New documentary for Hara Kazuo

 

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

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Yamagata Doc Film Fest, report – day 2

  
Here I am after my second day in Yamagata, a less intense one compared to yesterday, but nonetheless an eventful day (Oct 11th). 

My day kicked off in the motning with 2 shorts by Luis Ospina, shot in collaboration with Carlos Mayolo, Listen, Look (1972) his debut and The Vampires of Poverty (1978), it is the last  one that impressed me more. Partly parody, party documentary and partly mockumentary, the movie satirises a certain way of making cinema and TV that exploits the poor, a tendency to use the less fortunate to prove a pre-established political or social theory. Very creative in the way it’s constructed, Ospina mixes color and B&W photography, funny, improvised, but also scripted in some of its parts, overall it was a refreshing experience for me. The discovery continued with the afterscreening talk, when Ospina elaborated and explained a bit more about the movie, the so-called Cali group in Colombia and the concept of poverty porn, he also talked about how he was ostracised in Latin America by the Marxists and the left after the mivie was released.You can watch many of his movies (legally and for free) on his homepage, here

The afternoon started with a short (30′) from Myanmar, When the Boat Comes In by Khin Maung Kyaw, a depiction of a small fishermen village and its difficulties to survive, a situation that worsened when the government  decided to issue a one-month fishing ban. An interesting exploration of the daily life of the villagers and their unhappiness, had the documentary been longer, it would have probably beneficiated in term of quality and depth, hopefully the director will expand it into a longer version one day.
The third movie of the day was Trip Along Exodus by Hind Shoufani, the daughter of a famous politician and revolutionary Palestinian who after fighting for many years for the liberation of his land , decided toabandoned the scenes and live in Syria, far from his family and relatives.
The work is made as a diary-movie, the director talks with his father, asking him questions, in person or by phone, and trying to bridge the gab between the two, the man has been always more interesting in the revolutionary cause than in his family. It’s a “pretty” movie, in the sense that it uses some cute animation here and there to cheer up the somber tone of the film, and also the sense that is more a personal movie than a political one. 
The day ended with the weakest work of all, PYRAMID: Kaleidoscope Memories of Destruction by Sasakubo Shin, a wanna-be experimental documentary shot in 8mm, to which I couldn’t connect at all. The music was good but it seems to me more a sort of long music video than an attempt to create something more concrete. 

Like every day, from 10 o’clock at night, almost everybody went to Komian, a sort of nomiya where directors, film-lovers, journalists and whoever else meet, talk and drink until 2 or 3 in the morning, a very special place that makes Yamagata even more unique. 

 

Satō Tadao’s best documentaries of all time

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Satō Tadao is without any doubt one of the most renowed film critics and theorists living and working in Japan today with a career spanning more than 50 years, a scholar also known and respected in the West through the translations of his writing and some of his books. In the last year Sight & Sound poll – the greatest documentaries of all time, Satō was one of the voters, here are his picks:

Nanook of the North (1922)
Robert Flaherty

The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1946)
Chozo Obata, Sueo Ito, Masao Yamanaka, Dairokuro Okuyama

Night and Fog (1955)
Alain Resnais

Minamata:The Victims and Their World (1972)
Noriaki Tsuchimoto

Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (1975)
Kaneto Shindo

Echigo Okumiomote (1984)
Tadayoshi Himeda

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
Kazuo Hara

Kabuki-yakusha Kataoka Nizaemon (1994)
Sumiko Haneda

Fatherless (1999)
Yoshihisa Shigeno

Acid Ocean (2012)
Sally Ingleton

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An interesting list through which I could discover some works I had never heard about before like Fatherless and Echigo Okumiomote, it was also a pleasant surprise to see listed, among some “classics” of Japanese non-fiction cinema such as Minamata:The Victims and Their World or The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches, Kabuki-yakusha Kataoka Nizaemon, a work by Haneda Sumiko, a director I’m very fond of and a filmmaker who plays an important role in the history of Japanese documentary.

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On a not-so-related-note, in the March issue of Sight & Sound a piece on Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan by Nick Bradshaw opens with a collage of stills from different documentaries on anti-government protests. Among them a still of Sanrizuka: Heta Village (Ogawa Pro, 1973), a nice sign that Japanese documentary is slowly infiltrating (again?) in the international cinematic discourse, at least this is my hope.

Japanese documentary of the week vol. 1 – Impressions of a Sunset (Suzuki Shiroyasu,1975)

Impressions_of_a_Sunset

I’ll start today a new feature – Japanese documentary of the week – a weekly and very short post to introduce an important work of non-fiction cinema, or at least a documentary that I believe is worth seeing and discovering. I’ll focus on works that are either available to watch online (legally) or available on DVD/BD (with English sub).
The fist movie is Impressions of a Sunset (日没の印象) , a short diary-movie/self documentary/artistic home-movie made by Suzuki Shiroyasu in 1975. Suzuki is a poet and a professor who worked also for TV and who, from the mid 70s, started to expand his artistic world in the cinematic realm. Impressions of a Sunset is probably, together with Fifteen Days (1980), his most famous work. Deeply inspired by Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas, 1973) Suzuki:

has gotten his hands on a “CineKodak 16” (a pre-war 16mm camera) at a second hand camera shop, and in sheer delight he films his beloved wife, films his newborn baby, proudly takes his camera to work to film his colleagues, and then films the Tokyo sky at sunset.

(from Self-Documentary: Its Origins and Present State, Nada Hisashi. You can read the complete article here)

Partly experiment, partly diary and partly home-movie, this short work has, even today, a special appeal for me, maybe the grain of the film (16mm), maybe the freshness of the approach, or maybe the subtle experimental touch we can feel here and there (the dots, the reflections, etc.). Below you can see Impressions of a Sunset legally, it is linked, together with some of works, on Suzuki’s official homepage. It’s in Japanese (no English sub) but even if you don’t understand the language you can feel the magic.

日没の印象 / Impression of Sunset

Holiday Movie 2009-2013 (休日映画 2009-2013)

Holiday Movie 2009-2013 (休日映画 2009-2013)

Regia, montaggio, fotografia, soggetto, sonoro: Saitō Masakazu. Durata: 52′
Formato: digitale

Il regista Saitō Masakazu riprende nei giorni di vacanza la sua piccola figlia e la sua famiglia, dalla nascita fino ai quattro anni, alternando impressioni della quotidianità della bambina che cresce con notizie e preoccupazioni provenienti da Fukushima.

Presentato all’ultima edizione dell’Image Forum Film Festival, una manifestazione dedicata a scoprire o/e celebrare i film sperimentali e finanche le videoinstallazioni e tutto ciò che di interessante esce dalla cultura visiva giapponese ed internazionale, intesa in senso molto lato, Holiday Movie è in tutto e per tutto un home movie. Un video diario cioè, dove l’oggetto stesso del lavoro è qualcosa di personale e legato alla sfera privata del suo regista, Saitō Masakazu, in questo caso la nascita della prima figlia e la sua crescita nel corso di 4 anni, il tempo coperto dal film va infatti dal 2009 al 2013.
È necessario porre questo lavoro nell’ambito di competenza, quel filone del del self documentary o meglio del diary film, lanciato a livello internazionale da Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972) di Jonas Mekas ed in terra giapponese da Suzuki Shiroyasu con Impressions of a Sunset (Nichibotsu no insho) nel 1975. Interessante è notare come sia Mekas che Suzuki abbiamo operato in vari modi anche nell’ambito del film sperimentale, cosa che getta una luce più ampia sul retroterra che ancora oggi è presente quando si parla di certo diary movie. Ci sembra proprio che questo Holiday Movie, pur nella sua apparente semplicità, si possa tranquillamente inserire in questo discorso e filone. Non sempre naturalmente ma è ben presente nel lavoro una coscienza verso le forme ed i limiti del linguaggio cinematografico, una consapevolezza che dà forma e ritmo al lavoro di Saitō, al contrario di molte opere dello stesso tipo però ed anche di molti documentari giapponesi realizzati in questi ultimi anni, la cura riservata alla forma, con particolare attenzione verso montaggio, framing e colore, dona a questo Holiday Movie una freschezza ed una spontaneità, anche se sapientemente filtrata, che raramente si trova in altri lavori di questo tipo. Alla fine è un vero e proprio piacere per i sensi la visione di questo lavoro, la nascita e lo sviluppo della piccola, con le sue difficoltà, i suoi tentativi di esprimersi, la sua voglia di esplorare il mondo circostante ed infine il suo relazionarsi con l’ambiente circostante, anche se ristretto ai soli periodi di vacanza in cui il padre ha potuto filmare, è reso con un tocco assai delicato ed a tratti molto divertente. L’uso del digitale poi è da manuale, il (nuovo) mezzo viene esplorato ed usato alla perfezione con alcune reminescenze, specialmente nell’uso dei colori, dei contrasti e della composizione delle inquadrature, quasi godardiano. Il lavoro si sviluppa come detto per 4 anni ed è puntuato, non in maniera opressiva, dalle notizie provenienti da Fukushima che danno un’ampiezza di vedute a quest’opera-diario ancora maggiore e che amplificano le preoccupazioni di padre del regista, rigettando sullo spettatore un quadro molto personale e privato ma inevitabilmente solcato da tematiche e problematiche di più ampio raggio. Ma queste notizie sono colte nel loro farsi, lo spettatore ne sente solo dei frammenti letti da una voce elettronica impersonale quando sullo schermo le immagini si soffermano sui momenti di quotidianità della famiglia.
Holiday Movie è un piccolo gioiello che rilancia prepotentemente le potenzialità del diary-movie e che allo stesso tempo ed attraverso lo stesso movimento privato-mondo e mondo-privato, scandaglia e getta scompiglio sui limiti che il cinema ha deciso di autoimporsi e sulle possibilità nel futuro prossimo di una cultura visuale di piú ampio raggio.