A less political side of Japan’s 1969 activism

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A less political side of Japan’s 1969 activism

The year 1969 was a time of turbulence in Japan. Student activists wielded iron bars and Molotov cocktails for democracy, while staying away from their books. Barricades and street demonstrations continued, many of them leading to casualties.
To a group of high school friends in the film “69 Sixty-nine,” however, democracy did not carry more significance than gaining some attention from girls. When the boys barricade their school, it’s not for the sake of democracy ― it’s because the girls say they adore those who set up barricades or initiate street demonstrations.
Based on the best-selling novel by Ryu Murakami published under the same title in 1987, and directed by the Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il, the film opens in Korea on Friday. Celebrating the opening, Mr. Lee and Masanobu Ando, one of the two stars of the film, came to Seoul to attend screenings and a press conference on Monday, returning to Tokyo yesterday.
The director, who maintains his Korean-style name although he speaks little Korean, began his career in 2000 with “Chong,” a drama about being a Korean-Japanese in Japan. “69 Sixty-nine” is his third feature film and the style differs greatly from his debut film, which was a serious drama.
Remaining true to the novel, written in the author’s rather assuming yet still lovable attitude, the film does not stint in using techniques like jump cuts and handheld camera movements to give the film a lively atmosphere.
Starring Satoshi Tsumabuki as Ken and Mr. Ando as Adama, two close friends, the film follows the footage of the boys’ summer of 1969, full of foolish yet fun things like barricading the school under the title “Erotic Rage,” staging a festival and falling in love. Ken is a quick-witted, sweet liar who acts before thinking, while Adama is the student of every teacher’s dream ― smart, good looking and reserved.
Ken happens to be the first one to teach Adama about the Woodstock Festival and the French poet Rimbaud, which changes the course of Adama’s life for good. Together, they make one fun summer to remember described in an entertaining and witty manner in the film.
After the screening, Mr. Lee and Mr. Ando, said they were happy to hear the audience breaking into laughter, obviously enjoying the two-hour film.
There were not only laughs, but also cries of “I love you” and “gorgeous” in Japanese for the actor from his Korean groupies, at which Mr. Ando, noted for being shy, only smiled, making the girls even more excited.
The excitement continued at the press conference, crowded with several dozen reporters and photographers vying for the best seats.
Mr. Lee, born in 1974, said that he does not feel attached to the political meaningfulness of 1969, yet he wanted to describe the passion of youth back then, which he feels now is hard to find.
“The foolish yet adorable side of youth is universal to this day,” Mr. Ando said, “so it was not that hard to perform in the film, and I enjoyed it.”
Regarding the casting of the two “pretty boy” actors, the director said, smiling, “Although the film is of an autobiographical novel by Mr. Murakami, it wouldn’t attract many people if the film starred somebody who looked like him.”
Mr. Lee jokingly described his two starring actors as “fools” at last year’s Busan International Film Festival, and Mr. Ando jokingly responded at the screening by saying, “Yes, I’m a babo [fool],” using the Korean word.
Mr. Lee, who did not really need a translator in listening to the questions although he answered mostly in Japanese, said that he someday wants to work with the Korean actor Song Gang-ho, who gave great performances in films such as “Memories of Murder” (2003).
Mr. Ando, who himself has a dream of directing, picked Korean director Kim Ki-duk as one of his favorites in the world. “Director Kim’s films are like mosaics made of glass to me. When I saw the films, I felt as if shattered fragments of glass flew right at me, then ran through my body. There was a time when all I could think about was Kim Ki-duk,” Mr. Ando said.
When Mr. Kim attended a film festival in Japan last year, Mr. Ando actually flew to the venue and the two met, discussing future plans, though no details at the moment are known.
Asked what a film means to him, Mr. Lee said, “I can never imagine what I would be without making films. It’s my life.”
He wrapped up the conference by saying he was only joking about the “fool” reference for his actors and he thinks Mr. Ando has a “hard-to-find sensitivity and delicacy.”

by Chun Su-jin
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