The Rock Bassist Who Fled to North Korea and His Regretful Journey

Published March 10, 2024

The 1960s era was filled with social and political upheaval across the globe, including the well-reported turmoil in North America and parallel disturbances happening in Japan. It was a time fraught with protests, violent conflicts with law enforcement, and much dissent against existing treaties and governmental actions such as the Anpo treaty with the United States.

The Rise of Militant Groups

Amidst this backdrop, extremist groups like the Communist League came to the forefront, advocating for radical change through militant actions. This league was the antecedent to the Japanese Red Army, which gained notoriety as a terrorist group. Their aspiration was to incite a revolution in Japan that would serve as the epicenter for a worldwide rebellion against the US and its allies.

Les Rallizes Dénudés and the Yodo-go Incident

In the midst of such political fervor, a rock band named Les Rallizes Dénudés formed in 1967. Their music was psychedelic and experimental, filling the airwaves with the voices of rebellion. While the band itself wasn't overtly political, certain members, like bassist Moriaki Wakabayashi, were heavily involved in radical activities. Wakabayashi's commitment to the cause led him to participate in the hijacking of Japan Air Lines flight 351, an event that aimed to kindle a proletariat uprising in Japan.

A Flight Diverted: Cuba to North Korea

The hijacking became a fiasco when the team realized the plane's limited fuel capacity barred them from reaching their intended destination of Cuba. Instead, they demanded to be rerouted to North Korea, a country they viewed as a supporter of their revolutionary ideals. Initially, the plane landed in South Korea, disguised as North Korea, causing confusion among the offenders. However, eventually, the hijackers, including Wakabayashi, made their way to North Korea, where they sought and received asylum.

The Aftermath

Though welcomed in North Korea amidst fanfare and recognition, the hijackers' new life in North Korea wasn't the utopia they imagined. As time passed, the harsh reality and their status as uninvited guests soured their relationship with the North Korean government. Among the defectors, some returned to Japan, others disappeared, and a few passed away in North Korea, leaving behind stories marred with regret.

Wakabayashi himself recanted his former beliefs, calling the hijacking a misjudged act, and expressed willingness to return to Japan to face justice. Despite this, he remains in North Korea, a relic of a time of political radicalism intertwined with the world of rock music.

The Legacy of Les Rallizes Dénudés

Despite the turmoil and their bassist's defection to North Korea, Les Rallizes Dénudés continued making music and performing until 1988, later reuniting briefly. The band's frontman, Takashi Mizutani, lived a reclusive life, with infrequent public engagements, and rumors swirl about his passing. The band and incident remain etched in history as a testament to the era’s extreme blend of music and militant political activism.

rock, defection, regret