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NYC Film Festivals

Bitter Cinema: Hara Series Opens at Anthology

Kenzo Okuzaki in an interview from Kazuo Hara's 1987 documentary The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, screening tonight at Anthology Film Archives (Photo: Kazuo Hara)

By John Lichman

At the top of the program for The Outside From the Inside: Films of Kazuo Hara you'll find a quote from the director that aptly sums up the four films screening at Anthology Film Archives today through Feb. 4: “I make bitter films. I hate mainstream society.”

Indeed, the themes running through such documentaries as Goodbye CP (physical handicaps and deformities), Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (self-destruction of relationships) and A Dedicated Life (controversial novelist Mitsuharu Inoue) examine outcasts shunned by Japanese culture; born in 1945, Hara himself had worked in relative obscurity for two decades before attracting international acclaim with 1987’s widely praised The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On. “He sort of pioneered [a] very personal approach to documentary, at a time when most of the independent documentary was being done in groups, or collectives," said Abé Markus Nornes, the author of the book Japanese Documentary Film and an expert on Hara's work. “[Hara’s] films were not simply personal, but they were really centered on exposure -- things that were hidden from society or something so personal it usually doesn’t make it on film.”

For starters, there's the unbroken shot of a sobbing Hara during his second film, Extreme Private Eros, in which the filmmaker travels to Okinawa to see his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child (and radical Japanese feminist) Miyuki Takeda -- whom he interviews and in whose company he breaks down as his then-girlfriend (eventually his wife) Sachiko Kobayashi films. In another pair of excruciating shots, Takeda and Kobayashi both give birth on camera. The sound drifts in and out of sync throughout the film; Nornes noted the paucity of sync cameras in Japan at the time, though he added that Hara liked to refer to his style of filmmaking as “action cinema” -- freely moving the camera and crafting an visual intimacy with his subjects.

This sensibility comes across the most in Hara’s best-received and most widely known work, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On. The film follows Kenzo Okuzaki, a World War II veteran who is proud of having been imprisoned for shooting pachinko balls at Emperor Hirohito, distributing pornographic materials and even killing a man. [Okuzaki seems like a crazy reactionary driving around in his slogan-spattered car and van, but the most frightening part comes when he manages to have former officers and servicemen admit to the shocking murders of two servicemen after the end of the war -- especially the chilling plea, “No violence, no violence,” as Okuzaki beats a confession out of a former officer.

Hara’s subjects demand respect, mainly because they are kept on the fringes of society and ignored by the general populace. Flourishing with cinematically enhanced bravado, they express a strength that would otherwise be ignored, such as the opening shot of Goodbye CP where Yokota Hiroshi displays his naked body to the disgust of an audience and an entire culture. To paraphrase Hiroshi, it is difficult to look upon Hara’s subjects, but they represent aspects that society can generally do without -- a pity that insists jealousy, fanaticism and blunt truth are always needed. Thankfully, if painfully, Hara is there to capture these moments for us.

The Outside from the Inside: Films of Kazuo Hara begins tonight at 6:30 with The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On and ends Sunday, Feb. 4. For full listings, visit Anthology Film Archives' Web site.

Posted at January 31, 2007 8:00 AM

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