About My Liberty
(Japan, 165 minutes)
Dir. Takahashi Nishihara)
By Liam Lacey
In 2015 and 2016, Japan witnessed the biggest student protest movement since the 1960s. The cause was a bill by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party that would allow Japan, for the first time since the country’s surrender in 1945, to send troops to foreign countries.
Director Takahash Nishibara’s film focuses on one organisation, Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALD). SEALDs’ leaders, in their early twenties, include two young men, Aki Okuda, Yoshimas Ushida and the one woman, Mana Shibata, well-read, media-savvy activists who carefully strategised and executed the popular campaign against the bill.
At two hours and 45 minutes, About My Liberty is a needlessly long film, less a coherent documentary film than the loose raw material for one. There are far too many similar speeches and scenes of planning sessions, but there is insufficient context about the evolution of the current student movement or any analysis beyond what the youthful subjects say.
For viewers with sufficient patience, About My Liberty does provide some perspective on the style of Japan’s new activism following widespread loss of faith in the government following the triple catastrophe of March 11, 2011 (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown). Japan’s contemporary activists are socially conscious liberals, not revolutionaries, preferring to persuade the mainstream rather than reject it.
Protests typically feel like street parties; speakers emphasize first-person testimonials rather than rhetoric. Their rallies employ chants, elements of rap, and placards with popular English phrases, including that John and Yoko standby, “Give Peace a Chance.” They also appear to have staying power. As the film’s end, the passage of the bill followed by the SEALDs’ dismantlement is treated not as a defeat, but a breather before the next round.
About My Liberty screens:
Sunday, April 30 at Innis Town Hall, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, May 2 at Scotiabank Theatre 3 at 2:30 p.m.