Hara Kazuo is one of the most internationally well known Japanese documentarists, his The Emperor Naked Army Marches On (1987) is the first Japanese entry in the Sight & Sound’s poll The Best Documentaries of All Time and a movie that is often screened, talked about and studied in Japan as well as abroad. Now, personally The Emperor is not my favourite work from Hara, Sayonara CP (his debut from 1972) and especially Extreme Private Eros (1974) are better docs for reasons I’m not going to explore here today, and to be honest he’s not even among my favorite directors of non-fiction, but nonetheless I can’t deny he’s a very important and pivotal figure in Japanese cinema. Hara is also the only Japanese documentarist whose writings have been translated in English and collected in a volume, a very good one indeed, that everyone interested in non-fiction cinema should read. The title is Camera Obtrusa: The Action Documentaries of Hara Kazuo: By Hara Kazuo and was published in 2009 by Kaya Press.
All that was to introduce him and to give an idea of his status as a respected director in the international documentary world. The good news is that Hara has a new work out, the first documentary for the big screen after 22 years of absence, he’s been active with feature films, on TV, writing books and with other projects, but 「ニッポン国泉南石綿村 劇場版 命て なんぼなん?」, this the title of the movie, breaks a silence of more than two decades. The film had its premiere at a small event in Tokyo, フィクションとドキュメンタリーのボーダーを超えて, and is about the victims of asbestos exposure in Sennan city (Osaka), where Hara has been intermittently filming for more than a decade, while at the same time working on a project about Minamata’s victims.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I hope to catch up with it as soon as possible, although, for some reason, I have very low expectations, but I’m ready and willing to be surprised.
Addendum: Hara won’t be screening it again until summer at the earliest, and most likely the fall (again somewhere in Tokyo), as he’s planning on reworking/editing it after these screenings in Shibuya.
Many thanks to Jordan A. Yamaji Smith for the update