The Japanese have a reputation for being polite and passive, but the Japan of the 1960s witnessed vigorous public protests by labor union members and student activists over the passing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, better known as ANPO. And while Narita Airport is one of the busiest hubs in the world, people take off and land without realizing the massive resistance movement that lasted more than a decade. We take for granted the farmers who lost their land in order for Narita to be built, which is why Wages of Resistance, a documentary that chronicles the struggles of that region’s farmers from 1966 through the present day, is an important part of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film at Japan Society through Sunday, July 19.

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The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories
© Sukoburu Kobo

Directed by Koshiro Otsu and Haruhiko Daishima, Wages of Resistance combines recent interviews with farmers who were members of the Hantai Domei, or “opposition force,” and footage of the protests themselves. With the exception of a few families, the whole village stood together in opposition against the Japanese government’s decision in 1966 to build a massive airport in the agricultural area of Sanrizuka. The intense conflicts between the farmers and police occurred on an almost daily basis and escalated to the point of violence. Hantai Domei members said they would lay their lives on the line to “smash the Sanrizuka Airport.”

In the end the government proved too big of an opponent, and Narita opened in 1978. Still, many of the farmers continued protesting the building of a second runway, which ultimately opened in 2002.

The most fascinating aspect of Wages of Resistance is the complete, steadfast dedication of the villagers. Hantai Domei organized nightly meetings, formed the Women’s Corps and the Youth Corps, and had detailed plans to achieve their goals. One member said that the villagers didn’t know anything about politics, but they learned quickly how difficult it was to overpower a decision made by the government.

“It’s amazing the lengths people will go,” said one interviewee of the protests. “They don’t think about the aftermath.”

The aftermath of the protests between the police and Hantai Domei, a group of humble farmers, is that land was seized and the gateway to Japan was opened, allowing millions of tourists to enjoy the beauty and culture of the country. Unfortunately, entire villages were displaced to make that gateway possible. It’s hard to reconcile that progress for the country can mean heartache for a segment of the population. Wages of Resistance does an eye-opening job of putting that imbalance into focus.

The next time you fly into Narita Airport, look out the window at the fields of rice and vegetables. You may see the lonely figures of Hideo Yanagawa or Hidemasa Koizumi tending their fields in the shadow of your airplane.

Wages of Resistance, part of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film at Japan Society, screens on Saturday, July 18 at 12:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, please visit Japan Society’s website.