… The international opposition to the Vietnam War and the specific Japanese riots within the universities and out on the Sanrizuka plain created a climate of revolt and a language that also found expression in acts of artistic liberation. The force of rebellion released a storm of vitality. The demonstrations became cathartic forms of public theatre.
[line break added] In artistic terms the city was to become a stage, though the tear gas, batons and blood were real. History seemed more theatrical than theatre itself. History could coincide with the choreographed cinematic imagery of revolt so famously depicted by Sergei Eisenstein. Two decades later Tiananmen Square provided an international spectacle that seemed epic, even operatic, since the action was largely contained within a single arena.
[line break added] The reality of the savagery was hidden from the public on the morning after the bloodshed when the approach roads were literally draped with curtains, which concealed the activities of the ‘stage hands’ as they swept away the debris of the previous night. Then the government declared the play was over.
[line break added] Shuji Terayama, poet, dramatist, filmmaker and creative genius of the late Sixties Tokyo underground, later announced in his Manifesto of 1975 that, “The theatre is neither a set of factors nor a building. It is the ideology of a place where dramatic encounters are created … Any space can become theatrical space … Theatre is chaos.”
[ … ]
Shomei Tomatsu, Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa, 1969
… Coupled with [Shomei Tomatsu’s] fascination for life in the separate world of the [US military] bases was his frequent travel to Okinawa, where he found island communities of farmers and fishermen living with archaic values that once prevailed on the islands of Japan itself. He discovered an animistic culture in contact with the elements and full of physical exuberance amidst the great beauty and fecundity of the landscape.
[line break added] For Tomatsu, Okinawa fulfilled his own fantasy of ‘Japan,’ or of a Japan that could never be. On Okinawa this fantasy existed beside the presence of the American bases. It was here that the clash of cultures was most explicit and this became the subject of his work.
In his book, Okinawa (1969), Tomatsu forced the juxtaposition of the American military — the wire fences, jeeps, bombers, hardware, combat cloth — into graphic conflict with the sheer physical density of the island and the poverty and simplicity of the lives of the islanders. Planes take off and land throughout the book. With the servicemen comes the secondary industry of sex and recreation, the bars and small hotels, where the islanders serve the alien occupying forces.
… Shinjuku, the epicenter of the Sixties revolt, was the subject of Tomatsu’s other book of the time. Oh, Shinjuku! (1969) was a violent and erotic homage to this extraordinary district of Tokyo. Shinjuku is centered around the enormous railway station and throughout the Eighties it has been the site of drastic redevelopment. Close to the station is a small maze of shops, noodle stalls and bars, representing an underworld in immediate proximity to the great department stores.
[line break added] In Shinjuku there is also the largest bookstore in the city, making it a natural meeting place for students. It is now one of the densest sites of teenage consumerism. The neon of Shinjuku is challenged by the television image on a giant, exterior screen, which continually broadcasts pop promotional videos. In the midst of this point of convergence is the district of Kabuki-cho, the territory of Shinjuku strip joints, yakuza, and bars. A closed, interior world of sex spreads out through its alleys.
… Shinjuku in 1968 demonstrated a shocking equation between the political violence on the streets, full of shouting and adrenalin, with an interior world of female forms and the enactment of a form of sexual theatre. While the exterior world appeared to be howling in a great clash of protest, behind the doors of Shinjuku, another form of tension, frequently voyeuristic, appeared to be heightened.
[line break added] The protests were ultimately expressed in two famous photographs by Tomatsu: one blurred image shows a single man running across the street, which is strewn with debris, and is caught in a gesture of hurling his missile, while another photograph shows an army of police lined up with their shields as if to receive the missile.
[line break added] Tomatsu had intensified the sense of the conflict by an act of simple reduction to the single figure in the midst of the chaos. There is a third photograph, which bridges the worlds of Eros and Power, as Tomatsu defined them. A girl’s face contorts into a scream. On the ground beside her is a Molotov cocktail made from a Coca-Cola bottle.