The Chinese Cultural Revolution began 50 years ago, newspapers, websites, magazines, blogs and books are recently seizing the opportunity of this anniversary to write, provoke discussions and analyse the huge and still controversial historical event that shaped the Asian country and whose ripples were felt all over the world.
In 1966 a troupe of filmakers from Japan was allowed to enter the country, or better, they were lucky enough, almost by chance, to be in China soon after the revolution was declared (in August 1966), shooting and recording, almost without knowing what was happening, the changes brought by the event. This was a kind of a “miracle”, since at that time formally there were no diplomatic relations between the two countries. The documentary is by no means a critical take on the revolution, after all it was still in its making and also because there were areas the troupe was not allowed to film, but it works as a visual and unique document of the early period of the revolution. The group spent seven months filming landscapes, factories, cities, farms and people around China, the resulting documentary was assembled the next year and titled Land of the Dawn 「夜明けの国」. The movie was directed by the late Tokieda Toshie, a female filmmaker who worked and was associated to Iwanami Production for more than 30 years, among her vast filmography worth to mention is at least Town Politics—Mothers Who Study 「町の政治 ― 勉強するおかあさん」(1957), a nice and fresh taken on a group of mothers-turned-activists in the town of Kunitachi, the short documentary is part of the movies featured in this box set.
There’s a nice interview with Tokieda on the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival’s website, where she recalls her experience of filming in China. The movie is also discussed in a chapter of Nakajima Takahiro’s The Chinese Turn in Philosophy (2007):
「The film」opens with a scene showing young Red Guards arriving from throughout China and gathering in Tian’an men Square. In the following scene a train appears with a plate indicating “Wansui Maozhuxi [long live Chairman Mao];” it is an express train traveling from Beijing to Shanhai Guan. The narrator of the film tells us that the young people clustering around Shanhai Guan station are tourists going to see the Great Wall. However, Tsuchiya Masaaki suggests that
these young people teeming around the station are not tourists, but are going to Tian’an men Square to see Mao Zedong.
It must be easy to reach such an understanding if we could comprehend the meaning of August 1966, or at least if we could grasp the meaning of the opening scene of the young Red Guards gathering in Tian’an men Square. However, the film presents the opening scene like a picnic or a school excursion, when they take souvenir photos and write their names in Mao notebooks and exchange them. It is “daily life” in the New China, which is regarded as being similar to daily life in Japan where people enjoy having fun. Following this line, the second scene at Shanhai Guan station is to be understood as showing tourists going to the Great Wall. Likewise, if we go to the third scene, it shows people bathing in the Songhua River in Ha’erbin City. In short, “Country of the Dawn” is edited to make the unusual event of the Cultural Revolution become normal and understandable to a Japanese audience.
This is just a passage from a chapter where the author analyses the documentary in relation to Soseki Natsume’s Travels in Manchuria and Korea (here if you want to read more).
A final note on the availability of the film, in 2008 the movie was released on DVD together with a book about the Cultural Revolution, it’s in Japanese without English subtitles, but if you’re interested you can buy it here.