The most bluntly political of Japanese filmmakers, Masao Adachi returns to a comfortable controversy with his latest, The Artist of Fasting. Loosely based on a Franz Kafka short story, Adachi’s tale of a mute starvation protester hits on all the hallmarks of what made him such a sensation in the ’60s: critiques of global foreign policy, Japanese domestic policy (this film especially points to the harsh treatment of the native Ainu people), and performance-art-as-protest. These political jabs act as a rough structuring element for a film that’s simply about a man sitting around doing nothing, and often pose as some sort of explanation for this quietly radical behavior.
Many groups walk through the shopping mall where the nameless man sits and project their concerns onto him, calling his protest alternately liberal, conservative, radical, problematic, or even messianic. These interactions are the only guiding action of the film, leaving no room for traditional narrative to create an empathy with the protester. However, this freedom from structure—or, even, from making sense—gives Adachi all the room he needs to have fun and inject some much-needed radical political discourse into the neoliberal Shinzō Abe administration’s culture. Where else will you get a sequence of ISIS-Guantánamo BDSM, pinku-film-ready Doctors without Borders, or death cults committing seppuku for comedy? The Artist of Fasting is ready-made for those tired of this year’s calamities, and who just want to laugh at the world’s slow collapse.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2016 | Dispatch 3.