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STATE ALCHEMIST I: BODY WITHOUT ORGANS is a collaboration with writer Nikolay Smirnov and filmmaker Jim Demuth commissioned by ASAKUSA that probes Unit 731, the Japanese biological and chemical weapons program conducted in Manchuria in WWII. An essay film employing theory fiction and the language of horror cinema and apocalyptic sci-fi, it introduces the figure of the state alchemist who works at the tangent of philosophy, religion and politics, uniting the philosopher, priest and ruler / law-maker within a single personage. This figure is used to trace a series of diverse historical and contemporary characters and how their trajectories converge in the articulation of authoritarian techno-capitalist structures of the Neo-Eurasianist spiritual state. 

The first state alchemist is the Japanese ‘philosopher with a scalpel’, a hypothetical conglomeration of Unit 731 microbiologist Shiro Ishii and Kyoto School philosopher Keiji Nishitani. The research conducted at Unit 731 explored the techno-scientific limits of viral and bacteriological experimentation on human beings involving various forms of alchemy. Human bodies are prima materia transmuted through horrific processes of biological experimentation into coveted scientific ‘knowledge’ which would eventually be acquired by US and Russian governments in the post-war era, providing tacit approval for Unit 731 and Shiro Ishii’s aims, despite their hypocritical queasiness regarding his methods. In parallel to this, Keiji Nishitani’s work in the pre-war era provided a philosophical justification for the Japanese ‘total war’ machine and ‘the overcoming of nihilism through nihilism’ which can be understood as a political project of overcoming western ego-centered nihilist modernity with eastern non-ego and Buddhist absolute nothingness as the basis for a new spiritual state that would bring Japan and the Asia into the narrative of universal world history.

Title: State Alchemist I: Body without Organs
Artist: Royce Ng
Year: 2021
Cast: Cheung Moon Yuen,  Ho Sheung Hei
Narrator: Reijiro Aoyama
Music Composer: John Bartley
Editor: Daniel James Demuth
CGI: Royce Ng
Director of Photography: Colleen Kwok
Gaffer: So Wai Kin, Lau Wai Leung, Ng Tsz Wai
HMU: Joyce Wong
PA: Rose Ng, Joshua Yiu
Translator: Mariko Makami
Line Producer: Kitty Yeung
Writers: Royce Ng and Nikolay Smirnov
Directors: Royce Ng and Daniel James Demuth
Commissioned by ASAKUSA and Tokyo and Arts Council Tokyo

Filmed in Tin Projects, Sham Shui Po and Start Studios, Kwai Chung, Hong Kong.

Location shooting on Green Island Detention Centre, Green Island, Hong Kong

Archival materials of the Khabarovsk Trials of Unit 731 officers from the Grodekov Museum, Khabarovsk, Russia

Special thanks to Koichiro Osaka, Mariko Mikami, Nikolay Smirnov, Reijiro Aoyama, Daniel James Demuth, Cheung Moon Yuen,  Ho Sheung Hei, Kitty Yeung, Colleen Kwok, Alberto Garosa, ThyLab, John Bartley, Bogna Konior, Mi You

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