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Still from Bye Bye Love • Isao Fujisawa • 1974

This Transient Resistance: on Fujisawa Isao’s Bye Bye Love

by Ren Scateni


Bye Bye Love

This Transient Resistance: on Fujisawa Isao’s Bye Bye Love

A preliminary note about Giko’s pronouns: in writing this text, I refer to Giko by using gender-neutral (they/them) pronouns. In the film, Giko fluidly explores different gender presentations and uses both the feminine Japanese first-person pronoun watashi and the masculine ore (more on this to follow). Additionally, in the only instance when they self-identify, they describe themselves as being neither a man nor a woman. Since Bye Bye Love was produced in 1974, a wider spectrum of gender identities has become more available alongside more widespread use of the singular they to refer to people whose gender identity falls outside of the male-female binary.

When discussing the birth of major film movements mushrooming through national cinema histories globally, there are often only a select few prominent directors more readily associated with each. The Japanese New Wave is no different. Promoted by Shochiku, one of Japan’s biggest and most influential film studios, in an attempt to attract a younger and more internationally aware audience at a time when the national film industry was facing a generational crisis between the end of the 1950s and the early 60s, the label Nuberu Bagu (a transliteration of “nouvelle vague”) was attached to the debuts of three young employees of the company: Ōshima Nagisa, Shinoda Masahiro, and Yoshida Yoshishige (also known as Kiju). All three directors, however, were not only critical of the term itself but also eventually left the studio a few years later to go independent. As such, the New Wave can be conceived of more like a studio branding exercise, at its inception, than a cohesive group of directors with a shared creative ethos. That being said, discussing the New Wave only within the remit of Shochiku – and, more importantly, only in association with the trio mentioned above — has its limitations.

A more rewarding path to understanding the Japanese New Wave might begin with embracing its protean, slippery identity as emblematic of a moment in the country’s history rooted in a tense postwar sociopolitical landscape of domestic turmoil and international tensions. In 1960, such tensions converged in radical demonstrations and protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty (abbreviated as Anpo in Japanese), heralding a decade of intense political struggles led by Japan’s student movement. The film industry responded with works variously exploring the plight of individuals crushed under institutions of power, like Kobayashi Masaki’s Harakiri (1962); allegorical articulations of trauma and Japan’s critical involvement in the Vietnam War, as in Shindō Kaneto’s Onibaba (1964): and controversial representations of sexual and violent excess in Wakamatsu Kōji’s Go, Go, Second Time Virgin (1969). Elsewhere, avant-garde filmmakers turned to formal cinematic experimentation in an attempt to examine and question subjectivity, as in the early 8mm and 16mm films of Ōbayashi Nobuhiko or the short-form works of Matsumoto Toshio (who also directed the seminal queer cult film Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)) produced by the Art Theatre Guild (ATG), an organisation established in 1961 dedicated to the distribution and support of arthouse films, whose story is deeply linked to the New Wave.

It is in this cultural milieu that Fujisawa Isao’s Bye Bye Love (1974) can be situated. Considered lost until a negative was unexpectedly discovered in the film warehouse of a laboratory in 2018, the film is now registered in Japan’s National Film Archive and a new print has been created. According to producer Suzuki Akihiro, who curated an online screening of the film for Collaborative Cataloguing Japan last Summer, Bye Bye Love premiered at the Nakano Public Hall in Tokyo before embarking on a roadshow with the mini-theatre Art Theatre Shinjuku Bunka. It was then rented to local screening clubs and distributed by Pia, a print magazine focussing on independent films launched in 1972 by the same organisation that, five years later, would found the Pia Film Festival (a festival dedicated to emerging talent still running today). Fujisawa started out as an assistant director to Teshigahara Hiroshi – another key figure of the New Wave – on the set of A Woman in the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another (1966) before joining Toei. In the early 1970s, in line with the flourishing of jishu eiga (literally, self-produced films), he began to shoot a 16mm feature film with non-professional actors and no funds initially titled Kabuki Boys. Two years later, it became Bye Bye Love.

Produced in the waning years of the New Wave, Bye Bye Love exceptionally encapsulates the rebellious spirit of 1970s Japan, providing a fresh, exuberant, visually inventive commentary on nonconforming gender identity and sexuality, as well as anti-imperialist and anti-establishment sentiments. The film charts the complex relationship between Utamaro – a brazen, spirited, and essentially nihilistic young man – and Giko – a magnetic and saturnine genderfluid person – who meet by chance before embarking on a road trip across Japan to flee the police, hunting them on a charge of murder. Inherent playfulness sets the film apart from other examples of the New Wave similarly concerned with nihilist youth trapped in political left vacuums, like Adachi Masao’s Gushing Prayer (1971) or Jissōji Akio’s This Transient Life (1970), epitomised by its sensuous philosophical ruminations. By contrast, Bye Bye Love is an accessible and rewarding experience even as it is inscribed with country-specific political signifiers. In one of the most kinetic sequences in the film, Utamaro and Giko trash the apartment of a US embassy official with whom Giko is having an affair, destroying all its Western paraphernalia – replica of classical statues, American flags, framed covers of Life Magazine, a painting of a hyperfeminine and stereotyped Caucasian beauty – in a cathartic ritual of liberation from Imperialist demands of cultural and aesthetic conformity.

Bye Bye Love also presciently offers an accomplished representation of queer love and genderfluid identity (despite its occasional homo- and transphobic remarks, which can perhaps be excused in light of the film’s historical collocation) nailing both ends of the trans experience: the reassuring euphoria when gender identity and presentation align and the thorny, insidious envy of cisgender people. Throughout the film, Giko confidently explores the possibilities of a fluid gender expression, momentarily inhabiting one end of the binary spectrum without ever being confined by the requirements of cisheteropatriarchal society. In a pivotal scene midway through the film, Giko asks Utamaro whether or not he tried to kill them when lodging in a hotel. How they formulate the question, and their use for the first time of the Japanese first-person masculine pronoun ore to refer to themself seems to point at a different, deeper meaning: “Utamaro, you tried to kill my male self, right?”. At a later moment, Giko admits to being confused by their relationship with Utamaro, “it’s like a love triangle, you and the male and female me.” However, if Giko is unbothered by limited ontological definitions of what a woman – or a man – might be, the normative understanding of gender and sexuality still bridles Utamaro. That is until Bye Bye Love reaches its liberating and transcendent ending. Gender, sexuality, bodies – nothing matters anymore in the eternal cycle of life, death, resistance, and transformation.

Ren Scateni is a writer and film curator based in Bristol.