Hani Susumu question
Tue Jan 26 19:11:23 EST 1999
All of the films in your list are worth seeing! Desser and Mellon's Waves
at Genji's Door have decent discussions of the films, if you need to make a
tough choice. There's also a very good, lengthy special section on Hani in
Sight and Sound.
All of these films are important reference points for some of the 1960s
stylistic innovations that draw on documentary conventions. But just a word
on the early documentaries, which Hani made as head of Iwanami Productions
(which recently was discussed on KineJapan). These were bomb shells at the
time. They were the first documentaries (since early cinema?) to really
draw on cinema's ability to capture spontaneity through observation. In
fact, they represent an observational documentary a good half-a-decade
before Drew Associates, which English-language documentary histories cite
as the beginning of this form.
As Aaron pointed out, Hani and his cameramen used an unusual amount of film
and time shooting in classrooms...enough that the kids started ignoring the
crew and stopped censoring their behavior under the gaze of the camera. The
result is a remarkable sense of spontaneity, and a route to what's going on
in these young heads through gesture and visible behavior (as well as their
own artworks in the case of _Children Who Draw_).
These docs had wider foreign distribution than most feature films, although
it was through the educational film world. Even my own university (U of
Michigan) has a print of _Children Who Draw_, so it was presumably being
used here in the education school.
However, in the Japanese documentary world, the films had an enormous
impact. They helped change the course of documentary; in this sense,
they're necessary viewing for anyone interested in people like Ogawa,
Tsuchimoto or Hara. Up to this point, documentaries were highly scripted,
and used non-actors in pretty stagey styles of documentary realism. This
has a history in the 1930s and the translation of Paul Rotha's_ Documentary
Film_. This was where they learned Grierson's "creative treatment of
actuality," and over the course of a debate about what this meant
documentary styles settled into their use of scenarios, non-actors, and a
varient of Hollywood style shot on locations.
With Hani's films, all the other docs suddenly looked stagey and inadequate
reps of the world. They quickly became a club taken up by various people,
especially those aligned with the New Left, to point to continuities
between the wartime documentary and the Old Left docs and postwar newsreels
If you have the Best of Kinema Junpo set, you can read one of the first
examples of this comparison in a debate over a film called White Mountains
(Shiroi sanmyaku). This was a typical science film, but it caused an uproar
when it got out that they showed species unknown to that particular
ecosystem...as well as a stuffed bear! Hani's recently completed films are
drawn on to critique White Mountains and point in new directions (Hani also
contributes an article).
This is the context for thinking about Hani's leadership at Iwanami, and
the emergence of people like Kuroki, Higashi, Tsuchimoto, Tamura, Suzuki,
and Ogawa. Most of my friends in Japan appear to dislike Hani and his
films, and I've always wondered about this. I find the films quite good,
and undeniably important. Perhaps it's his television persona?
Finally, Jonathan asks a very interesting question. In this time when
sexuality was being used to progressive political ends, what's going on
with the child molestation in First Love? I think one place to start is to
note how the object of most of the violence in other films is women, while
Hani's Full Life and He and She have some of the more complex female
characters of the period's cinema....
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