Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974
極私的エロス 恋歌１９７４ 「Gokushiteki erosu renka 1974」
Release Date: June 18th 1972
Duration: 98 mins.
Director: Kazuo Hara
Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi
Starring: Miyuki Takeda, Sachiko Kobayashi, Kazuo Hara
Released two years after Goodbye CP, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 finds Kazuo Hara turning the camera on his own life by filming Miyuki Takeda, a radical feminist, the mother of his son, and his ex-wife. Hara narrates this documentary, which he describes as an attempt to stay connected to Takeda, and films her in intimate situations to work through his unresolved feelings, going so far as to invite his collaborator/girlfriend Sachiko Kobayashi as an actor used to stimulate drama.
Once again using a handheld camera and black-and-white film, Hara spent periods from 1972 to 1974 documenting Takeda’s life as she moves from Tokyo to Okinawa with their infant son, embarks upon relationships with a woman named Sugako and then a Black American G.I. with whom she gets pregnant, then returns to Tokyo to give birth in Hara’s apartment completely unassisted.
Shot chronologically with jump cuts and intertitles to facilitate time/geographical shifts, the camera lingers obsessively on Takeda who describes herself as too tough to elicit much sympathy from others. She is right in that she doesn’t inspire sympathy but, rather, a lot of awe as she strides forth from a background of the student movement and women’s liberation with a tremendous degree of self-confidence and a fierce intelligence. She shows possession of her body and mind as she allows her personal/sexual life to be recorded – indeed, at one point we get a grainy first-person shot of Hara perspective as he is making love to Takeda – and a fearlessness that carries her into different places and situations that across class and regions. Through her exploration, she shows ways of living and femininity that disrupt traditional gender roles as well as giving a taste of the sexual liberation of the time.
Hara documents the different environments with enough skill to make each time and place evocative and finds topical focal points via the evolving mindset that Takeda displays with her conversations that expose us to ideas of women’s liberation, communitarianism, and anti-colonialism. The people she converses with, such as hard-bitten go-go dancers, are lively, their personalities and intelligence coming through via impromptu interviews with Takeda and friends. Hara’s camera even acts as a catalyst for tension and revelation rather than just a tool for observation. People respond to it, playing up a persona or awkwardly avoiding being recorded. When his presence exacerbates tensions in Takeda’s relationships, it spurs on drama.
An interesting section of the film comes in the love triangle that turns into a quadrangle as Hara, jealous of Takeda’s sexual exploration, brings Kobayashi, his then pregnant girlfriend, into the situation. While his jealousy initiates this twist (and Hara has the balls to show himself a crying wreck), the women eventually build bridges and this leads to is an amusing scene where compare notes on Hara and Takeda ruthlessly critiques her ex. Their relationship develops on film leading to Takeda supporting Kobayashi in her own pregnancy via a women’s commune which is a recurring theme in the film, one of reducing male influence and pointing to a female-led future.
The biggest talking point of the film might be the birthing sequence (shown in full but captured out of focus by a nervous Hara), what is returned to and what the film culminates with is the sense of female unity in environments free from men. Whether it is a lesbian relationship, the support group set up for bar girls in Okinawa, or the women’s commune in Tokyo, Takeda continually tries to establish a positive way of living that defies the way traditional society is set up. It is often positive and it stands in stark opposition to the men who are shown as jealous and manipulative (Hara), exploitative (the G.I.s looking for an easy lay and gangsters who harass Takeda and Hara) and, ultimately, the patriarchal power structures that exploit women.
Once the film was over it was easy to see why this “self-documentary” was created because Takeda is an inspiration. From the first moments when still photographs show her as an artist, wife, mother, and in the nude, to seeing her in motion and in argumentative form, she is a larger than life presence who is the centre of gravitational pull whenever she is on screen. She demonstrates a set of personal politics that evolves over the course of the film that offer an alternative vision to Japan’s conservatism, something directly challenging social mores and restrictions faced by women, revealing it through the universal lens of sex and the libertarian attitudes to it at the time. It culminates with Takeda giving birth on screen as she takes control of her own body and brings another life into the world with all the hope of change that must have been felt at the time by herself and others. The confidence with which she does it all is infectious and makes her a notable character in cinema.
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 plays as part of a season of films made by Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi that is available to stream in North America until July 02nd.