Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media, with each month tending to focus on a particular theme. This month we are focusing on the films of Kazuo Hara!
A problem that often faces documentarians is the voyeuristic nature of their work. A filmmaker must take care in the representation of their subject, making sure that the footage shown is fair and not breaching the personal privacy of its participants. In his film Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (1974) Kazuo Hara throws this general rule out of the window, creating an intensely intimate portrait of his ex-wife, radical activist Takeda Miyuki.
Extreme Private Eros is controversial for a whole host of reasons. The film, made in the 1970s, depicts Miyuki’s sexual freedom with a frankness that is not to be expected from films from this period. The fact that Miyuki forges relationships with a woman and an American G.I. also caused the film to catch headlines. Miyuki, a radical activist, is completely unphased by any of this. She is one of the most fascinating documentary subjects ever put to screen, and Hara captures her life with a closeness that is hard to compare to other films.
Miyuki is also not shy in exploring the filmmaker’s own wife. A former couple, Miyuki is forward in expressing her views on Hara in terms of their relationship, himself as a person, and his films. The film takes on almost a dual subject, the top layer quite clearly exploring Miyuki and the freedom with which she navigates 1970s Japan. Then there is a secondary subject, the director and his life with and without Miyuki.
Extreme Private Eros is a film that tests the boundaries of subject and filmmaker, they begin to blur. Miyuki and her actions lead the filmmaking process, with the film almost taking on a similar structural format to Moby Dick – Miyuki as Ahab and Hara her Ishmael. The way in which Hara uses his handheld camera creates an often-claustrophobic effect, which makes us feel smothered, forcing the spectator to question the ethics of capturing someone’s life so intimately. This comes to a head in the famous climax of the film, in which Hara films Miyuki giving birth unassisted in his apartment. The sequence, which is extremely graphic, with only the blurring of Hara’s lens to disturb the images, though controversial, is seen by Miyuki as vital. The film to her is about reaffirming her independence, and expressing it as something that can exist, even under such conservative conditions. This was not an invasion of privacy, but a powerful statement against such things. If men are so concerned with what women do in their spare time, let us explore that to the fullest possible extent.
With Extreme Private Eros Kazuo Hara captures not only the fascinating life of Takeda Miyuki, nor the struggle for women’s independence, but the very essence of portraiture through cinema. The film is claustrophobic, often crude, and sometimes graphic, giving it a refreshingly honest feel for a biographic documentary even by today’s standards. Though controversial, it is precisely because of its almost invasive nature that Extreme Private Eros is still an important part of documentary conversations even to this day.
Image courtesy of Second Run