The Japanese documentarian Kazuo Hara‘s first film, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, begins with a black-and-white photograph of Hara’s ex-lover, Takeda Miyuki. The camera zooms in on the photograph, so that we make out individual pores, individual pixels. Then the title. This film — which screens tomorrow night at Light Industry, with Hara making a very rare U.S. appearance — is about the camera as a tool of obsession and possession. Fascinating and questionably appropriate, what follows is something of a necessary staking-out of the limits of the documentary form — we’re not, I don’t think, supposed to feel comfortable with the movie’s intimacy; the “privacy” implied by the title exists to be violated, with the subject’s obvious consent. (Hara couldn’t possibly anticipate the contemporary parallels; I hope somebody asks him about it Saturday.)Following the title card, Hara narrates the brief history of his and Takeda’s relationship over a montage of photographs of her – vacation slides and candids, with and without their infant son. He explains that he still sees her, though she’s left him. As Hara explains that Takeda has announced her plans to move to Okinawa, his voice-over accompanies a series of portraits of Takeda, naked and very pregnant with their child, facing the camera and in profile. And just as you’re thinking about that juxtaposition, and how creepy it is, to flaunt this intimacy just as she’s leaving, Hara admits, over photos of Miyuki not quite lost in a blurry crowd, “The only way to stay connected to her was to make this film”. To make a documentary of her life, so that he still has a reason to witness it, to be involved in it.
Unguarded, indecorous, transparent and impulsive to the extreme, Takeda is perhaps the ideal subject for a film like this. So Hara follows her through two years of impulsive decision-making and furious rationalization: her tempestuous platonic cohabitation with a blank-faced fellow single mother; her impregnation by an American servicemen; her fellow-feeling friendships with bar girls; her work and life at feminist mother-and-child communes. Constant is Takeda and Hara’s son, who toddles in and out of the frame and, seemingly, their awareness; and the edgy, overfamiliar camera and unsynced interviews and conversations (the sound set-up requires a second technician, eventually Hara’s new girlfriend, but before that he chooses video over audio when filming what seems to be a manic-depressive bout of make-up sex).
In the centerpiece of the film, a single eight-minute Takeda delivers her out-of-wedlock daughter on the floor of Hara’s Tokyo apartment, squared up to the camera. For Takeda the delivery becomes a source of earth-mother pride at her self-sufficiency; for Hara it seems to be a moment of cinecatharsis, though the shot is out of focus — perhaps he was subconsciously trying not to look at his ex having someone else’s baby? (Indeed, throughout the film, Hara uses the camera to try to gain entry to the perplexing world of women, permitting digressions into the lives of other women — go-go dancers, Takeda’s fellow single mothers and bar girls — that they, like Takeda at different moments, find variously empowering and intrusive.) For us in the audience, though, the movie, never more so than in the birth scene, is a moral confrontation, demanding that we judge whether the filming of an event could ever be as remotely as important as the event itself.
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 screens Saturday, May 9, at 7:30pm, at Light Industry, with Kazuo Hara in person. The film is available on a reasonably good DVD from Facets.