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.
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.
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
A rarely-seen and newly-scanned photo of the cast of A DEDICATED LIFE including Mitsuharu Inoue, writer Jakucho Setouchi, Kazuo Hara, and Sachiko Kobayashi. pic.twitter.com/a16ph77wVi
Goodbye CP (1972) was the first artistic collaboration between Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi, two photographers who became a husband-and-wife director-and-producer team who have spent the last 50 years documenting the lives of people living on the margins of Japanese society and agitating against its strictures. Through recording those who live differently, their works have shone a light onto points of conflicts based on identity, history, and class, and they reveal the social fault lines that the establishment chooses to ignore. WithGoodbye CP, the conflict is between the able-bodied and the disabled.
Shot at a tumultuous time of student protests and when disability rights campaigns were taking on long-standing prejudices and disabled people were hidden or, in some cases, sterilised, and also when public awareness of Minamata disease was high, Goodbye CP was made to be different. While other documentaries might try to curry audience sympathy through depicting their subjects with sentimentality or lionising their struggle to live while disabled, Hara and Kobayashi’s film addresses audiences in a confrontational way in order to shake up views.
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.