More often than not, the leftists in Wakamatsu films are a confused bunch whose political motives are frequently (and humorously) cross-wired to their libidinal impulses. In Ecstasy of the Angels (1970) the hormonal militants (named, perhaps in a nod to G.K. Chesterton's anarchist satire The Man Who Would be Thursday, after the days of the week) spout secret code meaningless even to them in between having sex at the drop of a hat.
A fitting close to the series, United Red Army finds Wakamatsu taking a sober look back over the era that fuelled his most prolific years as a filmmaker, accounting for both the revolutionary promises and grim dissolution of Japan's student protest movement. Combining documentary footage with staged reenactments, United Red Army is a stylistic 360 from Wakamatsu's earlier work. The grueling, three-hour history lesson spares no detail in documenting the titular faction's descent from idealism into the sadistic purging of its own members to its highly publicized last stand at a mountain ski resort.
Much like Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex, another recent film that examines '60s political terrorism, United Red Army is difficult to watch because of the factual nature of its exposition and its refusal to judge, even when depicting the URA's darkest hours. It's a surprisingly objective coda to the wild, dark films that precede it in "Pink Cinema Revolution," which are as much documents as products of their time. As Jasper Sharp writes in his recent survey of pink cinema, Behind the Pink Curtain, Wakamatsu's films are, "not only visual testimonies to an era of new sexual frankness and a deep uncertainty in which oblivion seemed to lurk around the corner," but they also offer, in retrospect, prescient glimpses of the underlying forces that would propel the radical left to its own dissolution.
"Pink Cinema Revolution: The Radical Films of Koji Wakamatsu"
Oct 8-29, $8
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF
(415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org