Life’s Extremes: Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi’s Shifting Documentary Practices and Trilogy of “Living Dissent”

Reiwa Uprising

From June 4 to July 2, 2021, Japan Society’s retrospective “Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi” celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Shisso Productions, Hara and Kobayashi’s independent film company. What follows is an attempt to gauge their documentary productions across the decades, with an eventual focus on their three latest works: Sennan Asbestos Disaster (2017), Reiwa Uprising (2019), and above all Minamata Mandala (2020).

Introduction to Hara and Kobayashi

I wanted to explore how common people live their common lives and what kinds of experiences make them do radical things. Life before the extremes. What experiences radicalise you? That’s the meaning of my work.[1]

Kazuo Hara

I point my camera at people who are much stronger than myself, and by making documentaries from footage of these determined individuals, my wish is to reconstruct myself, train myself to become more courageous.[2]

Kazuo Hara

Since their debut work Sayonara CP (1972), Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi have made an indelible mark on and constitute a vibrant presence in Japanese documentary film. Subsequent to their above-mentioned debut documentary, they have gone on to make six more documentaries (plus one fiction film, The Many Faces of Chika [2005]), their most recent being Minamata Mandala. Seven documentaries in nearly forty years constitutes a sparse filmography, yet through these seven films Hara and Kobayashi have managed to chart not only the specific lives of those who are the focus of these works but also the shifting conditions, politics, and forms of dissent as well as documentary representation in Japan from the postwar period to the turn of the twenty-first century, and to contemporary times, precisely from the perspectives of the marginalised-turned-radicalised, by choice, by necessity, or a combination of both.

Sayonara CP

Sayonara CP’s focus on poets-artists afflicted with cerebral palsy, led by Hiroshi Yokota. Feminist-activist-sex worker Miyuki Takeda (and Hara’s first wife) in Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (1974). Asia-Pacific War veteran/survivor Kenzo Okuzaki who investigates the killings of two low-ranking soldiers in his unit immediately after the war and calls for then Emperor Hirohito to be accountable for the war and the lives lost in his name in The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987). Novelist Mitsuharu Inoue during the last years of his life through his Bungaku Denshu-jo (literature training schools) before succumbing to liver cancer. The community of plaintiffs who make up the Citizen Group for Sennan Asbestos Damage in Osaka, are living with asbestos-related illnesses, and fighting the Japanese government to be recognised and compensated in Sennan Asbestos Disaster. The group of candidates that represent the then newly minted political party Reiwa Shinsengumi, led by Ayumi Yasutomi and her unconventional mode of campaigning, combatting the decades-ruling old power that is the Liberal Democratic Party in Reiwa Uprising. And finally the community of aging plaintiffs in the surrounding areas of Minamata and the people who help them wage battles against the Japanese government to be duly recognised, legally and medically, as citizens whose lives and relationships have been damaged by methylmercury-related illnesses and disabilities, even across multiple generations, in Minamata Mandala. However disparate and specific these subjects are from each other, in time, place, trajectory, and/or body, together they explicitly present a unified front against the silencing of non-mainstream voices and perspectives in Japanese society, which Hara and Kobayashi have found to become that much more entrenched over the decades. All the more necessary and needed, then, are films such as theirs. If, as Hara states above, making films on these individuals and communities trains him to “become more courageous,” in turn, the films provide a different dimension, support, and platform for the social actors’ life conditions and struggles not only in Japan but also the world over.

With each subsequent film, the scope of the world in which the main social actors or community live and fight becomes much wider and interwoven and the methodology used by Hara and Kobayashi that much more collaborative with the social actors and hence intersubjective. Consequently, the runtime of each succeeding film becomes that much longer. This progression, as it were, is most evident in Hara-Kobayashi’s last three films, with the productions of Sennan Asbestos Disaster and Minamata Mandala beginning in the 2000s. If Hara and Kobayashi’s first four films are clearly marked by a single protagonist—over and above the relationships that surround or sustain each protagonist—their last three films indicate a veritable move towards the form of an “ensemble piece.”[3] Notwithstanding their distinct issues, Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Reiwa Uprising, and Minamata Mandala paint a dense portrait of the interlocking political, legal, and medical institutions operating in an increasingly restrictive way in contemporary Japan on the bodies of the marginalised, which the social actors staunchly resist to the best of their ability and resources. Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Reiwa Uprising, and Minamata Mandala also formally resemble each other to such a degree—and in contrast to Hara and Kobayashi’s previous output—that they can be regarded as a loose trilogy of what could be termed “living dissent.” From film to film, Hara-Kobayashi examine the conditions, politics, and forms of dissent as they are lived, nay, embodied, by the Citizen Group of Sennan Asbestos Damage, Reiwa Shinsengumi, and the group of Minamata plaintiffs that have filed collective or individual lawsuits against the Japanese state and policies of constricting conservatism. In fact, the shift from what Hara himself had termed “action documentaries” centered on a larger-than-life individual in word and/or action to slow-paced long-form chronicles of embattled families and individuals and underdog political candidates all engaged in decades-in-the-making David-and-Goliath struggles against the state explicitly delineate how forms of dissent have evolved since the 1980s—or rather, as Hara and Kobayashi would argue, how they have devolved.

For what partially accounts for the documentary filmmaking gap between 2017’s Sennan Asbestos Disaster and 1994’s A Dedicated Life (or even 1987’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) is the fact that for Hara and Kobayashi, such larger-than-life individuals could no longer be found on which to make a film in the first place. In an interview with Łukasz Mańkowski, Hara relates,

I kept looking for radical people like Okuzaki. But there were none. Societal oppression became more and more severe. I realised that times have changed significantly: from Showa [1926-1989], to Heisei [1989-2019], to Reiwa [2019-], to now. Society has less tolerance for radical characters like Okuzaki. I had no choice but to change my standards for choosing the protagonists of my stories.[4]

Despite the fact that the subjects of what I am calling Hara and Kobayashi’s trilogy of “living dissent” hearken back to 1960s-1970s documentary filmmaking, politics, and activism, the different socio-historical conditions in which they live perforce prompt a different mood and mode of activism on the one hand and different documentary approach and form on the other hand; hence the shift from “action documentary” to long-form ensemble piece. Hara has said of Minamata Mandala: “I can’t grasp the vast amount of details without the long form. Perhaps the image of endurance that I seek isn’t a sudden, violent eruption [anymore]. Instead, I want the subtle details to accumulate. I don’t see another way to do it, so the film emerged in long form,”[5] a description that also applies to Reiwa Uprising and Sennan Asbestos Disaster. At the same time, Hara himself has stated that as far as intentionality is concerned, Hara, Kobayashi, and their films remain the same, grounded in postwar documentary filmmaking debates and developments in which self-reflexive, confrontational, collaborative elements are at the forefront of their practice.

Hara and Kobayashi’s documentary filmmaking in context

Hara and Kobayashi’s “return” to documentary filmmaking with Sennan Asbestos Disaster put an end to a sixteen-year absence from the cinema circuits in Japan and around the world and it could not have come at a more opportune time.While post-World War II Japanese documentary film history remains an understudied realm within English-language documentary film studies, this lacunae began to be rectified in the 2000s, indicated most prominently by Markus Nornes’ diptych publications of Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima (2003) and Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary (2007). Such rectification is very necessary and ever evolving, particularly when set within the more prominent issues within documentary film studies, including ethics in the representation of realities of social actors by those wielding the camera; in short, the kind of interaction and power dynamic obtained between those behind the camera and those in front of it and how it can compromise “authenticity” and “truths.” Studies on postwar Anglo-American documentary filmmaking have been greatly anchored by the towering developments known as Direct cinema (in the U.S.) and Cinéma vérité (in France) and reactions to them in filmic and theoretical form, and rightly so, for the kind of shifts that they enacted regarding documentary approaches/methodologies to representing lives and situations, including the (porous) boundaries between public and private, collective and individual. By extension, these two developments explicitly prompted questions on precisely the filmmaker-social actor power dynamic and issues of potential exploitation of social actors and “in/authenticity” in the construction of said representations, among other things, all in the name of truth(s) and its pursuit.

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

Unsurprisingly, English-language studies of Hara and Kobayashi’s films are often set within this critical framework, especially since their first four films respond closely to problematising public-private boundaries and the laying bare and transformation of the private-embodied into the public-political (and vice-versa), with Hara situated as the pioneer of the ‘private film’” in Japan.[6] For instance, Adam Bingham writes, Hara “occupies a pivotal place within Japanese nonfiction for his place in a perceived era of transition and development from the political to the personal.”[7] Nornes has also written that “Hara’s work stands out for its intellectual vigor and constant provocation of privacy politics.”[8] Within Hara and Kobayashi’s first four films, fitting this framework to a tee are Extreme Private Eros (with Takeda incarnating the zeitgeist of 1970s identity and sexual politics) and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (with the physical manner in which Okuzaki conducts his personal investigation of the Asia Pacific War a prime case for documentary ethics).

While these theoretical and formal issues certainly pertain to Japanese documentary film developments both in the pre- and post-Asia-Pacific War periods, as mentioned above regarding Hara and Kobayashi’s films, postwar Japanese documentary in particular presents simultaneously a complementary and distinct trajectory to Anglo-American documentary film history. Though by no means a hard and fast rule, postwar Japanese documentary practitioners and debates were arguably less stringent about the pursuit of a crystalline, singular truth that the camera captures under certain conditions (technological as well as social) and more about multiple truths without necessarily being too concerned with the “oppositional schemes”[9] of filmmaker-social actor, staged-actual, public-private, collective-individual, and self-other, so that the films are always already gesturing towards the prompting of intersubjective modes of communication and realities from the conditions of the present, particularly from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. The films then are the sum of interactions and encounters between filmmakers, social actors, and the given settings in which they take place instead of a unidirectional representation of social actors in front of the camera removed from those behind it. Even as early as 1940, during the Asia-Pacific War, noted Japanese film theorist and critic Imamura Taihei emphasised the symbiotic rather than oppositional relationship between the subjective expression and internal consciousness of the filmmakers—and by extension the camera that they wield and point towards—and the external presence, agency, and will of social actors (with their own internal consciousnesses) as well as the environment and ever-shifting variables in which filmmaker, camera, and social actors encounter each other. As he writes in his essay “A Theory of Film Documentary”:

The idea that something is already expressed at the time one documents it creates a self-awareness and responsibility in all documentary filmmakers including those who make newsreels. […] Thus, news as an expression of human cognizance is not merely passive data. It is a document of reality as it is understood only through the documentarian, an expression of the object within the limits of his recognition.[10]

Imamura in this piece ultimately prioritises the filmmaker’s expressiveness over that of social actors, but the filmmaker’s intentionality as always already inscribed in the images captured and edited is a point that became further developed in the postwar period, with the more pronounced element of said intentionality ever reacting and adapting to the contingent as part of (and not an obstacle to) representing realities. As filmmaker-theorist Hani Susumu once wrote in 1960, “Whether we like it or not, reality exists and is always moving,”[11] which implies at a basic level the impossibility of a documentary film practice predicated on complete directorial control and objectivity. More often than not, as postwar Japanese documentary filmmaking progressed through the 1960s and 1970s, this constant movement that impacts on the filmmaker, camera, and social actors individually and collectively is readily acknowledged within the film rather than suppressed, with the filmmaker less preoccupied with opposing documenting to directing and more invested in the dynamics and realities that spring from their coming together, in direct collaboration with social actors. In this scenario, socio-political agency is pluralised and horizontalised instead of compartmentalised and hierarchised. That is, each element wields its own subjectivity and set of intentions, one not better or more powerful than the others, and all elements then interact with each other to constitute a work that captures such interactions over time.

Minamata: The Victims and Their World

In the ever growing English-language literature on Japanese documentary film history, especially the postwar period, Shinsuke Ogawa and Noriaki Tsuchimoto constitute the benchmark case for a more pluralised, horizontalised, self-reflexive, and socially committed documentary film practice, not to mention an increasingly communal one in the case of Ogawa Pro. Through their “Sanrizuka” and “Minamata” films, respectively, they make explicit whose voices, experiences, and perspectives they are siding and heavily collaborating with, yet maintain a distance in the sense of being careful about not appropriating such voices, experiences, and perspectives as one and the same as theirs. For “the formal break represented by Ogawa and Tsuchimoto was precisely the search for a style that foregrounded the intersubjective nature of nonfiction filmmaking by immersing the documentary process in social communities under siege.”[12] In interviews, Hara has acknowledged many times the sizable influence of both Ogawa and Tsuchimoto on his own formation as a documentary filmmaker (even to the point of considering joining Ogawa Pro). Though Hara and Kobayashi’s choice for their 1972 debut film was linked to Hara having worked at a centre for people with disabilities, one could also arguably link it to the period’s intellectual and artistic circles’ explicit use of the body as the site of iconoclastic struggle, protest, and expression, including film. For works of the time (and subsequently), “[i]n many cases it is not illness per se that animates the films but a figurative sense of people at the mercy of something much larger than themselves over which they have no control,”[13] which applies to both Sayonara CP as much as Tsuchimoto’s “Minamata” films. Significantly, the first of Tsuchimoto’s “Minamata” films was released just a year before Sayonara CP, Minamata: The Victims and Their World (1971), which accompanies and follows patients suffering from methylmercury poisoning and their lawsuit against the Chisso Corporation responsible for dumping mercury-loaded wastewater in Minamata Bay. Pushed further, this metaphor also applies to Ogawa’s seven-film “Sanrizuka” series wherein farmers organise and protest the confiscation of their lands and enforced relocation by the state to construct Narita airport, not to mention Hara and Kobayashi’s succeeding films detailing the actively physical lives-identities of Takeda, Okuzaki, and Inoue.

Alongside Ogawa and Tsuchimoto, however, Susumu Hani has grown in stature as to his role in “documentary realism experienc[ing] a sea change”[14] in the postwar era within this developing literature on Japanese documentary film history.[15] As Nornes wrote in 2003, “With their radical spontaneity, [Hani Susumu’s mid-1950s documentaries] mark an important stylistic and theoretical break in the history of Japanese documentary,” a break that, for example, influenced Tsuchimoto. Perhaps most importantly, Nornes further wrote, “we can draw a line between [Hani’s films] and the practices of Hara Kazuo some twenty years later.” This line between Hani and Hara may seem contradictory, given the largely observational and non-intrusive aspects of the former’s Children in the Classroom (1954) and Children Who Draw (1956), and thus unlike the templates later established by Tsuchimoto and Ogawa. Yet Hani presents an interesting case of finely toeing the line between capturing the contingent in the world and actions of the social actors and expressing or injecting his own perspective on the spatiotemporal moment that is like Tsuchimoto and Ogawa.

However briefly, situating Hara and Kobayashi’s oeuvre here in dialogue with those of Hani, Tsuchimoto, and Ogawa serves the dual task of charting the dynamic, interactive trajectory and specificity of Japanese documentary film developments and providing a more complex understanding of Hara and Kobayashi’s own documentary filmmaking practice, including elements of the private and personal, from the 1970s to the present. In a sense, what I am calling Hara and Kobayashi’s trilogy of living dissent expresses how they continue to be influenced by postwar Japanese documentary film developments and debates—indeed, with perhaps the exception of Sumiko Haneda, they constitute the last major figures of that period still working today—while modifying their practice in accordance with their social actors and social conditions.

I’m interested in knowing at what point in Japanese history the ability to be disobedient was lost.[16]

Kazuo Hara

Hara and Kobayashi’s trilogy of “living dissent”: Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Reiwa Uprising, and Minamata Mandala

Sennan Asbestos Disaster is a sprawling three-and-a-half-hour film eight years in the making that charts the case of a group of plaintiffs suing the Japanese government for disregarding the health dangers of asbestos manufacturing, which it knew about even before the Asia Pacific War yet still encouraged it. Reiwa Uprising is a four-and-a-half-hour film that centers on the ten candidates who make up Reiwa Shinsengumi and are running underdog campaigns for the House of Councillors election in summer 2019, despite receiving little to no mainstream media attention while amassing wide support from citizens. Minamata Mandala is even more sprawling with its nearly six-and-a-half-hour runtime structured in three parts and begins in 2004 through to the present day. The three films hinge on a combination of interviews (individual and collective), observational footage of everyday doings (public and private), and, in the case of the first and last films, extensive face-to-face meetings between patients-plaintiffs and their supporters and government representatives discussing the former’s claims and the latter’s responses. This loose trilogy of films exemplifies well how Hara and Kobayashi’s mode of documentary filmmaking still nods to their postwar beginnings and influences while tailoring film form according to the current historical moment of their productions. Put another way, if I am singling out these three films to comprise a loose trilogy, I also recognise that they operate according to impulses similar to those that drove the making of Hara and Kobayashi’s earlier output, which garnered them the label of pioneers of the “private film” in Japan.

Minamata Mandala

But the term “private film” is ultimately misleading regarding Hara and Kobayashi’s documentary filmmaking, for it connotes a confessional style of content often wedded to a fragmentary, expressive, and poetic form, which do not fully illuminate the workings of their earlier films and do not describe Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Reiwa Uprising, and Minamata Mandala at all. As such, the use of the word “private” for Hara and Kobayashi’s films needs some modification, which Nornes very lucidly provides: “for Hara [and Kobayashi] the very notion of private must be undergirded by a regulation coming from without, which is to say the dynamic between private and public is enforced through mores and social controls that penetrate and construct private space. This renders the binary opposition between the two terms relatively meaningless.”[17] In what I am calling a trilogy of living dissent, Hara and Kobayashi combat the privatisation of bodies, experiences, and perspectives due to illness, disability, and/or political views; in short, the silencing, shuffling aside, and marginalising of these films’ social actors by public organisations in league with private corporations and/or medical institutions. With these three films, Hara and Kobayashi follow the dictates of a “private film” in that their works make visible how filmmaking “is always a record of a meeting between the filmmaker and the filmed, between subject and object.”[18] But it also displays a more pluralised, horizontalised, taking-sides documentary filmmaking approach following the likes of Tsuchimoto and Ogawa in representing the personal lives and struggles of social actors. In the process, it makes clear how “the most private-appearing spaces are thoroughly raked by public systems and gazes.”[19] Most notably for the Citizen Group for Sennan Asbestos Damage in Sennan Asbestos Disaster and community of plaintiffs living with methylmercury-related illnesses, pains, and disabilities that continue to be unrecognised by various levels of government in Minamata Mandala, their bodies are at once their private, personal everyday as well as potentially public evidentiary vessel or site of legal-medical recognition of and compensation for their sufferings.

For these two films in particular, Hara and Kobayashi collaborated very closely with the patients-plaintiffs and figures from the legal and medical sectors supporting them in order to transcend limiting descriptions of the latter as victims. They live (in) dissent on a daily basis because of the constant rejection of legal and medical recognition, or put another way, social, legal, and medical negligence; even at times maltreatment of what they privately live in and with through their bodies as a result of exposure to asbestos and methylmercury. But the manner in which they demand recognition and express dissent or deviation from the mainstream is a far cry from Yokota in Sayonara CP reciting poetry or crossing the street naked in public, thereby confronting the general public with his body’s cerebral palsy; Takeda giving birth unassisted in front of the camera in real time in her apartment and confronting the spectator head-on with her body; or Okuzaki appearing unannounced at the houses of former military superiors and soldiers and, if pressed, assaulting them with punches and kicks into answering his questions to contribute to his investigation. What accounts for this difference in attitude and action is thus a tacit subject that cuts across these films, along with Reiwa Uprising.What Hara says of Sennan Asbestos Disaster in an interview applies just as well to Reiwa Uprising and Minamata Mandala, if not more so:

they have every right to be angry with the government and society at large—yet they, and Japanese people as a whole, have forgotten how to be indignant. I find this frustrating. [..] I feel the populace’s ability to express political criticism has steadily decayed. So, with Sennan Asbestos Disaster, my message is a call for public outrage.[20]

This difference in tactics between the protagonists of Hara and Kobayashi’s earlier films and those of this trilogy is addressed in an interview with one member of the Citizen Group for Sennan Asbestos Damage who tells Hara, “I do things little by little and do something big at the last moment. That’s my way.” Then, after some hesitation, he relates how his grandfather was once arrested for insulting the Emperor. To distinguish himself from such methods, he then says, “I don’t want to do any meaningless things. I want to follow the rules and win,” while later stating, neither with cynicism nor sadness, “I believe anger isn’t enough for us to unite.” Where has this anger gone? At what point did risking arrest and insulting the Emperor become a “meaningless” act and what led to it becoming so? Also highlighting this difference in tactics is the sequence in Minamata Mandala that begins with the revelation that a decades-old NHK documentary had a member of the production crew “play” a Minamata patient in silhouette, which illustrates mainstream media’s superficial manner of representing methylmercury poisoning patients at the time, and continues with clips from Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World. Hara and Kobayashi make a point to include the series of scenes documenting the decision of the patients and their supporters to attend the Chisso shareholders’ meeting, with the goal to talk directly to the president, to show the kind of fighting spirit of the past in contrast to the muted resignation and manner of dissent of more recent times.

Sennan Asbestos Disaster

Not to say that anger is not present in all three films, anger expressed by the patients-plaintiffs or political candidates in Reiwa Uprising, anger that Hara shares through his questions and comments onscreen, and anger that spills over to the spectator. The series of face-to-face table discussions between representatives from different government departments and the patients-plaintiffs in the course of one lawsuit after another make up a substantial portion of Sennan Asbestos Disaster and Minamata Mandala. They are intense, immediate, and engrossing sequences of exchanges between the powerless and the powerful, plain and simple, but wherein the former are able to speak their minds without hesitation and reprisals.

On a related note, as much as Hara and Kobayashi give up the frame to the social actors, Hara as an occasional on- and off-screen presence does not forgo or hesitate in expressing his feelings on a given situation that is unfolding before the camera or on the larger historical and socio-political context of the struggles. In Sennan Asbestos Disaster, among the plethora of interviews with those who have been stricken with pains, illnesses, or disabilities due to working in an asbestos factory from the 1950s to the 1970s, the one with plaintiff Mr. Eshiro finds Hara sharing his views on the socio-political factors that played into why this disaster was allowed to happen, to continue to happen, and to start getting media attention only after the 2005 “Kubota Shock” (the announcement made by the Kubota Corporation that numerous workers in its asbestos factory had contracted and died from asbestosis, which opened the country’s eyes to a long history of asbestos-related cancer and deaths). Hara asks Mr. Eshiro very frank questions about his cultural and national identity, namely whether he identifies as Japanese or Korean. While Mr. Eshiro interrupts the conversation by wondering why a question is necessary, as he considers himself Japanese, Hara from off-screen explains that, for him, there is a tangible link between the asbestosis epidemic and the Korean community in Japan, specifically Osaka, where there was a scattering of small asbestos factories in Sennan and whose employees often came from very small towns. Though Mr. Eshiro disagrees with Hara’s line of thought, he unwittingly affirms this link when he states that a lot of Koreans worked in asbestos factories because there were no other jobs available to them. Mr. Yuoka, founder of the citizen group, also contributes to the conversation by confirming that a large number of Koreans did work at asbestos factories because such “dirty” and “demeaning” jobs were relegated to them and went hand-in-hand with discrimination. Such a link is in fact elaborated throughout the film, explicitly or implicitly, primarily through interviews that reveal a handful of the plaintiffs’ family histories involved moving from Korea to Japan after the Asia Pacific War or the Korean War, and a delegate of plaintiffs even travels to South Korea to meet with those who are also afflicted with asbestos-related respiratory illnesses.[21]

Another instance occurs in Minamata Mandala: when a majority vote at the Shiranui Patients Association general meeting accepts an out-of-court settlement, Hara does not refrain from bluntly sharing his perspective with a couple who were against accepting the monetary settlement that ended the lawsuit: “It looks to me like they’re selling their souls for a measly 2.1 million yen. […] Is that right to sell off their anger, human dignity and souls just like that?”

Minamata Mandala

Despite the constant frustration, irritation, anger, even despair, alongside physical suffering, Sennan Asbestos Disaster and Minamata Mandala are also filled with formidable family and community ties, with hearty memories of the land and conviviality. On many occasions, scenes contain all of the above, all at once. In this way, while recognising their victimhood, neither the patients-plaintiffs nor their families define themselves solely as victims (and neither do Hara and Kobayashi). Hara’s casual interviewing style of the patients-plaintiffs in both films generates a rather comfortable, even affable openness in the interactions, with Hara and/or amongst themselves. A most poignant illustration of all of the aforementioned elements is the sequence with Ms. Sakamoto, a fetal Minamata patient, in Minamata Mandala. She is first seen early in part one during the Kansai lawsuit face-to-face meeting with the governor of Kumamoto Prefecture. But in part three is a sequence devoted to her through interviews with her and/or several of the men with whom she has fallen in love during her lifetime, all of which have been unrequited. This sequence operates like a flashback to the musical performance of a song whose prize-winning lyrics she had written, with her onstage alongside the musicians at a music festival. When the “flashback” concludes, the camera captures Ms. Sakamoto in a sustained close-up whilst the line “I will walk along this path” is heard. In its frankness, intimacy, interiority, and being public all at once, framed within the neverending fight for recognition of one’s illness or disability, this sequence encapsulates the emphasis on the dignity of both Minamata and asbestosis patients and of the forms of dissent that they choose and have become part of their quotidian routines, however frustrating and far removed the forms/processes may be from those of the 1960s-1970s.

We would be miserable if we didn’t fight.

Mr Kawakami, Minamata Mandala


Anderson, Joel Neville. “”Sennan Asbestos Disaster”: Kazuo Hara Discusses His First Film in 10 Years.” MUBI (November 21, 2017):

Bingham, Adam. Contemporary Japanese Cinema Since Hana-Bi. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Susumu Hani, カメラとマイク : 現代芸術の方法/Kamera to Maiku: Gendai geijutsu no hoho.Tokyo: Chuo Koronsha, 1960.

Imamura, Taihei, translated by Michael Baskett. “A Theory of Film Documentary,” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 22, Decentering Theory: Reconsidering the History of Japanese Film Theory, (December 2010): 52-59.

Jacobs, Ken. “Kazuo Hara by Ken Jacobs.” BOMB Magazine 147 (May 29, 2019):

Jesty, Justin. “Image Pragmatics and Film as a Lived Practice in the Documentary Work of Hani Susumu and Tsuchimoto Noriaki.” Arts 8, 41 (2019): 1-18.

Mańkowski, Łukasz. “The Violence of Privacy: A Conversation with Kazuo Hara.” Senses of Cinema 97 (January 2021):

Nagib, Lúcia. “Filmmaking as the Production of Reality: A Study of Hara and Kobayashi’s Documentaries.” In Realism and the Audiovisual Media. 193-209. Edited by Lúcia Nagib and Cecília Mello. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009.

Nornes, Markus. “Private Reality: Hara Kazuo’s Films.” In Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema. 144-163. Edited by Ivone Margulies. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.

[1] Łukasz Mańkowski, “The Violence of Privacy: A Conversation with Kazuo Hara,” Senses of Cinema 197 (January 2021):

[2] Ken Jacobs, “Kazuo Hara by Ken Jacobs,” BOMB Magazine 147 (May 19, 2019):

[3] Joel Neville Anderson, ““Sennan Asbestos Disaster”: Kazuo Hara Discusses His First Film in 10 Years,” MUBI (November 21, 2017):

[4] Łukasz Mańkowski, “The Violence of Privacy: A Conversation with Kazuo Hara.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lúcia Nagib, “Filmmaking as the Production of Reality: A Study of Hara and Kobayashi’s Documentaries,” in Realism and the Audiovisual Media, edited by Lúcia Nagib and Cecília Mello (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009), 206.

[7] Adam Bingham, Contemporary Japanese Cinema Since Hana-Bi (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 150.

[8] Markus Nornes, ““Private Reality: Hara Kazuo’s Films,” in Rites of Realism: Essays on Corporeal Cinema, edited by Ivone Margulies (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003),154.

[9] Lúcia Nagib, “Filmmaking as the Production of Reality: A Study of Hara and Kobayashi’s Documentaries,” 196.

[10] Taihei Imamura, translated by Michael Baskett, “A Theory of Film Documentary,” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 22, Decentering Theory: Reconsidering the History of Japanese Film Theory, (December 2010): 54.

[11] Susumu Hani, カメラとマイク: 現代芸術の方法/Kamera to Maiku: Gendai geijutsu no hoho (Tokyo: Chuo Koronsha, 1960): 202-203.

[12] Markus Nornes, “Private Reality, Hara Kazuo’s Films,” 160.

[13] Adam Bingham, Contemporary Japanese Cinema Since Hana-Bi, 150.

[14] Nornes, 152.

[15] For instance, see Marcos P. Centeno Martín, “Legacies of Hani Susumu’s Documentary School,” Arts 8, 3 (2019): and Justin Jesty, “Image Pragmatics and Film as a Lived Practice in the Documentary Work of Hani Susumu and Tsuchimoto,” Arts 8, 3 (2019):

[16] Ken Jacobs, “Kazuo Hara by Ken Jacobs.”

[17] Nornes, 154.

[18] Nornes, 157-158.

[19] Nornes, 158.

[20] Jacobs.

[21] Mr. Yuoka, in an individual interview, explains rather plainly how asbestos-related illnesses and deaths in Korea began as a result of Japanese colonisation, under which sectors of the Korean population had no choice but to work in the asbestos mine.