Currently underway at the Japan Society is a season of films made up of the works of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi, all of which can be streamed in the US (and in some cases, Canada) via their virtual cinema.
Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi are a husband-and-wife team of filmmakers who emerged out of the Japanese New Wave.
Hara started out as photographer with an interest in disability after working at a school for disabled children. Kobayashi was an aspiring screenwriter living with the effects of polio. They met when Hara had his first photographic exhibition in Ginza in 1969 with the subject being the pupils at the school he worked at. Their relationship grew quickly from being acquaintances to becoming artistic collaborators with the founding of Shisso production and the making of their first film – with Hara as director and Kobayasi as producer – before culminating in their marriage in 1973.
Influenced by the social unrest at the time and inspired by New Wave figures such as Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima, Hara and Kobayashi began to explore the lives of the underprivileged and iconoclasts through deeply humanist and challenging documentaries done in cinema vérité style. Their films are a realm where the camera not only documents what is going on but also acts as a tool to render their subject more open to intimate involvement with the filmmakers. The end result is that the “protagonists” expose their private lives in moments that move the film away from any sense of objectivity and moral judgements. Boundaries of various kinds disappear and viewers are left with a document that is quite revealing on both a personal and societal level but also challenging in how we regard the subjects and their position in society.
The film of Hara and Kobayashi have gone on to be highly regarded around the world with many documentary filmmakers citing them as inspirations. To understand the impact of their works, Japan Society has put together a career-spanning online retrospective that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Shisso Productions. This retrospective series includes nearly all of the pair’s films, starting with their first production, Goodbye CP (1972) and culminating in their latest, MINAMATA Mandala (2020).
Highlights include The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which follows a veteran named Kenzo Okuzaki who enlists his wife and some others to join him in a crusade to expose war crimes that took place in World War II; Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 sees Hara turn the camera on his own life and document the fallout of his marriage/divorce with radical feminist, Miyuki Takeda; and the rarely-seen The Many Faces of Chika—the pair’s only narrative feature. Also featured are their most recent works such as Reiwa Uprising, which charts the political fortunes of candidates in a newly established leftist political party, and MINAMATA Mandala, which was shot over 15 years and documents the legal and medical battles endured by the residents of Minamata, a city where some of the populace suffered the infamous neurological disease due to industrial wastewater from a chemical factory causing severe mercury poisoning.
In order to get a better sense of the season, the curator, K. F. Watanabe, gave an interview.