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Premieres & Events

Hara's "Different Definition of Freedom"

By John Lichman

After the house lights dimmed at the Japan Society, filmmaker Kazuo Hara took the stage to give a very brief introduction to his first fictional narrative, The Many Faces of Chika: "Hello, nice to meet you. See you after the movie. Goodbye."

The audience laughed and applauded Hara, perhaps one of the most striking yet unknown directors spawned from cinema vérité. Chika's North American premiere drew a packed house to watch the tortured love life of the titular character as she moves through four different lovers (and is portrayed by a different actress on each occasion), but Hara, as introduced by moderator and Village Voice critic Ed Halter, is best known for his "unflinching eye" documentary style behind films like Goodbye CP, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On. Hara's body of work, much like his subjects, exists on the fringes of society in terms of availability and even influence; Hara's Naked Army, in fact, reportedly influenced how Michael Moore crafted Roger and Me.

From Many, one: Kazuo Hara (right) discusses his latest work at Japan Society with Sachiko Kobayashi (left) and translator Linda Hoaglund (Photo: Aya Akeura)

Hara would show that fiction and fact do blend together, however. "Making my first narrative film," he said through a translator, "I wanted to come at a different definition of freedom, which was -- instead of the idea of breaking free of those social ties and restrictions -- the idea of just simply removing yourself farther and farther away from them."

Co-written by Hara's producer (and wife) Sachiko Kobayashi, Chika was inspired by an actual event where a woman was found murdered, but had been involved with three different men. Hara said he thought that it would be interesting to have different actresses cast for each period due to her being perceived differently by each man -- not to mention to see what happens when an acclaimed independent documentary filmmaker decides to make a semi-fictional story. "Mostly people [in Japan] were disappointed that the director of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On had directed such a flaccid drama," he told the crowd.

Halter kept the discussion mainly on Hara and Kobayashi's involvement with the cerebral palsy community and Kenzo Okuzaki, the de facto star of Naked Army who even Hara admits used the camera for his own goals. But one of the more striking moments of the night sprung from Hara's playfulness, as he casually made asides to Okuzaki's career in, um, more "engaging" forms of cinema (read: S&M flicks) following Naked Army (and his release from jail). As with any audience that must wait for a translation, most of the crowd at the discussion looked around nervously while native speakers laughed at the casual asides Hara tossed out as he compared the final actress to portray Chika as a "female Okuzaki." By that point, Kobayashi became just another spectator as Hara dominated the stage. Even Halter would look out at the crowd occasionally, catching the crowd laughing and quickly joining in before the translator could inform the rest of us.

Of course, the night's focus remained fixed on Hara's first drama and the drawing point of separate actresses. "We struggled mightily with how to cast the four different actresses," Hara said, remarking that he consulted a "veteran filmmaker" about it and felt that the four actresses shouldn't look that similar. "The bottom line is, if someone said 'Sure, I want to be in your movie,' they would pass."

And so, Hara continues his fringe style -- even if the establishment cocks an eye at it.

Special note to NYU students: Hara will attend a three-hour (!) discussion today at 3:30 p.m. in the East Asian Studies department (719 Broadway). Enjoy!

Posted at May 2, 2007 2:30 PM

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