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Japanese filmmakers are schooled in Berkeley politics

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Saturday June 01, 2002

Soon, Berkeley’s political culture will be immortalized. 

A group of four Japanese filmmakers, the latest in a recent string of Japanese peace activists to cross the Pacific and visit the anti-war hotbed, arrived last weekend to start work on a documentary tentatively titled “Democracy in Berkeley City.” 

The contingent has interviewed peace activists, followed City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, taped vigils and recorded various city meetings. The filmmakers, who will wrap up their work next week, plan to show their documentary to peace organizations, political groups and students in Japan. 

The documentary will touch on the Free Speech Movement and anti-war protests of the 1960s, examine the City Council’s Oct. 16 resolution calling for a speedy end to the bombing in Afghanistan and include a segment on KPFA’s activist-style radio. 

But producer Osamu Kimura said Berkeley’s culture of heavy citizen involvement in politics will be at the center of the documentary. 

“Our focus is citizen participation,” he said, arguing that increased grassroots activism is the key to Japanese peace activists’ latest political fight – the struggle against a series of “emergency” or “contingency” laws proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. 

The laws would give the prime minister greater power over the media, transportation, telecommunications and local governments in the event of a military crisis. 

Proponents say the laws would provide a much-needed framework in the event of a crisis, while detractors say they are reminiscent of Japan’s militaristic past. 

Japanese politicians have pushed for contingency laws since the 1970s but have repeatedly failed. The Sep. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and Japanese logistical support for the US in its military campaign in Afghanistan have given hawks new momentum. 

The Japanese left has mounted several large protests against the proposed emergency laws. But in order to ensure the long-term health of the peace movement, Kimura said, Japanese activists must move beyond a culture of simple protest to one of active engagement in the political process. 

“Now, we feel we do not (do enough) to concretize participation,” he said. 

Steve Freedkin, a member of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission who visited Japan in March, said Japanese activists have begun to improve participation by petitioning local governments to take stands on international issues.  

The City Council’s October anti-war resolution, the filmmakers said, fit in with this strategy and attracted Japanese activists. 

“Berkeley is a small city, but it’s famous,” said Jamila Takahashi, an anti-war activist from Tokyo who is traveling with the film crew. 

Kimura, who has also produced a documentary on an endangered Japanese sea mammal called the dugong, said he hopes the Berkeley film will not only teach lessons about citizen participation, but broaden Japanese understanding for the political currents in the United States. 

“We have news about Bush, Clinton and Nixon, but very little information about grassroots movements,” he said. 

Freedkin said the Berkeley peace movement and the national movement as a whole have something to learn from the Japanese as well. 

“They are much more coordinated in different cities,” Freedkin said, describing one of the primary lessons from his March trip. “There’s much more of a unified movement in Japan. That’s something we can learn.” 

This week, however, it is the Japanese who have done the learning.