Shinsuke Ogawa and Ogawa Pro retrospective at ICA, starts today

“Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Pro: Collective filmmaking and the culture of dissidence” starts today at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).

Running until December 11th, it is a comprehensive retrospective of the film-making collective Ogawa Pro and its documentation of Japan’s post-war turmoil.

The highlights of the showcase are surely the screenings of the series for which Shinsuke Ogawa (1936-1992) is most famous: his documentation of the protests by farmers and New Left activists against the development of Narita Airport in the Sanrizuka area of Chiba. While he was making this long and powerful cycle (eight films shot over nine years), Ogawa lived in a village alongside the farmers.

shinsuke ogawa pro film sanrizuka protest movement narita airport

Though most coverage of Ogawa Pro’s over three decades of practice has understandably focused on the Sanrizuka sequence, it actually left a large, sprawling body of work and the ICA programme also wisely includes two documentaries made about collective to offer an overview.

In the 1970s, Ogawa and his collective moved to Magino, a village in Yamagata Prefecture, where they lived side by side with the locals. In a similar way to how elements of the Japanese performing arts scene also retreated to remote rural regions, most notably Tadashi Suzuki to Toga in Toyama, Ogawa Pro’s relocation to Magino saw the film-makers construct a theatre and work towards a new form of cinema in harmony with the land and the community. This culminated in a monumental documentary, The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches — The Magino Village Story.

Ogawa’s activities placed him in the crowded nexus of film-makers in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s making politically and socially engaged cinema, not least Masao Adachi and Kōji Wakamatsu in pink film, NDU (Nihon Documentary Union) and Noriaki Tsuchimoto in non-fiction film, and Nagisa Ōshima and Yoshishige Yoshida in the (initially studio-backed) New Wave.

Though he died of cancer at the age of 55, Ogawa helped set up Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in the late 1980s, which is one of the longest-running documentary events of its kind in the world.

Ogawa and Ogawa Pro are mentioned, if rather fleetingly, in my book, Dissenting Japan, in the context of the Sanrizuka movement (and if I may be allowed a plug, Dissenting Japan should be available at ICA during the retrospective). Of course, there is already a book about him: Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary by Abé Mark Nornes, who is the authority on Ogawa and knew him personally. Not surprisingly, Abé Mark Nornes will be in London to introduce two of the screenings.

There is a certain amount of irony here in that the ICA programme is supported by the Japan Foundation. Time heals all, they say, though one wonders how Ogawa would have felt about the fact that government patronage is now funding screenings of his work that so resolutely rejected mainstream models of cinema production and distribution, and set out to document at times extremely fierce anti-state dissidence. This situation is not unique: the “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde” show at MoMA in 2012-13 also had Japan Foundation backing, despite including “illegal” artworks by the likes of Genpei Akasegawa that saw him put on trial.

Ogawa also made Forest of Oppression — A Record of the Struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics, which is among the most enduring documentations of the student movement in Japan. A student at Takasaki City University of Economics at this time was Fumiaki Hoshino, an alleged political prisoner languishing behind bars for over 40 years. One of the few public photographs of the young Fumiaki Hoshino is taken from a Shinsuke Ogawa film. In it, Hoshino can be seen briefly in the scrum at a Sanrizuka protest with a whistle in his mouth and Chūkaku-ha helmet on his head.

Hoshino is currently serving a full-life sentence for leading a 1971 protest in Shibuya that descended into a riot. Earlier this month the police marked 45 years since the Shibuya Riot Incident, in which a young officer was killed, and announced a new reward for information regarding the fugitive Masaaki Ōsaka, who is wanted in connection with the death.

The ICA retrospective includes the European premiere of The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories (2014), which was co-directed by the late Kōjirō Ōtsu, who was himself a cameraman for Ogawa’s Summer in Sanrizuka and got arrested for his troubles. A sequel to The Wages of Resistance is currently in post-production.

The retrospective also times neatly with a small surge of interest in Ogawa Pro domestically thanks to the recent DVD releases in Japan of the Sanrizuka series.

In addition, the Ogawa Pro retrospective should be seen against another event at ICA, “Fluorescent Chrysanthemum”, which runs until November 27th. This examines the eponymous exhibition, held at ICA in 1968 and the first presentation of contemporary Japanese art held in Europe.


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