? How is it possible to conceive a visio-historical dialogue through reconstruction of cinematic truth?
"Kino-Pravda: A tribute to Prokino" is curated by Asakusa with support by Sanya Production and Screening Committee and publisher, Rokka Shuppan.