DVD Review: Children Of The Revolution – A Documentary About Anarchists Shigenobu & Meinhof
Two women from opposite ends of the world who never knew or even met each other fought for the same cause and became the most notorious terrorists of their time.
After his highly acclaimed feature-length documentary RFK Must Die – The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy, Irish filmmaker Shane O’Sullivan follows up with an equally remarkable piece of work entitled Children of the Revolution, a probing document about Ulrike Meinhof and Fusako Shigenobu, two of the most disreputable revolutionaries in modern history.
The lives of the two infamous left-wing anarchists are paired together and told from the viewpoint of their daughters, author Bettina Rohl and journalist May Shigenobu who attentively try to shed some light on to their mothers’ psyche whilst also reflecting on their own upbringing at a time when their mothers were fighting against capitalism and supporting radical extreme political views such as those implemented by the likes of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Hồ Chí Minh.
The two children spent time in the Middle East where their mothers and the organisations they belonged to were fighting the Palestine cause. May was born there and spent 28 years as a “non-existent person”. But as a child she had the security of her community who loved and protected her, whereas the situation Bettina and her twin sister experienced seemed more tragic as they were “ripped out of our small lives in Germany” to spend time at a Palestinian camp to be “re-educated”.
The film discloses that Meinhof was an unhappy child which gives rise to the argument that she was perhaps born somewhat troubled and became even more distressed after she had surgery on her brain caused by an enlarged blood vessel, which resulted in her having a metal plate inserted. Many who knew Meinhof believe she became a different person after the operation – an opinion that is quite credible since she, apparently, stopped showing any emotion; she became depressed, gaunt-looking and unkempt – a shadow of her former intellectual self.
Shigenobu on the other hand, appeared to have been an ordinary child and was described as a “typical Japanese girl who focused on having a stable family and living a normal life”. It was only when she started university did her views change. She joined the protest against the rise of tuition fees which lead to her joining the anti-Vietnam movement and the JRA (Japanese Red Army). Realising a revolution in Japan at that time was impossible the JRA looked to global revolution instead. A “paper marriage” enabled Shigenobu to travel with them to the Middle East.
The radical actions of both the Baader-Meinhof Group and the JRA would lead to hijacking, bombings, violence, bloodshed and murder bringing shame to their country of origin.
Meinhof was arrested in 1972 and eventually charged with several murders. But in 1976, before the trail concluded, she committed suicide, though many believe, she was murdered. Shigenobu was arrested in 2000 and is serving a twenty year sentence in the Tokyo Detention Centre. Bettina is critical of her mother’s fundamental activities. Although she believes her mother’s intentions in the beginning were worthy, her actions, conversely, were shameful, and refers to her loyalty to the Baader-Meinhof Group as “the beginning of the end of a happy family.” Likewise, May doesn’t condone the extreme political activities of her mother or the JRA, but she does strongly support the Palestine cause and asserts “From where you start history, things look differently.”
O’sullivan has produced a unique film about the infamous freedon fighters Meinhof and Shigenobu told from the perspective of their daughters. The result is a rare look at the mind set of these two women not just as modern day anarchists, but as mothers.
Special features: Trailer. Under the Skin, a re-edited version of O’Sullivan’s 2002 50-minute documentary on Japanese counterculture in the sixties, featuring interviews with revolutionary filmmakers Koji Wakamatsu and Toshio Matsumoto, as well as artist Tadanori Yokoo and renowned film critic Donald Richie; making for a valuable companion to the feature documentary.