Thursday, 27 April 2017

ABOUT MY LIBERTY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs Hot Pick - Protests for Peace

Our youth are our only hope and salvation.

About My Liberty (2017)
Dir. Takashi Nishihara

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There are few things in democratic society more appalling than when a government reinterprets its constitution for nefarious purposes and against the will of its people, rams through legislation that not only has far-reaching implications within that specific nation, but speaks to the notions of "liberty" (or lack thereof) in an international context. Japan's President Abe committed such a heinous act - a veritable crime against the country of Japan, but by extension, a chilling reminder that all of us, no matter what "free" society/country we live in, are susceptible to the abominable whims of the "ruling" class.

About My Liberty is an important work of Cinéma Direct documentary filmmaking that details the response of young student activists to Abe's horrendous actions when he rammed through legislation that contravened the 70-year-old Japanese constitution and in particular, Japan's unique place as a country devoted to peace. The constitution declares Japan will never actively go to war and that its military is only to be deployed in the nation's self-defence. This basic tenet of the country's nationhood is an important fabric of the culture and society of Japan.

The film focuses upon three young university students who create a national protest of increasing fervour and numbers. Using a wide variety of "millennial" tools (social media, clever bite-sized protest slogans, even Japanese rap music), the protest proper involves congregating outside of the Japanese government buildings with speeches, chants and accompanying cheers for peace. It begins with a veritable handful, but week after week, the numbers mount. Things reach an astonishing head when over 500,000 students hold a nationwide day of protest.

This is epic documentary filmmaking. At 165-minutes, it never lags. Structurally, it is the protests in the streets which are the tie that binds. These scenes have a hypnotic power and when the protests unravel, it's impossible to keep one's eyes off the screen. Between protests, the film focuses upon all the behind-the-scenes activities of the students. (This student movement is especially important in modern Japanese history as it's the first time young people in the country having been motivated to such extremes and on such a scale to actively engage in the political process.)

When the film concentrates on capturing all the aforementioned, it soars. Less successful are some of the scenes involving interviews with the participants. Given that so much of the movie adheres quite brilliantly to its Cinéma Direct roots, these moments tend to stick out like sore thumbs. This is, however, not enough to detract from the overall sweep and power of the film.

What About My Liberty hammers home are two things:

1. Our youth are not only our future, but they, more than any of us, have more of a stake in the future generations that follow them.

2. When peace is threatened in a nation that has peace chiselled into its constitution, we are all under threat. All of us, in spite of "democracy", can have our lives turned topsy-turvy by the borderline fascists so often at the helm of supposedly "free" nations.

The young people in this film are an inspiration to all of us. I'm thankful About My Liberty exists and that it's as good as it is.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ Three-and-a-Half Stars

About My Liberty enjoys its International Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.