Kji Wakamatsu's incendiary but often-irritating look at radical student protests in 1960s Japan opens with a disorienting half-hour barrage of facts and figures. Multiple events are recounted, a sprawling cast of characters is introduced---it's impossible for anyone unfamiliar with this violent period in Nippon history to keep up. Yet this prelude is consistently absorbing, perhaps because Wakamatsu is always one step ahead of us, attuning us to the times in ways that a more conventional one-and-done explanatory scrawl would not. It's exhilarating.
Then things settle down---unfortunately, in a time-to-take-your-medicine sort of way. Wakamatsu traps us in a remote cabin with a splinter sect of the titular leftist group, many of whom are subjected to the worst kinds of mental and physical torture. (One very beautiful young woman is forced to beat herself raw so as to become a better communist.) The film's commitment to representing the harsh truths of an unfortunate historical moment is admirable, but it tends to grate rather than illuminate. Fortunately, this exceedingly uneven work goes out on a high note: an intense re-creation of the Asama Mountain Lodge incident, a nine-day standoff between police and the last remaining members of the Army. It's such an expertly executed and thematically rich sequence that you wish everything that came before were as accomplished.