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The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) NR 2h 2min

March 25th, 2009 by Maxim · 1 Comment · 11,691 Views


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A.k.a. “Yuki Yukite shingun”.

The plot: This documentary directed by Kazuo Hara follows Kenzo Okuzaki, a Japanese veteran of World War II, as he tries to seek justice – and vengeance – for the unexplained deaths of several soldiers in his regiment. Through research and finding witnesses, he tracks down former military officers to accuse them of war crimes. Although his methods are questionable, Okuzaki finds evidence of military atrocities.

The good: Although this movie requires a lot of attention to follow the movie and read English subtitles (the film is in Japanese), it’s very well made and quite gripping, actually. It begins with a wedding scene where Kenzo Okuzaki brags about his criminal convictions, including murder of a lawyer, spreading pornographic images of the emperor and shooting at the emperor with a slingshot. Okuzaki spent more then 15 years in total in prison or in hard labor camps. At the time that the film was shot, Okuzaki is an elderly man who decorates his van with anti-emperor slogans and embarks on a journey to find and punish officers who executed several soldiers from his unit.

There’s a great scene where Okuzaki actually wrestles and beats up one of the soldiers for his unfriendly attitude and the family calls the police. Perhaps out of respect or being intimidated by the camera-man, or maybe they think he is harmless and just crazy, the policemen are very gentle with him when they remove, or rather escort, him from the property.

When Okuzaki visits next witness on his list, he brags about beating up officers, a lieutenant and a sergeant, from his unit. He insults police officers who do nothing – because they are not allowed to get angry – when he tries to visit the jail where he was once imprisoned to build a model of his cell at his house.

It often seems that Okuzaki is a crazy war veteran, lonely and possessed with the ghost of war. It’s also interesting how religious all those people are. They all talk about spirits of their relatives and law of God etc. Really fascinating documentary. He’s a very strange man, at least to a non-Japanese person.

There’s another [very long] scene where one of the soldiers Okuzaki interviewed was explaining how happy he was (”I think God helped me”) that when they were ordered to execute two soldiers he pulled the trigger on his rifle but the powder was wet and the rifle didn’t fire.

One medic was describing cannibalism.

The best scene is when he shows up to accuse one of the officers of murder, and tells him him that by modern law he cannot be held responsible, but he believes he is still guilty and will get punishment from God. He invites the officer over to a place they had reserved, so the relatives of the victims can hear his explanation. He was very convincing – an old, sick and disabled man finally broke down and began to answer Okuzaki’s questions. His main argument being, “you are the only survivor of your platoon. You went through hell. You owe it to the young people, who through television think the war is heroic, to tell the truth about what happened to prevent future wars”.

Before leaving, Okuzaki apologized for the beating (police already left). “After all, violence is my credo”. “I am for violence when it leads to the greater good of humanity”, he later explains.

The sequence of titles before the final credits shows cut-outs from newspapers telling Okuzaki was on the run after shooting the son of the ex-officer involved in the murder.

This old man is really something!

The bad: Shaky hand-held camera plus subtitles make it hard to watch. The hero is not too likable.

The summary: “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” is a well-made and directed documentary about war. Gripping. Fascinating journey of a man for justice and vengeance 38 years after the actual events took place. A lot to reflect on. This documentary is a must-see.

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Rated 4/5 on Mar 25 2009
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Tags: DVD · Documentary · Foreign · Japan · Movies · War

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Cristine Alvero // Mar 26, 2009 at 3:43 am

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    Great post on this movie, I’ll try to check it out this weekend.

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