Between 1st and 2nd Avenues
This coming Saturday afternoon, Japan Society's Richie's Electric Eight: A Tribute to Donald Richie (1924-2013), Part 2 will feature this fascinating documentary about Kenzo Okuzaki. During World War II (or The Pacific War, as it's referred to in Japan), he served in the 36th Regiment in New Guinea, where conditions became horrendous, to say the least.
After the war, Okuzaki was in trouble with the law on several occasions. In 1956 he murdered a real estate broker and served 10 years hard labor. (Aside from his statement late in the film that he didn't want to kill the man he murdered, we unfortunately learn nothing of the circumstances of or reason for this crime.) In 1969, Okuzaki used a homemade slingshot to fire pachinko balls at Emperor Hirohito. For this he was sentenced to 1 year, 6 months of hard labor. In 1976 he scattered flyers with pornographic images of the Emperor, earning him a sentence of 1 year, 2 months.
Okuzaki was captured during 1944. Very few members of his regiment survived the war. Of those who did not, two died under mysterious circumstances, having been executed by a firing squad shortly after the war ended. The film is primarily a record of his efforts to learn the truth about what happened, and to get those who were responsible to accept their responsibility. This, at least in part, accounts for his enmity towards Hirohito, whom he blames for not apologizing for putting his soldiers in the position in which they found themselves.
His quest leads him to interview some of the few remaining soldiers who served in the garrison. When some are evasive or reluctant to answer his questions at all, Okuzaku is not above resorting to physical violence. A particular target of his is one Koshimizu, who had been the garrison's leader, and who changed his name to Muramoto after the war. Koshimizu becomes implicated in the execution of those two soldiers. He even may have delivered the coups de grace to the pair.
Okuzaki becomes increasingly violent during the course of the film and was once again sentenced to a lengthy prison term at the movie's end. Fanatical and self-righteous though he was, he managed to unearth things that speak of the lowest levels of behavior to which human beings are capable in their determination to survive, no matter what the cost.
ACF Rating: 3 out of 4 stars, solidly recommended.
Afternote: Okuzaki died at the age of 85 in 2005 in Kobe Japan, about six years after his 1987 sentence was to have ended.