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Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets: The Relationship between Intellectuals and Masses in Terayama Shūji's Cinema

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Abstract

Terayama Shūji is as important counterculturally to the late 1960s and early 1970s as the philosopher Takaaki Yoshimoto was intellectually. Through the analysis of Terayama’s film Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (Sho o Suteyo, Machi e Deyō), this paper explores a premise little discussed in publications in English so far: namely, that the existentialist emphasis of this director’s cinema on the self-questioning subject, its transformation through action over circumstances and discourse, linked to its emancipatory spirit, allows him to connect his approaches with the ideology of the most libertarian sectors of the Japanese New Left during Japan’s 1960s ’season of politics’.
THROW AWAY YOUR BOOKS, RALLY IN THE STREETS:
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLECTUALS AND
MASSES IN TERAYAMA SHŪJI’S CINEMA
FERRAN DE VARGAS1
As Andrews (2016) points out, Terayama Shūji is as
important counterculturally to the late 1960s and
early 1970s as the philosopher Takaaki Yoshimoto
was intellectually. Through the analysis of
Terayama’s film Throw Away Your Books, Rally in
the Streets (Sho o Suteyo, Machi e Deyō), in this
paper I want to look into a premise little explored
in publications in English so far: namely, that the
existentialist emphasis of this director’s cinema on
the self-questioning subject, its transformation
through action over circumstances and discourse,
linked to its emancipatory spirit, allows him to
connect his approaches with the ideology of the
most libertarian sectors of the Japanese New Left,
those most influenced by Yoshimoto’s anti-avant-
garde theory of taishū (autonomous masses) in
spaces such as Todai Zenkyōtō or Nichidai
Zenkyōtō during the student protests of 1968-69.
The theory of taishū considers that to strengthen the
subjectivity (shutaisei) of the masses, the subject
must foster the autonomy (jiritsu) of the masses
themselves from any intellectual vanguard.
Terayama’s cinema can be seen in terms of
an attack on discursive expressions of reality, a
permanent effort to renounce exercising power on
the viewer through the film in the same way that
the Japanese libertarian New Left attempted to
avoid exercising power as a vanguard on the
masses. He tried to make films that constituted a
rebellion against cinema, even against avant-
gardist cinema (Centeno, 2012). In fact, the critique
of discourse inherent in Terayama’s cinema is so
extreme that it can often be confused with relativist
positions, to the point that its subversive attitude
has been defined as adaptive with respect to the
prevailing system by authors (see Morita 2006, p.
58). A decisive contribution to this interpretation
are the words of Terayama himself, namely that the
intention of his work was “to revolutionise real life
without resorting to politics” (in Sorgenfrei, 2005,
p.270). However, one should avoid the conclusion
that this emphasis on the critique of discourse
means Terayama’s stance is apolitical. Indeed, it is
precisely this zeal to revolutionize real life, using
art to transcend art itself and to make an impact on
society, where Terayama’s politics reside.
Intellectuals and masses in Throw Away Your
Books, Rally in the Streets
Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the
Streets was Terayama’s first full-length film,
released in 1971 at a time when the political
convulsion led by the Japanese New Left had
reached its peak and was heading for decline. The
Ferran de Vargas is a PhD candidate at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. This paper is
1
based on the research that was undertaken for his doctoral dissertation La Nūberu Bāgu como
correlato artístico de la Nueva Izquierda japonesa, and it was supported by the Research Group
GREGAL (2017 SGR 1596). He can be reached at ferran.devargas@uab.cat
New Ideas in East Asian Studies 2018 (2) ISSN 2516-3221 (Online)
#1
fact that Terayama didn’t depend on a big
production company, but co-produced his film with
Art Theatre Guild (ATG), facilitated the radicality
of his cinematographic approaches that challenged
the viewer’s complicity and instead provoked
subjective involvement. To a certain degree this
film can be seen as a correlate of the New Left
political movement’s ideology, especially the
relationship between intellectual and the masses.
This is reflected both in the explicit treatment of the
masses in several scenes and in the implicit
relationship between the director and the viewer, as
well as in the self-abolishing standpoint of cinema
and of discourse in general.
First, with regard to the explicit treatment
of the masses made by Terayama in Throw Away
Your Books, Rally in the Streets, we should
consider the role of the main character, Kitagawa
Eimei and his relationship with the world around
him. Kitagawa represents to some extent the
director’s intention to project an original image of
the masses, uncontaminated by ideological
discourse. He is an existentialist character, moved
not by reason or ideas, but by desires and fears,
immersed in a constant confusion and troubled by
a deep identity crisis. Throughout the film there are
several scenes with episodes of political
performance and of revolutionary discourse
mirroring that of the 1966-1971 ‘season of
politics’ (Furuhata, 2013) in Japan. Nonetheless,
this portrait contrasts with the life of Kitagawa,
who wanders without any clear aims, expressing
no ideological conviction nor joining any political
movement or action. Terayama doesn’t project an
ideal image of how the main character should be,
but of his alienation, which is the driving force of
his action. Just as the most libertarian Japanese
New Left sectors emphasised alienation as a
potentiality of political action over the ideologies
inculcated by intellectuals or vanguards, Terayama
tries to transmit the same autonomy (jiritsu) of the
masses in his film through Kitagawa. With this aim,
the film shows the stark alienated behaviour of
Kitagawa as potentially subversive. Indeed, this
potential becomes subversive action almost at the
end of the film, and in a manner which is poorly
channelled, individualist and apolitical: on a
holiday, Kitagawa walks through a crowded street
rebuking and shoving pedestrians.
The events in Kitagawa’s life are the main
thread of the film, providing some unity among the
general fragmentation and also transmitting a
conception of the masses which is similar to that of
most libertarian sectors of the Japanese New Left.
Those events transmit a de-ideologized frustration
that was beginning to take over Japanese social
movements after the previous years of struggles
and defeats, especially after the end of the major
campus strikes of 1968-69, the second renewal of
the Anpo Security Treaty with the United States in
1970, and the subsequent emergence of extremely
violent armed groups. However, the disorientation
transmitted in Throw Away Your Books, Rally in
the Streets can also be understood as a continuation
of the Nūberu Bāgu cinema that Ōshima Nagisa,
Yoshida Kijū or Shinoda Masahiro, among others,
were already producing in the 1960s when the New
Left struggles were at their peak. These film makers
were motivated by a ‘crisis of truth’ (Standish 2011,
p.50). As children during the war they had been
instilled with the idea that they were servants of
the emperor and they should dedicate their lives to
him; when Japan lost the war the authorities then
told them that the values they had grown up with
were false and that peace and democracy were the
most precious goods; when tensions rose during
the Cold War, the very same authorities began to
openly act against the democratic and pacifist
principles they had been preaching; meanwhile the
Japanese Communist Party (JCP), that had
embodied hopes of democratic progress in Japan
was demonstrating its inability to secure the future
it promised.
But Terayama not only tries to transmit an
uncontaminated image of the masses through the
film’s main character, but also through scenes
where various facets of the working class are
portrayed. In this sense, a particularly satirical
scene stands out in which Japanese workers sing a
homoerotic ode to action films starring Takakura
Ken, one of the most popular actors in Japan at that
time and a symbol of manhood. The image
transmitted by Terayama is that of a working class
that makes up for its lack of everyday action, its
complexes, loneliness, lack of purpose, fears,
cowardice and anonymity, with an appetite for
witnessing extreme and violent action on screen
performed by a hypermasculinized hero. A parallel
needs to be pointed out here between this satire of
the working class and what Žižek analyses in his
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012) on the early
films by the Czech director Milos Forman in the
1960s. Žižek believes that Forman’s mockery of
common people, more than a sign of intellectual
arrogance was defiance of the ideological pressure
from the Soviet Union on Czechoslovakia, as Soviet
power was held as a mystified image of popular
classes that paradoxically was used to oppress
them. In the same way, we can see that Terayama
New Ideas in East Asian Studies 2018 (2) ISSN 2516-3221 (Online)
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satirizes the common people in rebellion to the
idealized image of masses that satisfied the
Japanese institutional left’s interests.
One scene, in which an ordinary woman is
interviewed about various matters, is particularly
illustrative. The interviewer intersperses trivial
questions with others of a more intellectual nature,
putting all of them on the same level. On the one
hand, we have the effect of relativizing the value
and beliefs of the subject: an interview with a
woman of apparently low intellectual ability being
posed questions such as “what negative effects
does literature have on people” and “what part do
you hide when you are naked” as if they were of
equal intellectual merit. Through this device all
experience acquires the same value. On the other
hand, to answers such as “what’s the best book you
have ever read” she answers “the Bible”, to “what
magazine do you think is the best” she answers
“Playboy”, and to “what do you think about
Marx’s ‘Capital’” she replies that she doesn’t know
it. Once again the film moves away from an
idealized image of the masses. Moreover, before
answering any of the questions, the first thing she
expresses is her desire to dance; she offers to teach
the interviewer some dance steps and she expresses
disappointment when he refuses. Likewise, she
suggests that he should put more feeling in the
questions he is asking her and not just read them
out. This breaks the unilateral relation between
observer subject (interviewer, intellectual) and
observed subject (interviewee, masses), and sets the
image of masses prone to action and spontaneity.
The film also relativizes the value of the
subjects and of their experiences by portraying a
football team, and especially its leader, Omi. He is
presented as a man of the world, well versed in
different subjects, able to develop transcendental
reflections and is informed about other cultures. He
is a man who has adopted values and customs
from Europe and the United States, lives for
himself without family ties, and he lectures
Kitagawa about free love, communal life and the
obsolete function of family. Nonetheless, it is
precisely this modern and cosmopolitan man who
has the most patriarchal behaviour, to the point of
joining the rest of the team members in the gang
rape of Kitagawa’s sister. Instead, Kitagawa,
lacking all Omi’s knowledge and leadership skills,
doesn’t fit in with the football team’s patriarchal
culture, and just for this reason, in fact, he doesn’t
fit in with the football team itself. Terayama shows
that intellectuality, modernity and Westernisation
are elements without a positive value in
themselves, and that they can even mask different
kinds of oppression.
There is a highly symbolic scene that
condenses all these approaches. Kitagawa invites
his sister to a Western restaurant to comfort her for
the gang rape she has suffered. She has never been
to a Western restaurant before and she is unsure
about whether she will be able to eat with cutlery.
He, on the other hand, has been to that restaurant a
few times on the invitation of Omi. Shortly after
Kitagawa and his sister sit down at the table, Omi
shows up by chance and decides to sit with them.
Omi seems to be completely at home with the
Western customs and style of the restaurant, and he
advises Kitagawa so that he can feel more
comfortable in that atmosphere. Without being
disturbed at all by the fact of sharing table with the
girl he recently raped, Omi buries himself in a
speech about how in Europe young men and
women share everything freely in communes.
Meanwhile, at another table a man with an erudite
appearance reads to a woman a book “about the
deep liberating influence that books can exercise on
people”. The woman seems uninterested in what
he is reading, to the point that she is not able to
stay awake. Between the dinner guests of both
tables there is a relationship characterized by the
maladjustment between intellectuals and masses,
crossed with elements criticised by the Japanese
New Left: the ideas claimed by a vanguard
regardless of the action and concrete reality,
progress as a simplified concept, and the uncritical
Westernisation and universalism.
Secondly, besides the explicit portraits of
intellectuals and masses, Throw Away Your Books,
Rally in the Streets also connects with the most
libertarian sectors of the Japanese New Left in the
relationship established between the film itself and
the viewer. These sectors believed it was essential
to foster the subjectivity (shutaisei) of the masses,
and to do so it was necessary to defend its
autonomy (jiritsu) in the face of intellectuals
avoiding placing oneself in a position of power. In
the same way, Terayama avoids as far as possible
exercising power over the viewer and fosters his
subjectivity and autonomy. In fact, this was
common in Nūberu Bāgu cinema. In this sense, as
another avant-garde director like Yoshida Kijū
pointed out, what makes a political film is more the
form, through which the filmmaker must grant
subjectivity to the viewer, than the content
(Noonan, 2010). Likewise, in Terayama’s
understanding, realist narration in cinema gives the
viewer a false sensation of action by prompting the
New Ideas in East Asian Studies 2018 (2) ISSN 2516-3221 (Online)
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viewer to identify and almost fuse themselves with
the main character’s experiences. But in fact the
viewer is only sitting passively in an armchair.
Therefore Terayama tries to invert that effect,
making the viewer feel actively involved while
watching the film, and thus highlighting the
passivity in which they live their everyday life
outside the cinema. The viewer is instead presented
with a set of messy images that they have to
complete with their own reflections, and as such
they become involved to some degree as the film
unfolds.
Besides the narrative disorder, the film also
fosters the viewers’ subjectivity by setting a
distance between them and the film itself through
the explication of the enunciation points typical of
Nūberu Bāgu (Standish, 2011, pp.31-32). With the
explication of the enunciation points the director
attacks the comfortable position of the viewers as
mere observers, constantly reminding them he is
not presenting an objective portrait of reality but a
subjective film construction. This distance between
the work as a creation and the viewer is a film
translation of the masses’ autonomy in its
relationship with the intellectual.
Terayama uses various means of
artificialization in order to make the points of
enunciation explicit. The film starts with an entire
minute with nothing on the screen, during which
several mixed sounds are heard: some whispers,
the director’s voice through a megaphone and,
then, the sound of what seems to be the film
running. Then, the main character appears, though
at this point we do not know if he is the character
Kitagawa Eimei, or the actor Sasaki Eimei; the fact
that both have the same name is consistent
Terayama’s aim to avoid passivity in the audience.
Looking at the camera, ‘Eimei’ addresses the
viewers with a defying demeanour, attacking their
nonparticipation and invulnerability: “What the
hell are you doing? All of you sitting there waiting
around in a dark cinema. Nothing’s gonna start.”
While he is speaking, the sound of the film running
is still being heard, but since we cannot see the
machine, we do not know if it’s the camera, the
projector, or both. So, viewing this scene one can
feel in the position of someone who is filming with
the camera, editing with the projector next to him,
or projecting it in the cinema (Ridgely, 2011).
Other scenes in the film also play with the
ambiguity between roles, achieving the same effect
of explicitation of the enunciation points. For
instance, in a scene in which the football team is
filmed in the showers, the camera mists up and
suddenly the cameraman’s hand bursts onto the
screen to defog the lens with a cloth. Or another,
when two young hippies are seen smoking
marijuana on the street, and the man who is
shooting leaves the camera on the ground and goes
to sit with them and take a few drags. Yet again, at
the end of film all those involved in the production
appear and, from among them, the actor who
played the main character addresses the viewers,
and as in the first scene gives a speech about
cinema.
Another means of artificialization is the use
of different colour filters for the scenes of the film.
Basically the film utilizes the following colours:
green for filming scenes of Kitagawa’s family
relationships, magenta for scenes in which
Kitagawa escapes from his real life through his
imagination and fantasy and, in the case of the
scenes that show events on the streets, life in
restaurants and brothels, or the football team, these
are filmed in full colour. But throughout the film
there are also, to a lesser extent, black and white
scenes that represent the past of Kitagawa’s family
before World War II, and scenes in red or blue that
represent his own memories.
Another feature worth noting is
theatricalization (use of masks, performances on
the street, surrealistic settings, theatrical clothing
and make-up, overacting, aesthetics full of
symbolism), musical scenes, and insertion of
photographs and texts on the screen. Terayama
alternates several video clips throughout the film,
some of which display a combination of all of these
devices. A good example is the next-to-last video
clip. It starts with a quote on the screen: “Even if I
knew that the end of the world were to come
tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree.” Then,
several surrealistic scenes appear in which
elements of modern life and what seems a
primitive life are juxtaposed, all this with theatrical
aesthetics overlapped on real locations: a woman
with her face painted white sitting on fabric,
another almost naked and with her children; a man
with his face painted white too and with very long
hair, all of them sharing the rooftop of a city
building with hens, wrapped in a reddish smoke.
Likewise, there is an alternation of filmed images of
cityscapes composed of concrete buildings and
photographs of gravestones from a cemetery.
Meanwhile, in the song playing in the background
we can hear: “August 1970. I gave birth to a child.
Nobody gave me permission. August 1970. I called
him Jenla. Nobody gave me permission. August
New Ideas in East Asian Studies 2018 (2) ISSN 2516-3221 (Online)
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1970. Another woman got pregnant. Nobody gave
her permission.”
The formal combination in the video clip of
the aforementioned elements of theatre, music,
alternation of photographs and text inserts
contribute to creating a distance between the film
and viewer in order to keep the viewer ’s
autonomy. In contrast, the video clip content
symbolically criticises the notion of linear progress
and power. In some ways, it transmits the idea that,
no matter how far history goes forward and
lifestyles evolve, human beings are essentially the
same: they are intrinsically connected with the
natural development (birth, procreation, death) and
the everyday life of family ties. And the lyrics of
the song, which highlight the fact that no
permission is requested to be born, reproduce and
give identity to the child through a name, seem to
express the fact that it’s in this interconnected field
of nature and everyday life where it is most
difficult for power to be imposed. However, we
must not forget that Terayama was a lover of urban
life at odds with nostalgic standpoints of reality
and the search for an original past.
Finally, the self-abolishing nature of
Terayama’s cinema should be mentioned. Despite
Terayama’s aim to not exercise power as a director
on viewers nor make his film a mere object of
consumption that fosters passivity, this aim is
ultimately unrealizable. It is just a philosophical-
political attitude that uses cultural means from
intellectuals or artists ultimately against the means
themselves, so as to guarantee action and the
maximum freedom of the viewers or the masses.
It’s not that all kinds of discourse are avoided or
delegitimized, but rather that discourse is seen not
as something with a value in itself, but as a tool
that acquires its maximum value if it denies itself in
pursuit of actual experience. It is in this sense that
we must read the following words from Terayama:
When I threw away books and rallied in the
streets, I was thinking of turning the city into a
book… By abandoning printed books in my
study and walking into the streets of this city,
books paradoxically begin to have greater and
wider meaning in my thought (Terayama, in
Morita, 2006, p.54).
It is because, from this point of view, discourse
should be used fundamentally in pursuit of the
actual experience of the masses, that Terayama
plays with the possibility that texts become part of
the city, to become integrated into it. That is why
throughout the film not only the lyrics of several
songs are heard, why also quotes from several
authors such as Majakovsky, Hughes, Marlaux and
Terayama himself are shown in public places like
pavements, a toilets, or the sand of a football field.
At one point in the film, a girl on a ladder writes
the following words on a wall with white chalk:
“The city is an open book. Write in its infinite
margins.” The action in the streets, and not the
mere denial of discourse, is for Terayama what
makes sense of art. This allows us to understand
how the Terayama who was so critical of political
movements, could at the same time through his his
cinema call to the students mobilized during the
1970s not to isolate themselves inside the occupied
campuses but to spread their insurrection (Ridgely
2011).
The film’s title is a declaration of intentions
along these lines. As Ridgely (2011) notes, this title
is similar to the message that the narrator of André
Gide’s novel Les Nourritures Terrestres (Los Frutos
de la Tierra) tells the reader: “Throw away my
book.” It’s a message that assumes the paradox of
being launched as a precept from the authority of
the author (the novelist or the director) through his
means (the novel or the film), but precisely to
suppress the preceptive value and the author’s
authority and means, fostering the receptor’s
autonomy.
For Terayama, watching a film cannot in
any event be a substantial political act, however
avant-garde the work may be and however it may
encourage the viewers’ subjectivity. Going to the
cinema consists after all of sitting in an armchair in
the dark, momentarily suppressing the relationship
with other people, shutting oneself up and isolating
oneself from the streets. This view of cinema
against cinema itself is expressed most explicitly in
the following speech made by Kitagawa, the main
character, at the end of the film:
If you think about it, a film can only exist
within the darkness of a cinema. The world of
the film ends the moment the lights come on; it
just disappears. […] Even the worlds of
Polanski and Ōshima Nagisa and Antonioni, all
of them disappears when you turn on the
lights. Think you could show a film on the side
of a building during daylight? […] I loved
Humphrey Bogart. I loved Cinemascope, town
shooting, love scenes… I loved Mr. Sukita, the
cameraman; Mr. Terayama, the director; Mr.
Usui, the assistant. The whole of that world,
but I don’t love the cinema. Goodbye.
Goodbye, cinema.
During the film an element appears that, among
other possible interpretations, can symbolize the
New Ideas in East Asian Studies 2018 (2) ISSN 2516-3221 (Online)
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self-abolishing function of cinema as conceived by
Terayama. This element is a rudimentary airplane
powered without success by Kitagawa’s body, who
has to hold it with his arms and to run forward to
make it take off. The human-powered airplane
appears in the scenes filmed with a magenta
monochrome filter, namely, those in which the
main character tries to escape from reality.
Likewise, the title letters of the film that appear at
the beginning are also magenta, on a green
monochrome background, the colour of the scenes
of Kitagawa’s family life. So, a link can be deduced
between cinema and the human-powered airplane
through the link between the title’s colour and that
of the filter of the scenes in which Kitagawa tries to
fly and escape (Ridgely, 2011). Just as he uses his
imaginary world, his human-powered airplane, to
escape from the alienated reality of everyday life,
from Terayama’s point of view also cinema
constitutes an imaginary world that ultimately
escapes from reality. The symbol of self-abolition
appears at the end of the film, just before Kitagawa
makes the speech in which he says goodbye to
cinema, when he contemplates how the human-
powered airplane burns.
Conclusion
Despite its confusing content and absence
of clear messages, as well as its implicit criticism of
discourse and ideology, if one takes into account
the historical context in which Throw Away Your
Books, Rally in the Streets was made and its
coexistence with relatively similar approaches
emanating from the most libertarian currents of the
Japanese New Left movement, it can be concluded
that it is a political film and not merely artistic or
experimental.
Just as the most libertarian Japanese New
Left tended to deploy an existentialist political
standpoint that put subjective action above
discourse and considered alienation as the
fundamental driving force of that action rather than
the ideology infused into the masses by an avant-
garde, Terayama also deployed a similar
philosophical-political attitude through
cinematographic means. Instead of offering the
viewer an ideal image of how the political subject
should be, Terayama shows through his characters
the alienation that, from the point of view of this
existentialist paradigm, moves the masses; he
shows their desires, their fears, their disorientation
and their frustrations, their experience regardless of
convictions, well defined values and rational plans.
At the same time, Terayama renounces as
far as possible the position of the intellectual
vanguard by pointing out throughout the film, via
artificializing devices, that what the spectator is
watching is not an objective and closed truth but a
subjective construction opened to her/his reflection
and imagination as an active subject.
Taking into account that from the point of
view of this paradigm the discourse emanating
from a vanguard is something that intrinsically and
ultimately distances the masses from subjective
action, the contradiction implied by the fact that
Terayama seeks to foster the subjective action of the
viewer precisely through a discursive means such
as cinema, is confronted through the filmic means
itself: it can be said that Terayama, as a director,
makes cinema against cinema.
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