I’ve written before about the continuing negotiation between the current Heisei generation and Japan’s former period of radicalism. The usual narrative goes that the student activists descended into brutal violence, alienating the bulk of the activists and derailing the whole movement. I have always had issues with this reading; nonetheless, it has become the mainstream view by commentators past and present alike.
But now time has passed. Japan’s delegitimised history of radical politics has become licit again thanks to mass protest movements against the second Iraq War and nuclear power. Numerous films, manga and books have been released, bringing new colour and interpretations to what went before, by both actual participants and newcomers (such as the academic Eiji Oguma and manga-ka Naoki Yamamoto). Ordinary people treat the motifs of militant student protest as material for pastiche and cosplay.
And so it comes as little surprise that the memory of Sekigun-ha has now gone moe. Twitter user Kakumeiteki gebaruto na ko (Revolutionary Gewalt girl) has been experimenting with making illustrated versions of famous radicals, namely notorious revolutionaries associated with Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction). The portraits are based on various images of the infamous militants (press images, wanted posters, TV reenactments), meaning they are simulacra, in the Baudrillard sense: images of images, rather than a copy of the “real” thing.
She (the user appears to be female, claiming to be called Honoka in her profile) has tagged her meme-in-the-offing 女体化赤軍派 (jotaika sekigunha, or Sekigun-ha feminisation).
— 革命的ゲバルトな子 (@honoka51934835) May 27, 2015
— 革命的ゲバルトな子 (@honoka51934835) May 26, 2015
Here are some of the fruits of her handiwork.
This is Kazuko Shiomi, the wife of Takaya Shiomi, former head of Sekigun-ha.
Here is Ayako Daidōji, who was a member of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front (Higashi Ajia Hannichi Busō Sensen). She was freed extralegally by the Japanese government during a hostage crisis and then joined the Japanese Red Army.
And Hiroko Nagata, the late Kakumei Saha (strictly speaking, not actually Sekigun-ha but she formed Rengō Sekigun — the United Red Army — with Tsuneo Mori’s paramilitary wing of the faction). Interestingly, Nagata was demonized at the time by the press and justice system. Being reclaimed as a cute illustration is a curious evolution of her place in cultural memory.
Lastly, this is Yukiko Ekita (sometimes spelt Ekida), another veteran of the East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front.
The artist claims in her Twitter profile to be a member of “Chūkaku-ha, Otonokizaka Gakuin Branch”, though this is surely a jest since the “school” is a reference to Love Live!. Honoka’s avatar itself is certainly very cute indeed (it seems to be the same illustration as the Kazuko Shiomi portrait).
Social media is emerging as a fascinating playground for the Japanese sense of the ludic and the geeky — frolicking with motifs and form, and then reinventing them as esoteric jokes for the amusement of a small minority. Might we have the effrontery to label Honoka a kagekiha otaku, a “militant factions geek”?
Whereas irony was taboo for the ascetic, ever-serious 1960’s and 1970’s radicals, the new generation (I am presuming Honoka was born in the 1980’s or 1990’s) have no such parameters. Everything is fair game. Some may tut at the flippancy of it all — from both sides of the arena, demoting passionate radicals to the level of a Twitter meme and also promoting convicted “terrorists” to cute figures of pop cultural prestige — yet all must marvel at how the postmodern condition is re-digesting Japan’s radical recent past.