Heroic Purgatory Podcast Covers Japan Society’s Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02)

Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi are a husband-and-wife team of filmmakers who emerged out of the Japanese New Wave and have spent their careers documenting iconoclasts and outsiders in Japan. Their films have had a major impact on filmmakers and now audiences in North America can view them from their own homes.

From: https://www.japansociety.org/arts-and-culture/films/cinema-as-struggle-the-films-of-kazuo-hara-and-sachiko-kobayashi

On the 50th anniversary of the founding of Shisso production, Japan Society is currently screening the films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi in the US (and in some cases, Canada) via their virtual cinema in a season called Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02). This season contains many of their works (7 documentaries and 1 narrative feature) made during this period.

Thanks to the people at the Japan Society, I have been able to review the films and also talk about them on the Heroic Purgatory podcast with fellow writer, John Atom (here’s a link to his work).

In the podcast we cover each of the films in this retrospective series, starting with their first production, Goodbye CP (1972), their most famous work, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987), the rarely-seen The Many Faces of Chika — the pair’s only narrative feature – and, briefly (very briefly because we had yet to watch it), the five-hour long MINAMATA Mandala (2020), which is currently on the festival circuit. I hope you take the time to listen to the podcast and get the chance to watch some of these films.


Here are links to where you can rent the films:

Goodbye CP    Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974    The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On    A Dedicated Life     The Many Faces of Chika    Sennan Asbestos Disaster    Reiwa Uprising     MINAMATA Mandala

Here are the prices:

Rentals: $10 / 20% off members

Bundle 1: $30 / 20% off members
Includes: Goodbye CP, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, A Dedicated Life and Sennan Asbestos Disaster – Available in the US and Canada.

Bundle 2: $20 / 20% off members
Includes: The Many Faces of Chika, Reiwa Uprising and Minamata Mandala

 

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On ゆきゆきて、神軍 Dir: Kazuo Hara, Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi (1987)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On  The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On Film Poster

ゆきゆきて、神軍  「Yuki yukite, shingun

Release Date: August 01st, 1987

Duration: 122 mins.

Director:  Kazuo Hara

Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Writer: N/A

Starring: Kenzo Okuzaki, Shizumi Okuzaki,

IMDB

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is regarded as one of the finest documentaries ever made. It derives its power from its subject, a World War II veteran and political agitator named Kenzo Okuzaki who is on a quest to expose war crime by any means necessary. In his journey he ends up indicting Japanese society and its silence over the war. The idea of a documentary about him was first envisaged by Shohei Imamura but due to the refusal of television companies to touch such a controversial subject, it fell to Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi to film it.

Continue reading “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On ゆきゆきて、神軍 Dir: Kazuo Hara, Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi (1987)”

Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 極私的エロス 恋歌1974 Director: Kazuo Hara Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi (1974)

Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974    Extreme Private Eros Love Song 1974 Film Poster

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

Writer: N/A

Starring: Miyuki Takeda, Sachiko Kobayashi, Kazuo Hara

IMDB

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.

Continue reading “Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 極私的エロス 恋歌1974 Director: Kazuo Hara Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi (1974)”

Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02) – View Ground-breaking Documentaries via Japan Society

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.

From: https://www.japansociety.org/arts-and-culture/films/cinema-as-struggle-the-films-of-kazuo-hara-and-sachiko-kobayashi

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.

Continue reading “Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02) – View Ground-breaking Documentaries via Japan Society”

Keep Rolling 好好拍電影 Dir: Man Lim Chung (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Keep Rolling    Keep Rolling Film Poster

好好拍電影

映画をつづける Eiga o tsuzukeru

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 111 mins.

Director: Man Lim-chung

Writer: N/A

Starring: Ann Hui, Andy Lau, Tsui Hark, Sylvia Chang,

IMDB   OAFF Link

Compared to fellow Hong Kong auteurs like John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Wong Kar-wai, Ann Hui’s name isn’t as well known but this veteran filmmaker has quietly created a catalogue of varied works that have made her one of the most acclaimed directors in the world. Her most recent success is being a recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2020 edition of the Venice International Film Festival where her latest film Love After Love played. This accolade comes after a four decade career that has notable achievements such as winning Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards three times and Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards six times. With more film projects on the horizon, she shows no signs of slowing down despite the fact that she has reached the age of 73. Trying to get a handle on such a career is intimidating but the biographical documentary Keep Rolling provides the perfect entry into the life of Ann Hui.

Continue reading “Keep Rolling 好好拍電影 Dir: Man Lim Chung (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]”

Japanese Films at Tokyo FILMeX 2020 (October 30th to November 05th)

Tokyo FILMeX 2020 runs from October 30th to November 05th. It’s the placeTokyo Filmex Poster to see arthouse films but, due to Covid-19, organisers have decided to shorten the duration of the fest and have it run alongside the Tokyo International Film Festival, although it’s still a physical event. This move positions the festival in a way to make it akin to Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. You can read a statement here which explains more.

Anyway, the festival has quite a few titles from Japan or set in Japan that are worth checking out.

Click on a title to be taken to the festival page:

Continue reading “Japanese Films at Tokyo FILMeX 2020 (October 30th to November 05th)”

An Ant Strikes Back アリ地獄天国 Dir: Tokachi Tsuchiya (2019) [Nippon Connection 2020]

An Ant Strikes BackAn Ant Strikes Back Film Poster

アリ地獄天国 Ari Jigoku Tengoku

Release Date: June 06th, 2019 (USA)

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Tokachi Tsuchiya

Writer: Motoharu Iida, Tokachi Tsuchiya (Script)

Starring:Yu Nishimura, Tokachi Tsuchiya, Naoko Shimizu, Kotaro Kano (Narration)

Website IMDB

In 2017, the Japanese word karoshi, death from overwork, entered the global lexicon when news organisations covered the case of advertising firm Dentsu which was fined by a Tokyo court for violation of labour laws following the suicide of an overworked employee named Matsuri Takahashi who had been clocking up 100 hours a month in overtime prior to her death. Her story came out around the same time as the one of NHK journalist Miwa Sado who died two years earlier after she logged 159 hours of overtime in a month. Analysts, public health experts and cultural commentators published articles stating that they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Although karoshi is a term that has been around since the 70s, the unhealthy work culture that results in depression, suicides or strokes amongst workers has been identified as being linked to the post-war economic miracle when employees were asked to dedicate their lives to their jobs. However, in the 90s after the economic bubble burst, things worsened as worker protections were sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism and people were chewed up by their employers. In response to this, and a falling birth rate, the government has introduced measures to give employees more time off work. Things have yet to get better.

From: https://nomalabor.exblog.jp/

One filmmaker who has been tracking stories of everyday people being sacrificed for the economy is Tokachi Tsuchiya who started out as a freelance videographer and became a documentary filmmaker with his award-winning debut A Normal Life, Please! (2009) where he exposed the exploitation of workers through an average truck driver named Nobukazu Kaikura who was made to work by his company “552 hours a month without benefits or sick pay, a regime that barely affords him time to wash or eat” (source). The film covered Kaikura’s decision to join a worker’s union and the unsavoury characters hired by his company who tried to crush the workers who were simply defending their rights.

Since then, Tokachi has worked for an NPO making films about capitalist exploitation and state oppression while also doing “making-of” videos for Momoko Ando’s 0.5mm and Gen Takahashi’s Court of Zeus. With An Ant Strikes Back, he is back with a story of a worker who fought for years for better treatment at his job after horrendous exploitation and mistreatment and it is a shocking eye-opening insight into unfair labour practices in Japan and how unions protect workers.

An Ant Strikes Back starts with a prologue that introduces some sobering facts about karoshi before introducing the director to viewers and here he relates how his friend “Yama-chan” was a victim a number of years before. We understand that his perspective will be a factor in understanding karoshi. Then we are introduced to the worker “ant” at the heart of the film, Yu Nishimura.

Continue reading “An Ant Strikes Back アリ地獄天国 Dir: Tokachi Tsuchiya (2019) [Nippon Connection 2020]”

Naomi Kawase in London in September for: Naomi Kawase: In Focus – Open City Documentary Festival 2019

Naomi Kawase¹ (website) is in London in September for the Open City Documentary Festival 2019 where she will take part in three screenings and will introduce a selection of her works and take part in a Q&A and extended talk. Called, “Naomi Kawase: In Focus”, this particular festival strand, organised with the help of the Japan Foundation, is a unique opportunity to see some of the early films that helped make Naomi Kawase a major presence in world cinema as these self-documentaries show her nascent skull which developed while she recorded some of the most intimate details of her life as she searched for her identity on screen. Most prominent amongst the films is the influence of her adoptive mother, Uno Kawase, which is a bond that is put on screen in a moving set of films which have been highly lauded.

Here are the details. Just click on the titles to access the festival page and booking information:

Continue reading “Naomi Kawase in London in September for: Naomi Kawase: In Focus – Open City Documentary Festival 2019”

Shinjuku Tiger 新宿タイガー Dir: Yoshinori Sato (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Shinjuku Tiger  Shinjuku Tiger Film Poster

新宿タイガー  Shinjuku Taiga-

Running Time: 83 mins.

Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

Director: Yoshinori Sato

Writer: N/A

Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Norito Yashima, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Midori Suiren, Noboru Iguchi, Shinji Kubo

Website IMDB

http://www.oaff.jp/2019/en/program/if06.html

Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019, Shinjuku Tiger (2019) is a return to the world of documentary filmmaking for director Yoshinori Sato. Although he has a background in television documentaries, he will probably be best known for his 2016 sophomore feature about capital punishment and guilt, Her Mother, an intense film where the mother of a murder victim seeks to prevent the execution of the murderer. It won plaudits for the acting at different festivals including Busan 2016 and OAFF 2017. After a fairly bleak and heavy drama about coming to terms with murder, Sato steps back into documentaries with a film about a flamboyant guy who is all about spreading love and happiness.

Continue reading “Shinjuku Tiger 新宿タイガー Dir: Yoshinori Sato (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019”

The Oyster Factory 牡蠣工場 Dir: Kazuhiro Soda (2016)

Oyster Factory  

Oyster Factory Film Poster
Oyster Factory Film Poster

牡蠣工場  「Kaki kouba

Release Date: February 20th, 2016

Duration: 145 mins

Director: Kazuhiro Soda

Starring: Shinsuke Hirano, Koichi Watanabe, Yukiko Watanabe

Website  IMDB

Earlier in 2018 I had the chance to see three of Kazuhiro Soda’s early films which he made as a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the 90s and was surprised to discover he started out making a comedy and dramatic short films with well-contained stories and acting. He is still based in New York but is now renowned for observational documentaries having produced works of the cinema vérité variety that look at communities in Japan starting with Democracy (2007). The Oyster Factory was one I first encountered in the 2015 run of the Vancouver International Film Festival. This 145 minute film looks at life inside an oyster factory and as Soda explores this environment he discovers wider issues about the generational divide through the lack of young people entering the industry and Chinese-Japanese relations as Chinese workers are brought in to help keep two oyster factories running.

Continue reading “The Oyster Factory 牡蠣工場 Dir: Kazuhiro Soda (2016)”