Shinjuku Mad (Japan, 1970)

Wakamatsu Koji made underground movies in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He was working within the pink genre, which meant they were essentially pornos, but as long as there was the requisite simulated sex scene every 20 minutes nobody cared what else he showed. And what he showed was usually violence.

In films like Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969) and Ecstasy of the Angels (1972), Wakamatsu explored the nexus of sex and violence, with the films taking place in claustrophobic, single-room apartments. He was also interested in young people, student activism and the coming revolution, when the old ways would be thrown out in favor of a more egalitarian society.

Shinjuku Mad was released in 1970, a year after student activism reached its peak with the shutting down of college campuses in Tokyo and then fizzled out. Although his previous films were critical of young people, his sympathies still lay with them. However, Shinjuku Mad seems to be going another direction.

The father of a slain young man comes to Tokyo to find the killer, known as Shinjuku Mad. The police are no help so he sets out on his own, poking around in underground coffee bars and crash pads in Shinjuku, then ground zero for the Japanese counter cultural movement. He’s straight-laced and square but he’s not insensitive to young people. In fact, he likens them to the architects of the Meiji Restoration, the men who helped bring Japan out of its feudal age.

It’s clear Wakamatsu and his usual screenwriter, Adachi Masao, have more respect for the honest working man of Japan here than the “revolutionary,” who talks a lot but never does anything except squabble with others. Even more than the fact that Shinjuku Mad feels like a real movie, complete with coherent plot and resolution, it’s this aspect that surprised me the most. That a revolutionary filmmaker should take the position of the conservative working class says a lot about how he felt about the state of the revolution.

Wakamatsu and Adachi were definitely on to something. A few years after this, the Japanese Red Army, of which Adachi was a former member, would self-destruct in a one-room cabin in the woods, killing 14 of its own members. Wakamatsu recently turned these events into a film, United Red Army (2007), which is fitting because the event itself seems to have come straight out of one of his films.