Thursday, May 29, 2008

Authorship in Kazuo Hara's Films

Thinking about The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On made me curious about Kazuo Hara's other films. Earlier this month I watched his two earlier films, Sayonara CP and Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, hoping to get a better idea of Hara as a filmmaker. I posted some notes on his style and themes at my blog - but now I'd like to address another characteristic of these films I put off from that post. This emerges, specifically, from some of Harrytuttle's comments here, that Okuzaki seems to be more important to the film than Hara. It's an interesting point - in fact, I think it is characteristic of Hara's approach.

His films are definitely about strong personalities: the poet and photographer in Sayonara CP, Miyuki Takeda in Extreme Private Eros, and Okuzaki, are all assertive individuals with their own agendas. But usually even documentaries about strong characters retain a fairly clear hierarchy of "authorship": the subjects (Bob Dylan or Mark Borchardt or the Crumbs) do their thing - the filmmakers (Pennebaker, Smith, Zwigoff) film it and shape it. The subject of the films may control their discourse - but the filmmakers retain control of the discourse of the film. But Hara cedes more control of the films to his subjects - he allows them to shape what is in the film, to comment on the film more directly. Okuzaki's crusade is a good example - along with his tendency to perform, to stage manage confrontations, to act violently (though always photogenically). And his control of what will be in the film - inviting Hara to film him killing Koshimizu is probably the extreme example, but there are others. Several posts and comments here have explored Okuzaki's "shtick", so I will concentrate a bit more on the earlier films.

In Sayonara CP, the Greenlawn group (an organization of cerebral palsy sufferers) has significant input into the film, shaping its content, and its purposes. When the film is endangered (the wife of one of the main characters, the poet, Hiroshi Yokota, demands he stop filming), the Greenlawn people are as adamant about continuing as Hara. (And a good deal more vocal - he just keeps shooting; they yell at Yokota, nearly get into fight with him.) Beyond this, both Yokota and the other main character, a photographer, are given extended scenes, and explain their ideas and hopes at length. Hara has spoken of his desire to show things that are hidden - the CP sufferers share this desire. The photographer says he began taking pictures because other people took pictures of him - "we can only be passive" he says - he wants to reverse that, to look, as well as be looked at. He implicates Hara in this - Hara was always photographing him, he says - now he wants to be the one with the camera. Yokota, the poet, has similar goals - to read his poetry in public, to make people look at him, listen to him, acknowledge him. He has a major speech at the end of the film - describing his hopes for the film, for a different kind of film, only to have those hopes shattered. He will always be helpless, he says - while Hara cuts between shots of Yokota sitting nude in the street and repeatedly trying and failing to stand. Whose idea was that? Hara's? Yokota's? Either way, it pits the image against the words in a way that, I think, that underlines the authority of the character in the film. Both of these men resist their appropriation by the film, at least by speaking about it directly.

Hara's second film, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, contains perhaps the most extreme example of this shared authorship. The film is a portrait of Hara's ex-lover, Miyuki Takeda - an extraordinary woman in her own right. The first half of the film is fairly conventional, as far as the relationship between Hara and Takeda, as filmmaker and subject, go - he shoots her, she talks, goes about her business - but the film is basically his. But in the second half the relationship changes. He films her giving birth - but this was her idea. We heard her plans earlier - she wants to give birth completely alone, with no help from anyone: and wants Hara to film it. That is what happens. She has the baby, while Hara films and his current lover records the sound. This scene is hers by any standards - she plans it, does the work (to say the least), and Hara just records.... This also tends to recast her activity in the earlier scenes - Hara tagging along as she went through the Okinawa underworld, trying to help the women there. Only at the end do we learn what she was doing there: by the end, seeing her efforts to create a model community, we see her as a far more active character than before.

Now - I don't think this in any way diminishes Hara's contributions to the films, and I certainly don't think it makes them less interesting formally than other documentaries. On the contrary - I think it makes the tension between the subject of the documentary and the maker of the documentary more explicit. It plays into the broader issues of control and independence found in these films, and often into their themes of revelation and repression - as all these characters in many ways seek to say and show things that have been suppressed. In this they are partners with Hara - though as well, as a filmmaker, he is appropriating their words and their images for his own purposes. They often, fairly explicitly, try to take control of those words and images back. It makes for a fascinating interplay.


girish said...

Sam, these are fascinating ideas about filmmaker and subject each controlling their own discourse, and 'using' each other for their own ends.

I meant to watch Hara's other films but didn't get a chance to. Now I simply must.

One more complicating element in this discusson of authorship: Hara's wife has been his producer on all his films, and though she's not mentioned much or at all in most write-ups on him, I read (in the Ruoff & Ruoff book) that Hara considers all his films to be essentially 'collaborations' with her.

weepingsam said...

If his wife is Sachiko Kobayashi - that's an interesting point. I suppose in a way, their collaboration is more typical - they are the behind the camera team... In the early films, especially, it seems to be just the two of them for much of the shoot - he's got the camera and she's doing the sound... though it's interesting that she is in front of the camera for a lot of Extreme Private Eros - in fact, she too gives birth on film - in focus even! I was curious about her involvement in these films - the credits aren't all that helpful, and it's hard to tell from what he says who she is or why she's there... she's a character in Extreme Private Eros - and you can see her in a couple shots of Sayonara CP...