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Kazuo Hara’s The Emperor's Naked Army Marches: Critical Movie Review

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One of the uses of film as a medium for communication that we discussed in this unit is a way to convey unrest and dissatisfaction of people in a political context. Specifically, through The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, the documentary depicted Okuzaki’s deep and violent frustration with the political sphere of the aftermath of Japan’s World War II campaign in New Guinea. He sought closure for the relatives of those who died in the war but attempted to do so through self-righteous aggression and falsehoods. This theme of violence also makes an appearance in Shin Gojira, where Godzilla, though in contrast unintentional, violently destroys Tokyo throughout the film. And finally, in Tell the Prime Minister, we did not see any manifestation of violence to the same degree, but the collective frustration of people is still depicted through the use of film. And yet we do not know if this lack of violence as reported in this film is entirely true for the protesting that took place in regard to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

This segues into a topic closely discussed in class in regard to Tell the Prime Minister and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On: the matter of how realistic and how fictional documentaries can be. Even though the point of documentaries is to depict something non-fictional, there are at least two main factors that interfere with that ideal of reality. For one, footage is edited, and, as we discussed, the director may have had a particular desire to depict an event a certain way, so certain sequences might have more of a focus while other pieces are left out, and the order of that sequence also influences the impact of a message. For another, the presence of the camera as well as the film crew most certainly interferes. Those being filmed might be more nervous or more inclined to overreact. And the crew, as we saw in The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, are forgotten by the viewer as being a part of the group in the room or area until a “fourth wall” is broken when the crew is asked to help stop Okuzaki from attacking Yamada, or when Okuzaki speaks to them directly in the footage. In the end, there is an interesting paradox in documentary film of fiction and reality, where the intention is reality but the result is still fictional.

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Another interesting matter was the question of why Tokyo is typically chosen as a setting for Japanese films, in the same way as New York City or Washington, D.C., in many Hollywood films. These commonly used settings propose an intriguing notion of relatability for audiences. As discussed in class, perhaps viewers in the United States wouldn’t be able to relate as much to Godzilla destroying Tokyo. But if Godzilla, as seen in a recent Hollywood film adaptation, was destroying San Francisco, because that is a United States city, Americans may feel more of a personal impact. Furthermore, in that same vein, these cities can function almost as national icons in films, a sort of default to which viewers in that country can feel more of an impact of a film’s message. Regardless of the actual reason, proposals to reasons for this kind of setting choice gave rise to these fascinating opinions in class.

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