Film and Anger Aya Kawamura


  An interesting film titled “Red Joan” (for which the Japanese title is “Joan’s secret”) was released in 2020. One day, an elderly woman who was comfortably retired and living a peaceful life in England is suddenly arrested by MI5. She is accused of spying for having given the Soviet Union documents on World War Two era experiments with nuclear weapons. The film depicts the old woman’s distress over being interrogated about a case that took place decades before, juxtaposing the present with reminiscences of her youth, and finally the secrets of her past are revealed. Was Joan really a spy? If so, why had she sold secrets of nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union? The film has a mysterious story on the background to the tense period between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, and the strained acts by the famous actors fascinate viewers. It is astonishing that the film is based on a real incident.

  Joan, a female student studying physics at university, falls in love with Leo, a young communist émigré from Russia. As a talented physician, Joan is hired as an assistant at the institute of science, and there she gets involved in the development of nuclear weapons. Cunning Leo contacts Joan from time to time, and demands that she steal documents on nuclear weapons for him. In the institute the male scientists conduct dangerous research for the sake of national defense. While Joan is against the nature of the research, the scientists always ignore her opinion because she is a young woman. Thus, her frustration develops. In one scene, Joan, now an old woman, admits her crime of long ago and claims that she gave the Soviet Union the documents about nuclear development for the sake of world peace. She explains her actions as follows: she thought, once the Soviet Union got its own nuclear weapons, deterrence of military action would come into effect, and nuclear weapons would never be used again.

  However, toward the end of the story, it becomes clear that Joan's reason for acting as a spy was not the just cause of world peace, nor because she has been deceived by her lover. In the scene where Joan speaks with a professor of the institute who had been imprisoned on suspicion of leaking confidential information, she confesses that she is the criminal who gave the material to the Soviet Union. When the professor asks why she did that, her only reply, with tears in her eyes, is “Hiroshima”.

  The cause of Joan’s spying is anger. When she found out that nuclear weapons were actually being used, her reflexive response to such cruelty was anger, which drove her to the act of spying. In the film Joan is depicted as a brilliant scientist who is not rewarded merely because she is a woman. She is also depicted as a young woman in love. However, by the end of the movie we see Joan not as a young woman, a scientist, or an Englishwoman, but as an individual human being enraged by the cruelty wrought by nuclear weapons, who acted out of anger. That is “Joan’s secret”.

  What the film presents is a form of anger based on a feeling universal among human beings. Anger based on such a universal feeling occurs beyond the interests of one’s nationality. And such anger is slightly different from anger based on a sense of justice, because while the latter results from an ethical judgment of “what should be done,” the former is a direct emotional explosion that becomes a driving force for action.

  Another 2020 film in which we can see anger based on such universal feelings is “Wife of a Spy”, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The hero Yusaku, who runs a trading company in Kobe, lives a wealthy life in a Western-style house, and his hobby is making fictional movies by filming his wife as an actress. On a business trip to Manchuria, he comes to know of the biological experiments conducted by a special unit of the Kwantung Army for the sake of developing germ weapons. With knowledge of the cruelty of the Kwantung Army, he plans to go to the United States and show a film as evidence that will expose to the world the crimes conducted by the Japanese military forces.

  When his wife learns of his plan, she blames him for taking risks and neglecting his family. Yusaku replies, “As a merchant, I am a cosmopolitan. I do not care about my nationality as a Japanese.” Once he has seen the appalling actions of the Japanese military, it is impossible for him to be happy as an individual, or live a happy life with his family, because he cannot ignore the fact that the foundation for such happiness might be acts of cruelty. Here too, it is anger based on a universal feeling as a human being that drives Yusaku to action.

  Usually, it is considered that altruism (Rita) is caused by feelings of kindness, such as compassion and concern for others. However, it can be through anger, rather than kindness, that a genuine empathy for others arises. The distinction between selfishness (Riko) and altruism may even disappear when we realize that we ourselves are not happy because we feel anger at the misfortune of others. Looking back through history, it seems the world has been changed by people who acted out of “negative altruism,” motivated not so much by compassion as by violent and wild feelings of anger.

  By the way, it was at the moment when Joan saw a film of the atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud and the suffering people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that she decided to carry out the act of spying. In “Wife of a Spy,” too, it is “seeing” the facts that becomes a key to the story. Yusaku is aware that he became a different person upon “seeing” what took place in Manchuria, and devised a plan to go abroad and show the film documenting what he “saw.” Films have the power to incite in people feelings of universal anger.

  Of course, films can be used for propaganda, on the other hand they can convey the truth. However, we have moved a little beyond the age of mass media. Every day we see huge numbers of videos and images uploaded from all over the world. When we see war victims, countries damaged by disasters, and people suffering from undeserved poverty and discrimination, we feel a little hurt and unhappy. Although we are not so brave as the two heroes in the films, Joan and Yusaku, we can experience such an anger based on universal feelings every day. Perhaps that is why the generation that grew up surrounded by moving images is more concerned about issues that occur far from the sphere of their own daily lives, such as discrimination against minorities and environmental destruction of other countries. If there is any hope in these dark times with an uncertain future, it may lie in the potential for negative altruistic anger based on universal feelings.