EVENT / MEET THE AUDIENCE / HIGHLIGHT | 27/03/2018
A headache for politicians, yet a critical voice for the marginalized, Hara Kazuo has generated a series of shocking documentaries challenging the mores of postwar Japan through stark, revelatory modes of presentation. His latest work, Sennan Asbestos Disaster, documents the struggle and suffering of asbestos workers in their long battle against the government. In his Master Class on 25 March at the Hong Kong Arts Centre Cinema, the director discussed his highly original approach to filmmaking.
Originally a photographer, Hara’s leap into outlaw filmmaking was actually inspired by a woman—more precisely, he recalled, a beautiful and charming young girl who came to his photo exhibition and asked for his help in making her first documentary. That girl later became his wife.
In the next 30 years, Hara’s acclaimed output includes The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987), which stunned audiences with its highly critical and controversial approach. His subjects—in particular, the World War II veteran Okuzaki Kenzo—are known to be strong, provocative figures who dare to challenge society in radical ways. In the last decade, however, Hara said he could no longer find such people. “The era has changed,” he said. “In the Showa period [the reign of Emperor Hirohito], those hard-boiled people had room to survive, but today they no longer exist.” Hara attributed this to the Japanese government’s increased power to control and suppress its citizens.
For a decade after his film The Many Faces of Chika (2005), Hara was unable to find a suitable subject. When a TV station approached him about the asbestos disaster, he hesitated at first because he was uncertain if the subject matter would make an interesting film. Unlike his previous characters, the asbestos victims are just ordinary people. When he reached out to them, he found it odd that these victims showed no anger. He thought: “How can they be so polite in requesting for compensation and justice? Shouldn’t they strongly denounce their oppressive government?” He couldn’t help coming out from behind the camera and urging them to take stronger action.
Though he has been known to wield the camera as a tool of righteous aggression, in Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Hara’s camera is more observational and reactive. Why such a change? Hara stressed that he still treats his camera and body as one: the lenses are his eyes. Through his camera, he stares into his subjects’ state of mind, grasping and reflecting their emotions and desires often before they recognize them themselves.
This time, however, he encountered some difficulties. These ordinary people did not let him in. They kept their privacy, not disclosing their inner thoughts. “I wanted to get close to them, yet I’m aware of the violence of camera. I cannot disregard their feelings,” he considered. Yet, he endeavored to illuminate the 20 victims who joined the legal battle, and reflected how this eight-year struggle has changed their lives.
Though recognizing that people have become more indifferent to unfairness and injustice, Hara has resisted this urge. “I dare say that the Prime Minister [Abe Shinzo] is the worst since the Second World War,” he proclaimed. “He has destroyed the democratic system.” Even now, Hara remains dedicated to following his passions and tearing down taboos, shocking audiences with the naked truth.
Two more acclaimed films by Hara Kazuo will be screened during HKIFF:
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On: next screening is sold out; additional screening will be on 6 April at 9:45pm at The Grand Cinema.
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974: next screening is sold out; additional screening will be on 7 April at 5:00pm at The Metroplex.