The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On [Yuki Yukite Shingun]
(Kazuo Hara, 1987, Japan, 122 Min, Digital)
Director Kazuo Hara and producer Sachiko Kobayashi in attendance!
Followed by a conversation hosted by Takuya Tsunoda (Columbia University)
Long revered as one of the greatest Japanese documentaries ever made, in The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On Hara follows the steadfast efforts by WWII veteran Kenzo Okuzaki, as he attempts to reveal atrocities committed during his time with the Japanese Army. As he repeatedly faces a country more
interested in forgetting, his methods advance alongside his agitation.
DEDICATION: TWO FILMS BY KAZUO HARA
Vertical Features and the University of Toronto Cinema Studies Institute are proud to host legendary Japanese filmmaker Kazuo Harafor two screenings, including his landmark The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) and the Canadian Premiere of Sennan Asbestos Disaster (2017). High points in a committed career that has repeatedly sought to confront topics that remain unseen and unaddressed in his home nation - whether in the context of disability, family, health, or histories of his Japan’s wartime past - the films offer parallel, impassioned cries of ‘j’accuse!’ against the powerful and unconcerned.
Wednesday 12 June
Doors: 6:30 PM | Screening: 7:00 PM
Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave)
** NOTE SPECIAL VENUE **
Co-presented by the Cinema Studies Institute and Innis College at the University of Toronto.
Kazuo Hara was born in June 1945, Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. He attended Tokyo College of Photography before dropping out to work as support staff at a special education school, where he developed an intense interest in the world of disabled children. In 1972 he founded production company Shissoh Production with Sachiko Kobayashi . Made his directorial debut that same year with documentary film Goodbye CP, about changing relationships between the disabled and the able-bodied. Follow-up Extreme Private Eros: Love Song (1974 ) profiles Hara’s ex-wife Miyuki Takeda, who had left him and moved to Okinawa, including an unassisted childbirth. In 1987, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On followed former soldier Kenzo Okuzaki’s relentless hounding of his superior officers to hold them accountable for their actions in World War II. It became a huge hit, winning a Best Newcomer Award from the Director’s Guild of Japan, the Berlin International Film Festival’s Caligari Film Award, the Cinéma du Réel's Grand Prix, and many other accolades. 1994 saw the release of A Dedicated Life, an examination of truths and fictions surrounding novelist Mitsuharu Inoue, which topped film magazine Kinema Junpo’s Best 10 list of Japanese films for that year. Presented his first fiction film The Many Faces of Chika in 2005, in which four actresses portray the life of one woman. Retrospectives of his works have been held at international film festivals in Buenos Aires, Montreal, Sheffield, Amsterdam, and elsewhere.
Sachiko Kobayashi was born in June, 1946, Niigata City, Japan. She graduated from Niigata university where she studied Literature. When she was studying script writing in Tokyo, she met with Hara at Hara’s photo exhibition in Ginza Nikon Salon while Hara attended Tokyo College of Photography before dropping out to work as support staff at a special education school, where he developed an intense interest in the world of disabled children. In 1972. Sachiko Kobayashi founded production company, Shisso Production with Kazuo Hara. She produced all of the Hara's films since Goodbye CP (1972) and -cowrote the script of Many Faces of Chika in 2005. In 2017, She
developed and produced Sennan Asbestos Disaster.
Takuya Tsunoda is an Assistant Professor of Japanese film and media in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. His primary research centers on the interplay between institutions and media, technologies and socio-cultural practices, various modes of reflexivity, television documentaries and a history and theory of media-centered scientific research in Japan. He is currently working on a book that examines the history of audio-visual education and its relation to the new cinemas of the 1960s in Japan.
Robyn Citizen, PhD is a film curator, independent scholar and Texan based in Toronto. Her eclectic film background includes lecturing in the Departments of Asian Studies and Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia from 2012-2017, chapters on transnational science-fiction films and Get Out (2017), and film festival programming. She is currently the International Programmer for the TIFF 2019 Short Cuts section.
Acts of Defiance
By Robyn Citizen
"I make bitter films. I hate mainstream society." - Kazuo Hara
“Ordinary Japanese did not regard the trial and punishment of Tojo Hideki and other leaders as a condemnation of all Japanese people. They were just bystanders, regarding themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of war”
- Onuma Yasuaki, Japanese War Guilt and Postwar Responsibilities of Japan, 20 Berkeley J. Int'l Law. 600 (2003).
In The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) filmmaker Kazuo Hara gives his volatile subject/hero/perpetrator, veteran Kenzo Okuzaki, a wide berth. He often does this literally, working with distancing medium long shots, and refusing to intervene during instances of physical violence and ethically questionable tactics on the part of Okuzaki. A seemingly unassuming senior citizen in an ill-fitting suit, the individual is searching for answers about what happened to two soldiers in his regiment who were killed by their own superior officers several days after the end of World War II. Hara’s camera remains steady when Okuzaki calmly assures the former officers who he interviews that he is visiting on a mission of truth and justice; it remains steady when he adds that he is prepared to beat them up should they not cooperate. The uncomfortable question looming over the film, one of many, is whether Okuzaki’s trauma-limned, morally righteous uncovering of war crimes in decidedly un-righteous, self-serving ways is justified in the face of 40 years of stonewalling and government obfuscation.
From his first documentary in 1972, Hara’s particular thematic territory has been to explore the lives of iconoclastic individuals, who radically question roles, obligations, and deference to authority in Japanese society. His debut, Sayonara CP (1972) focused on Yokota Hiroshi, a man with cerebral palsy, and his day-to-day struggles against lack of access and social stigmas against the disabled. Arguably his most well-known film, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (1974) is a searingly intimate examination of the failed relationship with the radical feminist mother of his child—captured by his then-new cinematographer girlfriend and continued collaborator Sachiko Kobayashi. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On came more than a decade later, in 1987. Three films and twenty years after that, Sennen Asbestos Disaster (2017) remapped his thematic territory, shifting focus to the collective action of a citizen coalition in the small city of Sennan, whose citizens had been affected by local asbestos factories. With the help of a civic organization, former workers now suffering from the effects of asbestos poisoning bring a lawsuit against the government that was aware of the potential health risks but chose not to protect the workers, who contributed to an important sector of the manufacturing economy.
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On pivots around memory and subjectivity, how historical record is filled in when the documents are missing or inaccurate. Family members and surviving officers weave a tapestry of rumour and conjecture about possible desertion and cannibalism. Okuzaki rants while the military and civilian onlookers of his protests remain by turns impassive, evasive, and politely embarrassed. At one point he taunts a group of policemen, calling them robots only capable of taking orders because they refuse to be provoked into any type of passionate response or engagement. These moments draw a line of continuity from what is stereotypically seen as a Japanese expectation of politeness and avoidance of conflict to the commonly-held postwar defense of imperial atrocities, in which responsibility for crimes is deferred through claims of “just following orders”. It isn’t respect for authority or “patience” but a choice of moral inaction. In Sennen Asbestos Disaster the mostly elderly victims also struggle with this issue of how much to show their anger and how confrontational they are willing to be with an increasingly elevated chain of political actors. The film’s urgency is derived from the limited amount of time the plaintiffs have to achieve their goal due to illness and age. Hara interjects his opinion during the film, clearly frustrated about the judicial system’s slow processes and the tactics of less radical political activism. The extended running time speaks to the length of the victims’ struggle and perhaps Hara’s own difficult shaping the story with the lack of a single charismatic figure who might typically drive his “action documentary” conflict-driven narratives, shot in verité style with hints of reflexivity.
Since he has tackled some of the most dynamic issues and personalities of his generation it’s important to discuss Hara within the historical context of Japanese postwar politics and his filmic influences. Born during the final few months of World War II in Ube, Japan, Hara grew up while Japan remade itself into a democracy during the occupation of the Allied forces. Despite the postwar Tokyo Trial’s mandate to try war criminals allied advisors and Japanese elites colluded to protect the Emperor, his cabinet, and many high-ranking military officials from prosecution. Many of them reentered politics after the end of the occupation including Class A war criminal suspect, Nobusuke Kishi, who later became Prime Minister. Kishi’s grandson—current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—continues this grandfather’s revisionist efforts to evade accountability for war crimes and their lingering effects on populations within Asia.
Hara came of age during the 1960s and the era’s political and artistic radicalism are woven throughout his filmography, giving them a characteristic immediacy and indignation. As a director he explores many of the concerns of the Japanese New Wave - an era to which he was loosely affiliated, through his mentorship under director Shohei Imamura - while he also exists as a transitional figure among documentarians in Japan and abroad, placing an uncomfortably personal twist on the genre’s potential for political provocation and formal experimentation. Imamura’s boundary-crossing A Man Vanishes (1967) provided the metacinematic template for Extreme Private Eros in particular, but the elder’s wider affection for the social outcasts and own investigations in Japan’s wartime responsibility in his documentaries about soldiers who chose to not come home from Southeast Asia after the war, also finds purchase in all of Hara’s films. Hara’s work also descends from the cinematic lineage of political documentary filmmakers Shinsuke Ogawa and his collective, as well as the humanist narrative features of Masaki Kobayashi, including his triparite opus The Human Condition (1959-1961) and The Thick-Walled Room (1953), which points an accusing finger at the scapegoating of lower-ranked officers for war crimes, and their lingering effects on the Asian continent.
Michael Moore and Errol Morris have both declared Hara as an overlooked master of the medium, citing The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On as a significant influence on their work. In Sennen Asbestos Disaster, Hara demonstrates his dexterity in adapting his formal technique to the changing methodologies of modern activism independent a galvanizing protagonist like Okuzaki, and utilizing a more deliberately-paced documenting of each individual’s story and organizing event. The still images near the end of each film offers a different resonance. One appears defiant, as Okuzaki seemingly stops the passage of time with the gesture of a raised hand; the other is mournful, in a final accounting of all the Sennan locals lost in a drawn-out legal battle. Both affirm the obsession and the anger of those in a Sisphyean struggle for accountability from the state to deliver on its promise to protect its own citizens, irrespective of their methods. “The willingness of the Japanese to forgive the powerful is a danger to our democracy. You don’t forgive them. But Japanese people are indifferent to that.”