The educational documentaries you can't take your kids to see
When Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara was approached by Okuzaki Kenzo — the subject of his 1987 The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On — and asked to film him committing murder, Hara strongly considered it before turning him down, more than anything because he "had become really sick of Okuzaki." Or so he told an interviewer. This sounds like bullshit, and it may be, but the filming approaches and content of Hara's body of work make you think that maybe he could have done it. (Okuzaki, incidentally, is currently serving time for the unfilmed murder attempt.) Hara has captured on film, in a doc that is essentially the sanctioned stalking of his ex-wife, the full frontal birth of her child. This was in 1974, understand, way before the Learning Channel or even The Cosby Show. He has followed a head case who once slung pachinko balls at Emperor Hirohito as the leader traveled around Japan accusing ex-soldiers, not without reason, of cannibalism. He has filmed the assaults of old men being accused, not without reason, of cannibalism. This is a filmmaker who might very well show up to a murder if he could still stand his subject.
Two of Hara's docs will be showing this week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Goodbye CP (1972) was his first film and caused quite a fuss in Japan for its uncensored look at the lives of people with cerebral palsy. It's been called sadistic, and it almost broke up the marriage of its main protagonist, but it's applauded by civil rights groups and is still shown to social service workers as a not-too-gentle reminder that those with CP aren't anatomically smoothed-over dolls.
A Dedicated Life (1995), about the life and death from cancer of Japanese author Mitsuharu Inoue, isn't as gonzo as most of Hara's other films, but it's one of his fullest and most mature. The transgression of the biography (beyond a fairly fruitless preoccupation with Inoue’s playboy persona) is Hara's gruesome admission that he was basically waiting for the man to die so that he could get more candid interviews from those who knew him. This information, taken from an interview with professor Kenneth Ruoff, adds menace to the scenes in the doctor's office and muddies the poignance of conversations Inoue had with his wife about his illness. But the poignance is always there, in this and Hara’s other films. It just usually has to share the spotlight with the creepy methods of the man behind the camera. SFBG
NO BOUNDARIES: THE TRANSGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARIES OF KAZUO HARA
A Dedicated Life, Thurs/16, 7:30 p.m.
Goodbye CP, Sun/19, 2 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, screening room
701 Mission, SF