There's a moment in Kazuo Hara's The The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On that strikes a chord in my little Calvinist brain: the activist/war-veteran Okuzaki is trying to get into prison to measure a cell for his own home. Besides providing a neat foreshadowing of the ending, it clued me into the performative nature of his activities. Presumably, he wanted a life-sized cell so he could sit in it, demonstrate in it, and perform his protest. And it struck me that this was a very prophetic thing to do, in line with Israelite prophecy in the Hebrew scriptures.
Hebrew prophecy was not primarily about predicting the future, but telling the people they were disobeying their national deity (Y--h) and warning of his punishment. Here's a passage from the Hebrew scriptures, where Y--h is talking to the prophet Ezekiel: "lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it . . . When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side . . ." The bodily disposition of the prophet communicates the message of the Hebrew deity, which is a prediction of his punishment of Israel.
Okuzaki is certainly a prophetic figure: he simultaneously warns the public about their past behavior and interprets all the bad in their lives -- including his own -- as divine punishment. He justifies the decision to kill Kishimizu, the captain he believes to be at the center of a war crime, on prophetic grounds: "to prove divine punishment," he says, "I made a decision to kill Koshimizu."
The camera supports his enterprise admirably: as he interrogates his old army buddies, it noses around inquisitively, cutting from interrogator to "suspect" to the mute witnesses Okuzaki brings along. There is an element of exposé to his activities; he purports to expose the atrocities of war so that there are no more of them. Again, the camera suits this well: it follows Okuzaki as he "ambushes" his subjects. I thought for a moment I was watching Mike Wallace bust in on some hapless politician.
As Okuzaki's actions become increasingly extreme, we are implicated through Hara's steady glare. How much does Okuzaki do because the camera is there? How much does he do because we are watching? Under Hara's gaze, he does some questionable things: at one point, he enlists his wife and another to play the siblings of one of the victims as he interrogates a suspect. On two occasions, he physically assaults the person he is questioning; at one point, a relative plaintively asks the camera operator if he's not going to intervene.
I was uncomfortable watching these scenes, and reminded of watching Michael Moore browbeat a befuddled Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. There, the perpetrator and the documentarian were one and the same; the obvious sympathy of Hara for Okuzaki's cause makes me wonder if the same can't be said for The The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On as well.