StinkyLulu (stinkylulu) wrote,

Yuki Yukite shingun/Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (1987) -

At once tedious and incrementally fascinating, this "action documentary" by Japanese rebel filmmaker Hara Kazuo follows Okuzaki Kenzo, a veteran of the Japanese army's notorious World War II deployment in the Pacific. Okuzaki was stationed in New Guinea, where any number of atrocities are said to have occurred, and the film follows him as he crisscrosses Japan seeking verification of these events from fellow veterans. For Okuzaki, such details promise to prove Emperor Hirohito's culpability as a war criminal. Okuzaki is a clearly a crackpot. He drives around town in vehicles plastered with billboards and megaphones. He quickly makes the acquaintance of local law enforcement at nearly every stop along his "confront the veterans of the New Guinea outpost" tour. He routinely physically assaults people who he feels are not forthcoming enough. He proclaims the righteousness of his pursuit -- alternately, to "console the souls" of the dead and to "reveal the truth of war" so as to prevent future wars -- as his way of making amends for his own implication in the general atrocity of war (though it's never clear how directly Okuzaki is connected to the events for which he seeks verification). While the presence of Hara's camera elicits a self-conscious decorum among some of Okuzaki's interviewees, Okuzaki's own megalomaniacal vigilantism thrives in front of it. (I kept thinking that Okuzaki would most definitely have his own public-access show were he to have lived in the US.) He's a self-appointed, one-man redemption force and the camera seems to amplify his belief in the righteousness of his pursuit. Okuzaki's typical interview with a veteran of the New Guinea outpost runs like this: knock on the door; persist when refused entry; engage in aggressive though polite discussion of the past; lapse into self-aggrandizing pronouncements about who's the better/worse person; either start beating up on the person or dragging confession from them; rationalize behavior with righteous proclamations; leave. That's his solo act. At a certain point, Okuzaki stumbles upon an effective strategy that he seems not to have thought of before -- bring the surviving siblings of the privates whose deaths (after the official end of the war) remain shrouded in suspicious mystery. (As the details of the atrocities -- especially the fact of cannibalism necessitated by the Japanese government's abandonment of the New Guinea post -- do begin to be revealed through Okuzaki's persistence, it becomes clear that the privates were killed either AS food, BECAUSE they would not consent to maintaining the secret, OR some combination of both.) When Okuzaki brings the siblings along, he seems pleased but unimpressed at how effective they are in eliciting confessions and/or new information. When those same siblings refuse to join Okuzaki on future forays, he merely enlists his wife and some friends to pretend to be those siblings. Here, it becomes clear that Okuzaki is either blinded by his righteous zeal -- his true believerness -- or is basically incapable of empathy. (I'm inclined to believe him a sociopath who stumbled upon zealotry as a way to pass the time.) The film's importance derives from the questions about documentary ethics that it raises -- Hara never intervenes when Okuzaki starts whacking an elderly, obviously infirm man; Hara apparently considered filming Okuzaki's plans to kill someone -- especially the idea that the camera functions as an instigator for interactions that might not have occurred without its presence. All of which is interesting enough. And, clearly, there's a challenging historical mystery at the center of this film that's worth unpacking. Yet the film operates most fundamentally as a document of the collaboration between these two bullyish provocateurs, neither of whom seem especially predisposed to reflection or empathy. I wonder, too, if I've become somewhat inured to the "ambush interview" as a documentary style. After nearly two decades of Cops and Michael Moore and Bill O'Reilly and trashy daytime talk shows, I suspect I've become additionally cynical about the basic strategies utilized in this film. Indeed, what was consistently most shocking to me about the whole enterprise was not the ghoulish details of Japanese war atrocities but the general politeness with which Okuzaki's rude, inappropriate and violent outbursts were greeted. I suspect that today, even in a culture so defined by social courtesy as Japan, Okuzaki would not get away with half of what he does here. (In the US, he likely would have been arrested, or shot, or both -- in either the early 1980s or now.) A fascinating film to discuss/contemplate -- an ordeal to view.

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Tags: documentary, film of the month, home movies
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