I watched a great documentary last night on NHK about the recently deceased Japanese writer and critic Shuichi Kato. Kato wrote a book called 'Kotoba to Sensha' (Words and Tanks), which traced his thoughts on living through the events of 1968 when he was living in Vienna, and particularly his experiences of visiting Prague just prior to the Soviet invasion. The documentary was shot in July this year, and he appeared a fragile but highly articulate voice for critical reflection on Japan's post-war condition. Speaking about the students protests in Japan in 1968 he commented that the significance of those times was that students identified and attempted to question the growing influence of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Gun-san), after it became known that major universities such as Tokyo University were receiving donations from the American military, while bombs fell in Vietnam. For this, they should be proud said Kato. Kato often said that 1968 has not ended, in the sense that we continue to live through similar conditions as then.
A key phrase which Kato repeated was 'Heisoku kan' - a sense of weariness, tiredness, hopelessness - which he feels permeates developed societies deeply to this day. It was against this sensibility that he identifies the student, worker and cultural revolts of the 1960s as proposing a radical change of life and society - 'seikatsu wo kaeru!'. Kato seemed to be a humanist and socialist to the end. He railed against the de-humanizing effects of a systematized society and went so far as saying that the history of Japan post Meiji was in fact also a history of de-individuation and of de-human-ness (hi-kojin ka/ hi-ningen ka). He urged for the urgency and continued relevance of 'shisoh' - philosophy and critical thinking - saying that this had two fundamental aspects: first, the writing, checking and confirming of facts against history and the past, and secondly, asking What To Do?, which generates the richness of creative and utopian thinking. He ended by saying that we needed to re-energize a sense of being human into the world again: 'Ningen rashisa wo sekai ni mou ikkai saisei suru'.
Shuichi Kato - 19 September 1919 - 5 December 2008