Friday, 20 November 2020

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole with Cinema Nippon


Recently I watched a presentation on Anarchism in Japan recorded before the COVID-19 lockdown. During the presentation the speaker referred to a small group of Anarchists from the famous Japanese student protest movements that paralysed much of the country through extreme rioting and campus occupations. Collectively they're known as the Zengakuren and there coloured helmets, banners and pole weapons are quite infamous.

They used coloured helmets as a way of distinguishing between themselves, different groups used different colours. Because aside from agreeing on what they were against, capitalism, militarism, American military presence, the Imperial system, the fascist generation etc, they were deeply divided along ideological lines. Zengakuren students who identified with Anarchism wore Black Helmets. So I started trying to look up Zengakuren Black Helmets, this didn't turn up much, except for a strange video called アナキズム

Strange is an understatement, I found this video uploaded to several sites and all from an account with the same Nietszchean name Azsacra Zarathustra (AZ). The comment sections are disabled and there is no contact information besides a facebook so contacting him to answer some questions looks like it won't happen. Anyway the video itself is bizarre, there's an opening "Production credit" for NihillihiN (yes that extra capital N is deliberate) and then cuts to an interview of a group of Japanese young people. Sadly it is unsubtitled and my spoken Japanese skills are almost non existent so I have no idea who they are or what they are saying. We then get a slow zoom in on a wounded Japanese young man smiling, and then the title card flashes up アナキズム, then we get a collage of clips of clashes between the police and Zengakuren factions while a Japanese song plays in the background. Halfway through the collage of petrol bombs and baton charges the song ends and another Japanese song starts, this one is sung by a woman and it seemed eerily familiar to me at the time. Then when that song ends there is a cut to credits in Japanese and English, I couldn't read the Japanese but the English bits thanked among other people Edwin O. Reischauer who was a United States diplomat to Japan and was injured when a Japanese rightist stabbed him. He died in 1990, so I think the credit is something of a joke, oh and the song playing over the credits is I Put a Spell on You by Creedence Clearwater Revival. And just before it ends it credits a A Z and one other initial for editing and closes out on a stylised A with the year 2017 written underneath. 2017 is the date the video was uploaded onto the various channels. 

So very strange indeed, I had more questions then answers. I was able to find out that アナキズムis a way to write Anarchism or Anarchy in Japanese, and that AZ is into esoteric nihilistic philosophy with an orientalist fixation. I needed help, and fortunately I knew where to turn, I've been a follower of Cinema Nippon  a review channel for Japanese cinema for some time and have assisted them with research on two of their videos. I hoped they could help and they did. Unfortunately it still wasn't enough to get to the root of the video, and left us with even more questions than before.

Here's what was found 

  • AZ probably was the creator of the video (the two production cards at the start and end threw me at first) and edited together disparate clips 
  • The Japanese credits were just listing archive sites where we think he found the clips, like "Manichi News Archives" and "record of incident at Yasuda Hall No 1" which weren't very helpful.
  • The Japanese above Edwin O. Reischauer says something like "Heart of Japan" which neither of us understand, unless its a reference to his stabbing or as his role as diplomat and cultural commentator.
  • One of the credits is just  無 which is a character associated with Buddhism and other spirituality philosophies and usually represents "Nothing" or "Oblivion" 
  • The first song is a 1970s pop song by a group called Garo, and the song is Gakuseigai no Kissaten, Student Street Cafe or alternatively Coffee House of University Quarter.
  • After the second song is an alternate version of the same song, only this time its credited to Hatsune Miku, which explains why it sounded so familiar and on hearing it again it definitely has a Vocaloid sound to it. 

Sadly there was no listing for the interview segment at the beginning of the video, which is unfortunate since I feel that was the key to understanding just what the point of the whole thing is. Having to guess based on the video and what I've seen of AZs other interests it looks like he's a fan of esoteric nihilism with a strong fixation on the "orient" he's really into Hindu and Buddhist culture and I'm guessing the appeal of the Zengakuren for him lies in a fixation with rebellion and death. Looking through his work he isn't a fan of national anarchism and likes regular anarchism and believes the two are incompatible which honestly surprised me, but I don't really understand what his objections national anarchism are. English isn't his first language, he appears to be Russian, but beyond language barriers there's very little coherency to any of his blog posts. One thing that became clear was that he often takes concepts and then changes them slightly to give the veneer of authenticity, he uses a lot of Nietzsche terms in ways Nietzsche wouldn't or couldn't, he ripped of the surrealist Theatre of Cruelty concept with his own Theatre of Cruelty NOH, and what NOH means is not explained. The NihillihiN from earlier, if you put that term into a search engine the only results are AZ blog sites that talk about a very strange and confused nihilist theory AZ is the author of. 

I'm grateful to Cinema Nippon for their help here, while I'm still lacking on information on the Black Helmets and I don't think アナキズム has much for me I appreciate the strange ride we went down together and I kind of like Gakuseigai no Kissaten.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

An Introduction and Some Thoughts on Kolektiva and Alternative Video Platforms


Why Youtube?

Youtube is so ubiquitous that my spell checker keeps reminding me every time I don't capitalise the t, I don't really think I need to explain the company and its services to anyone who regularly uses the internet its become so big and omnipresent. The problems with youtube are also quite well known, shady companies exploiting the copyright system to the fullest, extremist groups and paedophiles exploiting loopholes to network, advertise and groom, intrusive advertising (I've turned off all data personalisation and I regularly get bombarded with adverts for cults) abusive and toxic comment sections, targeted abuse and harassment etc. There are also other issues with the platform that are less well known because they're much harder to prove unless you're on the receiving end. Channels and videos locked into private for violating somekind of community guideline, but the system won't tell you what guideline or what exactly was causing the issue, blacklisting from the powerful algorithms that account for over 90% of audience exposure, removal of features that certain niche channels like content for disabled viewers depend on, or marking LGBTQ content across the board as adult only regardless of what the actual content of the video is. The constant headaches and bottle necking and threats of takedowns, strikes and bans has caused many to lament that there is no alternative to the behemoth. 


Of course there are alternatives, thousands of them, the problem is many of them have their own drawbacks or are actively trying to ape youtube and replace it. One of the alternatives I've been interested in for a few years which I feel has promise is Peertube. Peertube is a bit hard for me to explain but they have helpfully made several easy to understand videos explaining it in many languages.


Most of it is beyond comprehension honestly, but that's mostly for people wishing to set up their own server, if like me you just want to watch videos and maybe set up an account and upload and share than its pretty straight forward, just find a server you like and go through the sign up process. Over several years I've been on a few servers and some have died or become abandoned, but overall the indications are healthy, its regularly updated, more features have been added, its more stable and the number of servers being setup, the number of videos and the number of views are also going up as the service grows in popularity. When I first started using Peertube even the introduction video on the web page of the team that developed it had just over 10,000 views, now I've encountered videos with just under a million. Its also open source and decentralised so more tech savvy types can customise and network a lot more effectively. It also has the ability to download videos and torrent them built into the webplayer which greatly helps preserving material. Its proved an attractive model for two groups of Anarchists that have years of experience making video content to educate and propagandise online. 

Presenting Kolektiva 

Welcome to Kolektiva, an open-source platform for hosting anarchist videos from around the world. Our goal with Kolektiva is to help increase communication and material solidarity across borders and linguistic divides. If you are interested in getting involved - whether through hosting your content with us, or helping out with translation - please contact us at

 Kolektiva went public four months ago and was setup by two groups Sub.Media and Antimidia, both of whom have been around for a long time and have video content of extremely high production value. Curiously both have very little traction on youtube. You might think this is because there's not much appetite amongst a mainstream audience for anarchist videos and investigative reporting on Canadian military and police attacks on indigenous communities, but the recent explosion in popularity of the "Breadtube" a collection of amateur leftist youtube personalities shows that isn't the case. I've also been subscribed to for years and have done all of the algorithim pleasing things, liking, faving, sharing etc, but they've never popped up in my recommendation feeds. And looking at the viewing figures for new releases on their Kolektiva and youtube channels they tend to get about a tenth of the views on Kolektiva, keep in mind this is on a new platform that most people including the core intended audience don't know exists. I also thought it was strange how most of Sub's videos ended with requests for viewers to subscribe to an e-mail list to ensure they were notified of new releases. So it does seem like the group's misgivings about youtube and the other big social media companies are well founded. 

Our goal with Kolektiva is to provide a new digital platform for anarchist and anti-colonial filmmakers, collectives, and movements around the world. To share action reports, news, analysis, short films, documentaries, and other video content, with a global audience. In a time when far too much radical media content is held hostage to the algorithms of tech capitalists like facebook, google and twitter, Kolektiva will be a free, open-source alternative built on the PeerTube framework and hosted on secure servers, run and maintained by anarchists. Another important goal of this project will be to help facilitate the translation of videos into multiple languages as a way of sharing our different perspectives, stimulating increased interaction and cooperation, and breaking down the divisions caused by state-imposed borders, travel restrictions, colonial occupations, and the poison of nationalism.

 I've been using Kolektiva for about two months, and so far I've seen positive signs of growth and progress on all of these goals. There is already a lot of diverse content on their from short films, punk music, lectures and documentaries, to animations and footage of street battles and protest successes. Much is either not available on other sites or is buried. Its features also make it easier to translate content, two of my uploads now have French subtitles and I've seen groups like Antimidia release more content with subtitles and narration in other languages. And as the server federates with more servers and the word is spread increasing the userbase and viewership views and sharing of content has been steadily increasing. Hopefully this will continue, and I enthusiastically recommend them to any casual reader of and sites like it. 

 Its not a Youtube replacement, and I doubt it ever will be, even Antimidia and the two groups most responsible for its creation still maintain youtube channels, and I do as well, but I'm finding it to be a viable way to back up content and share it with an audience. I don't think I'll have to mute comment notification there anytime soon. So yes this may be a bit optimistic and dangerously close to advertising (though alas unpaid), but I've been on youtube for over 10 years and it has steadily grown more and more hostile an environment and a business as its gone on and the recent changes to American users, which means that it will now be putting even more adverts on the platform and essentially declaring user autonomy to be dead, its only going to get worse. 

 Oh and a quick note on adblockers, they're great I use them all the time, but they're not infallible platforms like Twitch and youtube are putting more resources into countering them, and sadly a growing number of adblock plugin developers are essentially selling out and deactivating them on sites that cut them a deal. By all means keep using ones that still work, and consider switching to an open source one for greater longevity and effectiveness, but ads are only a fraction of the problems using the modern internet and the services provided by big tech and software corporations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

State of Emergency - What a Dumb Edgy PS2 Game Taught Me About Life

Since the collapse of the Federal Government, and the global economic crisis 
the corporation has been building a brighter future for its citizens. Based on principles
of order, loyalty and civic obedience, the corporation has created a nation that all citizens
can feel proud of.

State of Emergency (SOE) was first released in 2002 by VIS and Rockstar games for the Play Station 2. It was the first game I played on that platform, and its aged surprisingly well, which given the pessimistic dystopian world it depicts is very worrying. In recent years there's been a lot of blogs, videos and thinkpieces about how a disposable children's show from the late 1980s-90s was actually a subversive masterpiece. This isn't one of those, while SOE clearly wears its subversive pretensions on its sleeve as the cover image makes clear, it was and is an attempt to cash in on the contemporary anti-globalisation movement by using edgy riot porn imagery and a pretty simple arcade play style.

This is a game where you can punch the head off of a riot cop, pick up that head and then beat another riot cop to death with it. And it was made by a corporation, a very large which would in later years be the subject of numerous workplace scandals from forced overtime (100 hour weeks to complete Red Dead Redemption 2) harassment from managers for years, and the LA Noire debacle, where workers who were burnt out by the chaotic development cycle and ridiculous workloads and had to leave were not credited in the game even if there work remained in the finished product. To name just a few.

That being said, this product of gaming culture of the late 90s to early 2000s, where game companies actively courted controversy as a way to boost advertising and sales shouldn't be ignored. Looking back it's quite eerie how closely its paralleled modern life despite or especially because of how superficial it was. If anything I find it damning how closely the political and economic situation has mimicked a game that looked at the battle of Seattle and decided to create a generic version where the corporate baddies were even more cartoonishily evil.

The game starts with a sinister parody of a corporate induction video about how since the global economic crisis and the collapse of the government -we've had multiple of the former and the latter while not at collapsing point yet, hasn't been doing too well lately- a corporation, or rather the corporation has replaced it. Again we haven't gotten to that point yet, but you'd be surprised just how few independent private entities exist in the world, and their number has steadily decreased since the game was released, as more of the big giants merge and take over each other has anti-monopoly laws continue to erode. Anyway this corporate dominated society looks much like the one we live in today, shops have their own unique art and identities even though they all report to the same head office and the abuses of the system, the child labour in sweatshops, invasive software to spy and monitor people through consumer electronics, the powerful and unaccountable police forces were present in the real world at the time of development, its just that they've gotten more common and more difficult to ignore.

The opening cinematic shows that the situation is cracking under the pressure, there's a riot going on and a police officer in full body armour chases a man down and beats him to the ground, and then keeps beating him while gloating about it, then a petrol bomb explodes a shop window and the game part starts. The game is several stages of the capitol city, a Mall, China town, slummish area, and the place with all the government corporate offices.  Riots have broken out everywhere, which means the stages are full of people running around all over the place. You can choose from a diverse group of characters to play as, who are part of a group of freedom fighters, since the riots have thrown the police and army off balance, you use it to carry out various missions to weaken the corporate power structure, bombing surveillance posts, rescuing people on the corporate hit list, stealing weapons etc. Once the game starts most of the context for why you're blowing up this building instead of the one next to it is handle through objective text boxes and there is also a parody of CNN type news ticker that explains more about how this society works.

And that's pretty much the main storyline game, there is also a gang presence, which in keeping with the rest of the game are superficial stereotypes. Though one interesting thing about the gangs, there is a skin head white power far right gang, they also actively work with the corporation as extra muscle and to divide and rule the population by targeting minorities for additional extra violence and exploitation. The final level has missions where the Freedom Fighters work with the black American gang to defend themselves from heavily armed white supremacists who are being supplied by the police, and then work together to take down the power structure. That ethnic minorities are only shown through gang affiliations and pretty ludicrous stereotypes isn't great but I still find it kind of eerie to what's been going on in the US recently. Big business and government aren't content to just dole out control and exploitation equally, and has in fact singled out multiple groups for additional pain, and when those groups have had enough and start to actively resist on a mass scale, instead of agreeing to back off and deal, the response has been even more violence, and in particular the official police are increasingly supported and collaborating with far right extremist groups either because of ideological and racial solidarity, or as a calculating manoeuvre to increase the pressure, or mix of all. 

But then again Black Lives Matter type activism and police brutality and racially motivated murders aren't new, and where around at the time, and history has shown that collaboration between "apolitical" police and the very political far right paramilitary and vigilante groups is quite common globally. I just didn't expect it to appear in this game where medical testing on humans means the corporation has created giant genetically modified super soldiers. 

The game ends when you blow up the corporate HQ and the final scenes show the Freedom group taking over the corporate news station that's been pumping out corporate propaganda over the course of the game. 

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