A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound, no. 16 (Spring 1993),
with Kenneth Ruoff, 103-113.
Outlaw Filmmaker: An Interview with Hara Kazuo
Hara Kazuo was born
in 1945, the most turbulent year in Japan's twentieth century
history. Defeat and occupation followed Japan's attempt to dominate
Asia, and the early years after the surrender were ones of privation
for most Japanese. Hara never knew his father's face, and his
family was anything but privileged. He passed through a public
educational system which had been reformed to stress the teaching
of democracy. As a young man, he was greatly influenced by the
protest movements that characterized the late 1960s and early
from high school Hara attended the Tokyo Technical School of
Photography. In 1971 he founded Shissõ Productions with
Kobayashi Sachiko, now his wife. Kobayashi has produced all
of Hara's films, and Hara speaks of the films as collaborations.
The main characters in Hara's first three documentaries--a handicapped
poet, a radical feminist, and a stubborn anti-emperorist veteran
of Japan's campaign in New Guinea--are marginal individuals
who transgress social conventions. What interests Hara in the
main character of his latest documentary, currently in production,
is not simply that he was a famous left-wing writer, but rather
how this man's sexual relations became the basis for some of
Hara's first documentary
Goodbye CP (Sayonara CP, 1972), shocked audiences
with its frank portrayal of handicapped individuals. Just two
years later, Hara became the talk of the film world in Japan
with Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (Kyokushiteki
erosu koiuta 1974, 1974). This film chronicled, in a most
personal manner, a love-triangle between Hara, his ex-wife Takeda
Miyuki (the main character), and Kobayashi. It also included
two vivid scenes of childbirth.
Thirteen years followed
before Hara released his next film, The Emperor's Naked Army
Marches On (Yukiyukite shingun, 1987). This documentary
has gained a cult following in Japan and has garnered significant
attention on the international art cinema circuit. The Emperor's
Naked Army Marches On traces the efforts of Okuzaki Kenzõ--who
is infamous in Japan for having slung marbles at Emperor Hirohito
chronicle war crimes, including murder and cannibalism, committed
by Japanese soldiers in occupied New Guinea during World War II.
Hara hopes to finish
his current documentary by May 1993, the one-year anniversary
of the death from cancer of the main subject of the film, short
story writer Inoue Mitsuharu. Kenneth Ruoff interviewed Hara
Kazuo on April 26, 1992, one month before Inoue succumbed to
cancer. The interview was translated into English by Ruoff with
the help of Hayakawa Yukihirõ.
your present film, about the noted postwar writer Inoue Mitsuharu,
you are hoping to understand the process by which fiction is
born from reality, actuality, or real experiences. Could you
give us an example of the process that you are trying to trace?
Hara: A documentary,
you know, is not totally "real." When one is in front of the
camera, one cannot help being conscious of the camera. Even
when people are not in front of the camera, in normal life,
people act. This is normal. Mr. Inoue has had numerous experiences.
He writes fiction. He is a writer who has been thinking about
matters of fiction and reality. He has written a lot of fiction
based on his own experiences. Thus, when we read his fiction
we tend to miss the reality hidden behind this fiction. Of course
Inoue understands this well. This is Inoue's way of writing
fiction; he doesn't simply adopt a bunch of facts, but rather
he writes fiction that should be written in the future.
For example, Inoue
writes about numerous subjects--religion, right-wing youths,
the war, socialism in the Soviet Union. Among his writings are
some stories about a leader of a small new religious group,
a group with many women led by a man. The leader really resembles
Inoue. When you read the story, it really makes one think of
Inoue. Inoue says it is fiction, however. But a writer can't
write if he doesn't have real experiences. We wonder what the
author's experiences are. As a matter of fact, Inoue is a man
who has had a lot of relationships with various women--sexual
relations. A lot of women were involved. He is a playboy. But
he is also a family man. Inoue writes about politics, about
a lot of things, but I am interested in his writings about sex,
about male-female relationships. Inoue writes fiction based
on his real relationships with women. I am interested in what
happens with these relationships.
I learned that this
is a very difficult thing to find out, however. Okuzaki, for
example, was a man who cared nothing about his own privacy.
Inoue, because he is a writer, uses his own experiences to write.
But when I, with the camera, try to get him to deal with these
things, he shuts himself off from me.
From my viewpoint,
a documentary should explore things that people don't want explored,
bring things out of the closet, to examine why people want to
hide certain things. When people are talking about themselves,
they put limits and taboos on what
they are willing to talk about, and these personal taboos and
limitations reflect societal taboos and limitations. I want to
get at just the things they don't want to talk about, their privacy.
Therefore I want to get at Inoue's "privacy." Since Inoue is a
writer, he immediately understands what I am up to, and he puts
his guard up. I want to understand, with reference to Inoue, the
process by which fiction is born from reality, with regards to
his relationships with women.
My second film was
all about my "privacy." It was about a triangle between myself,
my former wife, and my present wife. You know, I make documentaries,
and as for reality and fiction, well, we call them documentaries,
but they are really made up. In 1974 I made Very Private
Eros Love Story 1974, about my relationships with two women.
And then when I saw Inoue lecture, I thought about my second
movie, and I really sympathized with him. We shared the same
feelings. I wanted to know more about Inoue, the "real" Inoue.
And I wanted to know what the women in his life feel about him,
and vice versa. At the beginning I thought Inoue would show
me a lot more.
will be the "action" of this film--what will appeal to an audience?
when we make a documentary, we make it about something we don't
know much about. As for my in-progress film, exactly what I
will come to understand, well I just don't know yet. That is
why I am continuing to film. I can't tell you what the action
will be. I am wondering myself what the action will be. This
is a real difference between documentaries and drama films.
The director himself doesn't understand what will happen. This
was certainly the case with The Emperor's Naked Army Marches
On. I had no idea how that film would turn out when I was
making it. I made the film to explore what type of person Okuzaki
was, and when I was done I was surprised with how audiences
reacted to Okuzaki, how they saw him. "Ahh, that's how they
'see' the film," I thought. So I really can't surmise how the
audiences will react to this film.
after you decided to make this film, three years ago, Inoue
learned that he had cancer. You will be documenting his struggle
against cancer. In Japan, however, it is somewhat rare for doctors
to even inform patients that they have cancer. But here is a
man who has agreed to have his struggle against cancer filmed.
It would seem that once again you are making a film about a
subject entangled by taboos.
patients with cancer were generally not told about their diagnosis.
But things have changed recently. The sentiment that patients
should be informed is growing stronger. Thus the case of Inoue--the
fact that he knows his condition--is not especially rare. There
have been documentaries about cancer patients on television,
so our filming of Inoue's battle is not unique. This is not
taboo. What is unique is the fact that he is a famous writer,
a man skilled at expressing himself--this will be the first
extended film about such a man--this the uniqueness of the film.
We have already filmed the operation during which Inoue had
three-quarters of his liver removed at Tokyo University Hospital.
He gave us permission, and so did the doctors; of course we
had to film it
looking down through glass from another room. Filming the operation
of a famous writer is rare. My motive, well it is like I said
at the beginning, is to make a documentary about how Inoue writes
fiction based on his sexual relationships. And the second thing
is to capture an image of how he, as a writer facing his death,
Ruoff: I suppose
that the end of this film about Inoue, how shall I say, the
ending is already set, isn't it?
his death. I am going to tell you something that I would never
tell Inoue. While Inoue is alive, the people around him will
not talk. I think that they will talk to me after Inoue dies,
however. And so I will continue to film after his death. It
can't be helped, when the person is alive, no one will talk
you referring to the women in his life?
All of the women are ordinary people, unlike Okuzaki. Since
they are ordinary people, they guard their privacy. And I am
thinking that the film won't be done until these people talk.
year numerous films are made. Thus, how do you go about making
a distinct film?
Hara: My position,
well I feel I am outlaw. My outlaw complex is very strong. I
don't feel I am in the middle of society, I am in the lower
part. Those people on the bottom disdain those people in the
mainstream. A movie director from the "bottom" does not make
movies that portray mainstream society nicely. I make bitter
films. I hate mainstream society. As for the film about handicapped
people, the handicapped are "outside" Japanese society. When
you're making a film about people on the margin, if you don't
make a film that changes the way people think, well it doesn't
have meaning. There were lots of films and television shows
about handicapped people, but I wanted to make something completely
different. So I made Goodbye CP. As for Very Private
Eros: Love Song 1974, during the 60s and 70s there was the
revolutionary student and labor movement. This deeply influenced
me. I was wrestling with question of what I could do during
that era when I made Very Private Eros: Love Song 1974.
In the case of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, well
in the history of postwar Japan the only man to throw pachinko
balls at the emperor was Okuzaki. And it wasn't that Okuzaki
just threw pachinko balls at the emperor and that was it; instead
he continued his actions. I wanted to understand this man's
You know Imamura
started to make a film about Okuzaki, for television. Imamura
has made a series of documentaries about soldiers of Pacific
War. You know there are many soldiers who went off to war, survived,
but did not return to Japan. Imamura made a television series
about these men. In the middle of this series, Imamura started
to film Okuzaki. But you know that there are many emperor system
taboos in the mass media, so Imamura couldn't do it. When I
took over making a film about Okuzaki,
no companies would give me money, so I borrowed money from friends.
It was really a film that could only be made independently. I
had no money, but I had time and freedom. Time and freedom were
weapons to make a film about a taboo subject. The reason that
lots of people came to see my film was that I used the power of
time and freedom. It was a film that touched upon taboos, a powerful
Earlier you asked
me about action, well the action of my films might be how forcefully
I can show freedom in my films. What I mean by freedom, in other
words, there must be some pressure or resistance against it.
The reason that I want to break taboos, there was a movement
in the 60s and 70s to attack taboos, and I feel the need to
live up to that. This sense of the freedom to break taboos,
this emancipation, helped me to start making films. I would
like to express that type of freedom in my movies.
you detail more how you were influenced by the demonstrations
of the 1960s? What demonstrations did you participate in?
you see, I did not go to college. I did not participate in the
demonstrations. I was on the outside looking in. Among the people
who participated, there are those who "quit" and those who did
not quit. Some entered publishing or the movie industry. The
movement is not dead, but many people regret that the movement
was a failure. The sense of failure among those who participated
was strong. But I was not directly involved, so I don't have
this feeling of failure; I was always looking in from the outside,
thinking to myself, "how wonderful." The 60s and 70s continue
to shine in my mind.
The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On been shown on Japanese
it be shown in the future?
producers have seriously considered showing it, but it never
happened. Maybe it will not.
it is a film about the emperor system, about Okuzaki, a movie
about the man who shot pachinko balls at the emperor.
does the pressure not to have the film shown come from?
the television executives themselves.
about from the right-wing groups?
them too, a little.
one hears the word documentary film, one thinks of educational
films that strictly attempt to chronicle actuality, but your
films, they are called documentaries, but they really resemble
action drama films.
Hara: This relates to fiction and reality. Life is acting.
There are two sides to people. The person one wants to be, and
the person one is. I want the people in my movies to act the way
they want to be. With Okuzaki, we discussed before-hand how we
would make the film. I found out about the execution incidents
first. Movies must have good and evil, bad men and heroes. It
is like Batman and Superman. It was the same with Okuzaki, he
needed an opponent. In this way, I like to make dramatic movies.
I feel strongly about this, more than other directors. I love
Hollywood action films, and I wanted Okuzaki to act like an action
star. I want to make action documentary films.
It was the same thing
with Takeda Miyuki. She said she wanted to go to Okinawa. It
was difficult for her to give birth by herself. Nobody had ever
shot a movie of someone giving birth, so she wanted to do it,
and I agreed to film it. That shocked a lot of people. I am
not the type of director to shoot something just happening [like
a demonstration], but rather I like to make something happen
and then shoot it. For this reason, I haven't yet filmed, as
someone "objectively" looking in from the outside, a workers'
movement, for example. Whenever there is a camera, people are
conscious of it.
has the success of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On
facilitated making your next movie?
the receipts from the film showings of The Emperor's Naked
Army Marches On, I was able to repay all the money I had
borrowed. And with the commissions from video rentals of the
movie, I am making the film about Inoue.
English translation of your most recent movie, Yukiyukite
shingun, is The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On.
This would seem to be a mistranslation. How did this misleading
translation get tagged to your film?
Kojin said he likes the Japanese title, but hates the translation.
To tell you the truth, when it became necessary to attach an
English title to the movie for international showings, well
this was also the time that I wanted to make a 35mm print from
the original 16mm print. This is a very expensive process, 3000000
Yen [about $22,000]. So I asked the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute
for a grant. They said they would give me the money. There was
a nice old man there who had been helpful to me, and he said,
"I'll think about an English title for you." You see, well in
Japan you know, I just couldn't refuse. It was in this way that
the English title was attached. It's a little embarrassing.
The sense is different in English than in the original Japanese.
At the time, however, I didn't understand that--I had not yet
been abroad, you know. The character "shin" is very difficult
to translate; one might say God but that is not exact sense
in Japanese. The English title suggests that Okuzaki continues
to fight for the emperor. At the time, it seemed like a title
that foreign audiences could understand. This is what the man
who attached the English title insisted. At the time, I agreed.
The title is ironic, but it turned out well.
Ruoff: Do you feel that your film, on the international
scene, was sometimes treated as exotica?
In Berlin, in Paris, in New York, just like in Tokyo, it was
possible to predict who would love this film, and who would
hate it. Along the same lines, there were people who liked Okuzaki
and people who found him distasteful. The division is generally
the same, wherever the film is shown.
By the way, Okuzaki
is a very argumentative person, he was always fighting with
the staff. Some of the younger staff members quit. I, too, really
came to dislike Okuzaki. He was chaotic. In the movie he sounds
logical only because of skillful editing. The way he speaks
is often incoherent. I thought people would hate the movie.
I thought it would be nice if two out of ten people who saw
the movie liked it. I never thought so many people would see
the movie and like it.
would you respond to criticism that it was immoral for you to
film Okuzaki beating up old men? Some people would say that
you should have stopped filming to intervene.
I should have intervened. It was really a case by case decision.
He wasn't killing anybody, just scuffling. You know, when we
were filming, we never knew what Okuzaki was going to do. He
is frightening. Remember when Okuzaki attacked Yamada, the old
man, that was frightening. I had a little feeling that I should
stop filming. But within the minds of movie makers, there is
a feeling that the filming must go on, when one is behind the
camera, you know. If I had not been holding the camera, it might
have been another story. A person with a camera thinks he must
film. In the Yamada scene, one of the younger staff members
asked me if he should stop it, and I said no. Why? First, because
I was afraid to get involved. And second I thought the filming
should go on. Somewhere in my mind I thought it was alright
not to stop it, but I really don't know what I would have done
if, for example, Okuzaki had had a knife or a gun. Perhaps I
would have thought it necessary to intervene.
Ruoff: I understand
that Okuzaki came to you and asked you to film him kill someone.
was a very delicate problem. I had to decide if I should film
it or not. I still have not made up my mind. One reason that
I didn't film it is that I had become really sick of Okuzaki.
I might have filmed it. Human beings have dark sides, and people
want to see something frightening. People want to see the evil
side of people. A little bit of me says I would like to see
it. I went to speak to Imamura Shohei. His opinion was really
different. He told me not to do it. But the real reason that
I didn't film it was that I was fed up with Okuzaki.
Ruoff: You have been quoted as saying that, with The
Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, instead of wanting to make
a movie about the war, you wanted to make a movie about the present.
In what ways did the film accomplish this?
I wanted to do was trace how the war survives in Japanese society
today. The postwar democracy began in 1945, the year I was born.
Our values of the postwar democracy are always in question.
I wanted to see what the war continues to mean to my parents'
generation, how it affects their lives today. I wanted to see
what had changed, and what had remained the same. Military "organizations"
continue to exist today in Japan. The Nanking Massacre, the
experiments conducted on humans by Unit 731, etc., even among
the victims, there are few people willing to talk about such
events. Why? The war is over, so why don't they talk about it?
Because the war values continue to exist in Japanese society.
I wanted to film the segment of Japanese society that still
maintains values of the wartime era.
you be making other films related to the war?
Hara: I have
plans for few films, I am doing some preparation now. You know
the Burma-Siam railroad made famous by the movie Bridge on
the River Kwai, well, there were thousands of Asians who
died constructing that railroad. I'm thinking that I should
make a film about that next year or the year after--it will
take several years to finish.
is true that The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, even
for Okuzaki's indictment of the emperor and its taboo-breaking
effects, is about crimes committed against Japanese soldiers
by their superiors.
true, its about what Japanese did to other Japanese.
how many people saw The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On?
not exactly sure, but including people who have seen it on video,
I would say that about a million people have seen it in Japan.
influence did it have?
film came out a little bit before the Shõwa Emperor died.
While this was by no means only as a result of my film, after
the emperor died the taboos surrounded the emperor system weakened.
I suppose my film had a small influence on this.
Second, this film
caused a great shock to people who work in television in Japan.
There were many people in the TV world who, after seeing this
film, were dissatisfied with their own documentaries and wished
to make ones that, like The Emperor's Naked Army Marches
On, are powerful.
Third, this film
was an inspiration to independent film-makers. After seeing
it, they seemed to think, "If my film is interesting, well it
will have an audience." It gave them hope.
Ruoff: How much did the film cost to make?
30000000 Yen. [$222,000 dollars at 135 Yen to the dollar.]
first movie-theater to show the film was the Euro Space, a small
independent theater in Tokyo. When did you first know that the
film would be popular?
before then. You see, in Japan, at the film laboratories, there
are small showing rooms, places where about 25 people can see
a film. The first time I showed it I asked about four or five
people to attend. The next time there were about five or six
people. And then my phone started to ring--it was people requesting
to see the film. This was in August, 1986. The thing that astounded
me about the people who saw the film, well they were mostly
young people, and they laughed and laughed. I wondered what
they found so funny. And my phone continued to ring. Almost
everyone who saw the film had the same worry--that the right-wing
would come. They warned me to be careful. Much to my amazement,
I was awarded the New Director Prize by the Directors Guild
of Japan at the end of 1986. There is always a ceremony for
that. It was held in a hall in Ginza owned by the Asahi Newspaper
Company, in the area where the DaiNippon Aikokutõ conducts
daily activities. I was worried about the right-wing,
so I hired six strong young men--guards for the ceremony.
In early 1987, the
Euro Space theater offered to show the film. By this time, however,
I was wondering if some of the large companies, like Iwanami,
Shochiku, Tõhõ, or Seibu, would show it. I went
to meet their representatives. For example, the Shochiku people
told me that they would like to show the film, but if they did
the right-wing would visit them, that they would protest with
their sound-trucks in front of the theaters. They all said the
same thing--we'd like to show it, but we can't.
The Euro Space was
also worried that the right-wing would come. Previously, the
Euro Space had had an incident where members of a right-wing
group came and threw eggs, etc., at the screen. They agreed
to show it all the same, and the right-wing did not come. Well,
there was one incident where members of a right-wing group came
to see the film in Kyoto in the fall of 1987. The film was shown
in a hall for about three days. I was told that when the right-wing
members emerged from the film, they were afraid. I was told
that they bought Okuzaki's book, and said they understood his
distributes the film in Japan?
Hara: We do,
did the various political parties react to the film?
Communist Party, in its newspaper Akahata, criticized
the film. Newspapers connected to the Japan Socialist Party
supported, recommended the film. The Liberal Democratic Party
had no comment, nor did the imperial household agency.
about Veteran's Associations?
Hara: There were some veterans who sympathized with Okuzaki.
about left-wing intellectuals?
Kojin, the sixties generation, people conscious of the emperor
system, all these people were, I think, shocked by the film.
You see, Okuzaki threw pachinko balls at the emperor.
But intellectuals, you know, they debate ideas, but they can't
do anything. There were many of these people who were
shocked by the film.
for Very Private Eros Love Song 1974, why would you make
a movie about private family life?
Hara: In the
sixties and seventies, there was a feeling that if the individual
did not cause change, nothing would change. At the time, I wanted
to make a movie, and I was wondering how I could make a statement
for change. At the time, there was much talk of familial imperialism
[kazoku teikokushugi]. One of the strong sentiments of
the time was that familial imperialism should be destroyed.
I thought that if I could put my own family under the camera,
all our emotions, our privacy, I wondered if I might break taboos
about the family.
Masaharu called you a masochist after you made Very Private
Eros Love Song 1974. Could you comment on this?
the subject of my film was perceived to be stronger than I,
as Takeda Miyuki [the main character of Very Private Eros
Love Song 1974] was, I was called a masochist; when the
subject was perceived to be weaker, I was called a sadist. Instead
of being a masochist or a sadist, I would say that the nature
of documentary filmmaking is that the director puts himself
in various situations.
was the movie received?
well. One funny thing was that the birthing scene, well it seemed
to be the women who felt uneasy about the scene, they sometimes
got up and left. The men, however, had no chance at that time
to see a baby born, so they came to see the film, and watched
the birthing scene spellbound.
At that time, among
men who saw the film, there were those men who thought, "My,
that Takeda Miyuki is some woman," and others who thought, "I
can't stand that woman." As for women who saw the film, well
there were those who thought, "I'd like to do the same type
of things as Takeda Miyuki," and others who thought, "Her life
is not for me."
sound and picture are not synchronous. Why?
Hara: I was
very poor at the time. I could not afford a camera that would
do the sound with the pictures.
Ruoff: I understand
that your film Sayonara CP caused quite a stir when it
Hara: In Japan
we say that dirty things should be hidden away. This was the
prevailing sentiment about handicapped people in the early 1970s,
when I made the film. What I wanted to do with the film is show
exactly what people did not want to see, to expose the hidden.
It is difficult to look at handicapped people's bodies, for
example, so that's what I wanted to show.
There was Yokota
Hiroshi, the main character. He is a poet. The interesting thing
about this film was that his wife finally said that she would
divorce him if I did not stop filming. I was called a sadist
for filming "weak" people. People asked me why I was making
such a film. Why did I make such a film? Before in Japan, you
know we had the four-class system [samurai, peasants, artisans,
merchants], now that is not the case. But today, where do the
handicapped people fit in? Or the burakumin? At the very
bottom. How do you change this? By changing their negative image.
With this film, my end-goal was clear from the beginning.
influence did it have?
much in the film world, but among people working in social services,
it was deeply influential. I can say with confidence that it
changed the way social service people thought about the handicapped.
I was repeatedly asked to come and speak about handicapped issues.
The movie was my contribution, however. To this day, the film
continues to be shown, for example, to college freshmen to make
them think about treatment of the handicapped.
made three films. With the first film, you clearly understood
your end goal, but with the others?
No. There is a common thread, to change the world. With the
other films, I had much less of an idea how the story would
develop, but even this was true with the first one as well.
For example, the wife of Yokota turned against the project--this
became a drama that I had not expected. Still, the common thread
of change runs through all three; this was the spirit of the
sixties and seventies.
Dans son entretien
avec Ken Ruoff, Hara Kazuo, le réalisateur paria du Japon,
décrit le tournage de ses films ainsi que les réactions
que ceux-ci provoquent. Il explique son style de réalisation
"en équipe" et parle du rapport dialectique
entre réalité et artifice dans le cinéma
documentaire. Hara exprime sa volonté de faire du cinéma
dit d'action, d'opter pour des films fortements narratifs, de
tourner des scènes dramatiques avec des personnages confrontés
à des situations difficiles. Il va jusqu'à citer
Superman comme modèle cinématique. Renégat
soixante-huitard, Hara rend hommage aux mouvements révolutionnaires
de sa jeunesse, et justifie son engagement dans un cinéma
qui remet en question tabous sociaux et vérités