Iris: A Journal of Theory on Image and Sound, no. 16 (Spring 1993), with Kenneth Ruoff, 103-113.

Japan's 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 1970s.

After graduating 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 his writings.

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 in 1969--to


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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.

Ruoff: With 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


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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.

Ruoff: What will be the "action" of this film--what will appeal to an audience?

Hara: First, 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.

Ruoff: Shortly 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.

Hara: Before 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


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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, fights cancer.

Ruoff: I suppose that the end of this film about Inoue, how shall I say, the ending is already set, isn't it?

Hara: Ahh, 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 about him.

Ruoff: Are you referring to the women in his life?

Hara: Yes. 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.

Ruoff: Every 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 energy.

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,


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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 film.

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.

Ruoff: Can you detail more how you were influenced by the demonstrations of the 1960s? What demonstrations did you participate in?

Hara: Ahh, 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.

Ruoff: Has The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On been shown on Japanese television?

Hara: No.

Ruoff: Will it be shown in the future?

Hara: Some producers have seriously considered showing it, but it never happened. Maybe it will not.

Ruoff: Why?

Hara: Because it is a film about the emperor system, about Okuzaki, a movie about the man who shot pachinko balls at the emperor.

Ruoff: Where does the pressure not to have the film shown come from?

Hara: From the television executives themselves.

Ruoff: How about from the right-wing groups?

Hara: From them too, a little.

Ruoff: When 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.


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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.

Ruoff: How has the success of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On facilitated making your next movie?

Hara: With 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.

Ruoff: The 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?

Hara: Karatani 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.


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Ruoff: Do you feel that your film, on the international scene, was sometimes treated as exotica?

Hara: No. 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.

Ruoff: How 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.

Hara: Maybe 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.

Hara: This 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.


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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?

Hara: What 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.

Ruoff: Will 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.

Ruoff: It 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.

Hara: That's true, its about what Japanese did to other Japanese.

Ruoff: About how many people saw The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On?

Hara: I'm 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.

Ruoff: What influence did it have?

Hara: The 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.


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Ruoff: How much did the film cost to make?

Hara: About 30000000 Yen. [$222,000 dollars at 135 Yen to the dollar.]

Ruoff: The 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?

Hara: From 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 feelings.

Ruoff: Who distributes the film in Japan?

Hara: We do, Shissõ Productions.

Ruoff: How did the various political parties react to the film?

Hara: The 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.

Ruoff: How about Veteran's Associations?


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Hara: There were some veterans who sympathized with Okuzaki.

Ruoff: How about left-wing intellectuals?

Hara: Karatani 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.

Ruoff: As 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.

Ruoff: Saitõ Masaharu called you a masochist after you made Very Private Eros Love Song 1974. Could you comment on this?

Hara: When 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.

Ruoff: How was the movie received?

Hara: Very 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."

Ruoff: The 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 was released.


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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.

Ruoff: What influence did it have?

Hara: Not 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.

Ruoff: You've made three films. With the first film, you clearly understood your end goal, but with the others?

Hara: No. 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 historiques.

 

 


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