The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

Although I am definitely not one of them, there are those who feel that in “Bowling for Columbine” Michael Moore ambushed NRA spokesman Charlton Heston (not yet diagnosed with Alzheimer’s). Like many “60 Minutes” segments, Moore’s documentaries have involved filming some unwilling participants refusing to answer questions. They do not, however, prepare a viewer for the outright assaults on unwilling interviews portrayed in the 1987 documentary directed by Hara Kazuo “Yuki Yukite shingun” (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On). The self-anointed instrument of divine justice and truth excavation, Okuazaki Kenzo attacks other survivors of the Japanese Imperial Army’s disastrous foray into Papua New Guinea.

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The extent of cannibalism by the starving Japanese 32nd Corps there in 1945 remains murky, and it is not definitively established that they ate “white pork” (that is, eating dead Japanese soldiers) or only in “black pork” (eating Papuan native peoples—one survivor comments on how difficult to catch they were). The distress of Japanese soldiers without any supplies at the end of the war has been powerfully portrayed in Ichikawa’s “Fires on the Plain,” and an attempt to relieve the sufferings of the souls of unburied Japanese Army corpses is central to Ichikawa’s great Burmese Harp.

After having served prison terms for using a slingshot to hurl lead at Emperor Hirohito and for distributing obscene materials picturing him, Okuzaki went after surviving comrades in arms with a documentary film crew in tow. The camera (and, so far as one can tell, crew) impassively recorded Okuzaki assaulting two of them, one just out of the hospital.

Without question, the country/society/government of Japan and former officers in the Imperial Army have not forthrightly addressed atrocities ordered down the chain of command (let alone countenancing many others). The frustrations of a veteran like Okuzaki who wanted the truth to be told are understandable, but assaulting frail old men and shooting the son of an officer he thinks has obfuscated his role do not seem to me to be defensible tactics (I can accept obscene representations of the Emperor, though the particular ones Okuzaki made are not shown in the documentary.)

The Emperor and many other Japanese were at least complicit with atrocities, but in my view Hara is complicit with attempted murder and aggravated assault as an accomplice of what he filmed. His presence and recording surely encouraged (/legitimated) Okuzaki (who hired the film-makers to film him. Their presence certainly increased the pressure to try to accommodate Okuzaki’s invasions.) And aside from the violence of one old man against others, the documentary shows Okuzaki instructing his wife and another man to impersonate siblings of two Japanese soldiers who were shot after Japan surrendered (for desertion or cannibalism or both). The film-makers are, thus, complicit with deception in the quest for Truth, too.

The documentary has no commentary, giving Okuzaki and his inquest complete control of the floor. What Okuzaki saw and did in Papua New Guinea in 1945 can reasonably be said to have driven him mad, but just as with the Mayles brothers “Grey Gardens” documentaries, I find “Naked Army” guilty of exploiting mental illness and encouraging crazy people in their delusions (in this case, that Okuzaki has a divine mission to force survivors to confess to murder). Okuzaki’s cheerfulness and extreme politeness when not involved in hectoring interrogations further unnerved me.

In terms of narrative exposition, what is going on is often difficult to follow. My initial sympathy for the righteous critic of the Emperor’s war crimes to horror at his self-righteousness may be what Hara wanted, and no commentary is necessary on an anti-war crusader who says “”As long as I live, I’ll use violence — if it brings good to mankind” and “I beat him because he didn’t treat me politely”—, but even if his engagement in Okuzaki’s crusade was entirely passive, I consider Hara (and Imamura Shohei who provided assistance to the film’s making and is listed as its producer) an accomplice in crimes—and one who does not have the excuse of having been driven mad by surviving in Papua New Guinea in 1945 (Hara was born that year).

The movie is disturbing and in my view unethical and perhaps criminal (an accomplice to felonies) in addition to dealing with the horrors experienced and the horrors perpetrated by Japanese soldiers not only during but after the official end of the Pacific War (in addition to the searing Ichikawa movies of the 1950s, the last of the Human Condition (Ningen no joken) trilogy directed by Kobayahsi Masaki recalls the long-term enslavement by Soviets of Japanese troops who surrendered to the Soviets, who had declared war against Japan all of a week before Japan surrendered; and Kobayashi’s penultimate film was a 5-hour documentary on the Tokyo War Crimes Trial).

The hand-held 16mm camera is very unsteady, so the visuals are sub-home-movie quality. There are no extras (and if ever there was a movie that cries out for some supplements, this is it!) This is also a film in which it would be very useful to have subtitles in more than one color, since there are a number of junctures in which I was not sure whose lines were being translated.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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