Criterion Prediction #19: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On & Goodbye CP, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On & Goodbye CP
Year: 1987, 1972
Director: Kazuo Hara
Cast: Kenzo Okuzaki, Masao Koshimizu, Masaichi Hamaguchi, Riichi Aikawa, Hiroshi Yokota, Koichi Yokota, and Kazuo Hara
Synopsis: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On was a five-year project following WWII veteran Kenzo Okuzaki’s tireless conquest for the truth regarding the execution of his fellow soldiers in the later days of a New Guinea campaign in the twilight of the war. Kenzo Okuzaki isn’t your idea of a noble veteran; he’s a hot blooded anarchist whose fears no one. After serving a thirteen-year sentence for distributing lewd leaflets of the emperor, murdering a crooked real estate broker, and assaulting Emperor Hirohito with steel pachinko balls. An outspoken (putting it lightly) film condemning the Japanese system that orchestrated the second World War, Goodbye CP is a straightforward and poignant documentary following people living with the affliction of Cerebral Palsy.
Critique: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is one of those cases of truth being stranger than fiction; we know the atrocities of war, but many North American’s aren’t privy to some of the brutalities that the militaristic Japanese inflicted on themselves towards the end of – and in this case, after – the war. Kenzo Okuzaki, the driving force of this documentary is a force to be reckoned with. He’s not quiet, nor is he the slightest bit remorseful about his crimes, and completely unafraid to commit more. As we learn more about the actual story behind the alleged executions of his fellow soldiers the more we sympathize and understand his reckless temper and frustrations. An anarchist in the truest sense of the word, Okuzaki follows his own rules and is a human wrecking ball. His travels are engrossing every step of the way; Hara’s camera is at a remove and doesn’t seem to influence the behavior of its subjects. Morally we aren’t asked to sympathize or agree with Okuzaki’s violent tendencies, as well as his past. However, he’s seen the worst side of humanity and it’s impossible to ignore the influence of his past on his behavior; his anger towards the government indicates that he’s the product of the militarized empire. Politically charged and timelessly powerful, Hara’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is a singular experience. Before turning his camera to Okuzaki, Hara documented the plight of people afflicted Cerebral Palsy in Goodbye CP. This is a taught and resourceful representation, what Hara does is simple, his direct attention to these subjects is point-blank documentary filmmaking. We don’t sympathize with these individuals because of something the film does, and we sympathize with them because we are human. The title of the movie summarizes the most important aspect of this documentary, the marginalized and disabled are not accommodated; “Goodbye CP” is indicative of the overall experience, someone said “goodbye” to these people. They aren’t resting in a plush hospital bed, with their classmates, friends and family visiting, they struggle so much so that the simple asset of a wheelchair is looked upon as a luxury item. Hara is a documentarian like no other. You can’t specify or replicate the subjects in front of his camera; these are truly unique and compelling movies.
Why They Belong in the Collection: Japanese documentaries are limited to Antonio Gaudí and the long OOP film Tokyo Olympiad and given the amount of time it’s been out of circulation, I’m not going to hold my breath. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is an important film that exposes us to a side of WWII we don’t frequently see, or (for the most part) sympathize with in North America. The brutalities inflicted on Japanese soldiers towards the end of the war were immensely barbaric. Hara creates a WWII documentary on par with the likes of Shoah, Night and Fog and The Sorrow and the Pity. While the later isn’t featured in the collection (yet?), Hara’s film would expand a burgeoning subgenre within the Criterion Collection. Double features in the collection (The Killers, The Lower Depths, and The Hellman set come to mind) are some of my personal favorites from Criterion, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this. It’s not that Goodbye CP is a lesser film, it just happens to be a very fitting companion being another documentary from the same director. Furthermore, both of these films have circulated on MUBI, “A Curated Selection of Independent, International and Classic Films” and a partner of The Criterion Collection. Before Criterion’s Hulu Plus channel they distributed their VOD content exclusively through MUBI’s website. This matter of distribution doesn’t mean that everything streamed on MUBI is a candidate for a Criterion release, but they do orbit in the same system. Criterion specializes in a variety of culturally relevant films and these are important movies deserving of spine numbers; ergo, expanding a new and significant section in Criterion’s catalog. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is one of Errol Morris’ favorite films, his thoughts, and insight on the movie would make for an excellent bonus feature.