Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

Article excerpt

Jeffrey Ruoff and Kenneth Ruoff. The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On (Yukiyukite shingun). Trowbridge: Flicks Books,1998, 58 pp.

This slim but admirable book focuses on Hara Kazuo's 1986 feature-length documentary. The film focuses on the efforts of Okuzaki Kenzo, a Japanese veteran of the Pacific War, to compel fellow soldiers to confess to atrocities committed in New Guinea in the final days of the war when the Imperial Army abandoned them to their fate and they were forced to resort to cannibalism.

Based on extensive archival research and interviews with director Hara, the Ruoff brothers-- Japanese Studies scholar Kenneth and film historian Jeffrey, whose thorough study on the landmark television series An American Family is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press-analyze the film's style, characters, narrative structure and unusual production methods, and place the work in a tradition of radical nonfiction filmmaking that includes such practitioners as Jean Rouch and Marcel Ophuls.

The Ruoffs also address the moral issues documentary filmmakers inevitably confront when they commit themselves to the principle that, in Hara's own words, "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."

However sympathetic we may be with Okuzaki's goals, we find ourselves appalled, yet fascinated, by the extremes to which he is willing to go. Relentlessly trampling on the letter and the spirit of the law like a Sipowicz run amok, he barges into the homes of veterans who are now old men and shamelessly bullies them. In perhaps the film's most exhilarating yet disturbing sequence -disturbing because it is so exhilarating-- Okuzaki confronts one frail ex-sergeant in his home. Not content to abuse him verbally, he physically assaults him, kicking and beating him so brutally that we find ourselves fearing for the man's life.

Okuzaki never seems to doubt his own righteousness. He sees himself not as punishing his fellow soldiers, but as helping them to free themselves from their torment by acknowledging their shame. …

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