In Okuzaki’s view, the war was carried out in the Emperor’s name and, ultimately, the largest responsibility lies with him. “I hate irresponsible people” he explains, “and the most irresponsible person in Japan is Emperor Hirohito.” He also mentions that he doesn’t blame the individual soldiers, but the people who put them in situations where they committed atrocities. While he also demonstrates a strong belief in personal responsibility, Okuzaki is unflinching in these views. In seeking to get the soldiers he interviews to confess, he states that “the public has to know the truth to prevent wars,” demonstrating that his motivations are not only personal grudges against the military system of which he was also a part, but that he truly hopes to stop further atrocities from happening by preventing war.
The picture that emerges of the events of the past however, do not necessarily fit together in a cohesive narrative. Though the documentary makes it seem clear that each soldier was involved in some way, they are extremely reluctant to speak about their experiences. Besides the fact that they are accused of murdering their fellow soldiers and cannibalism, there is also the further unsettling information that these events happened days after the end of the war. This, then adds to the apprehensiveness that these soldiers have of speaking about their actions. Thus, the audience must work with what bits and pieces of information they are given through the soldiers’ testimonies and attempt to piece together some kind of narrative. Ultimately though, whatever the viewer is given can never be considered the whole picture, in that what we are given comes from individual memory.
Another point that adds to the complexity of The Emperor’s Naked Army is that of the role of the camera. While the documentary may start out as seemingly in control of the situation, and the camera allows for a sense of safety for the viewer from the events being filmed, this quickly takes a turn as Okuzaki tackles one of the soldiers he is interviewing and starts hitting him. While the camera leaves us with a bit of physical distance, the audience is left in a stupor that has only begun. Later, there are even times when the role of the camera is questioned, and the issue of abandoning the camera for direct involvement with the subject is raised.
In one case, this occurs when one of the soldiers is willing to confess, but only if the camera is shut off. Ultimately, Okuzaki refuses, the camera keeps rolling, and the man does not reveal the information.
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Certainly, though this raises the question of whether or not the man would have confessed had the camera not been present. At the same time, the camera is already able to do a great amount of revealing, as pointed out by a conversation between Okuzaki and the soldier, Hara.
Hara: How do you think people who see this will interpret this? (indicates at camera)
Okuzaki: They’ll think you’re hiding the truth.
Of course, this is something that both characters hardly needed to state as they had already realized that this was the case.
Other various surreal moments occur, for example, when one of the soldier’s wives takes a picture of the camera crew as they film the interview. The film also highlights the role of fiction utilized in all forms of film, when Okuzaki asks his friends to act the roles of siblings of killed soldiers in order to more easily produce a confession from the commanding officers he interviews.
It is one of the final scenes, however, in which Okuzaki tackles and kicks a sick man for refusing to confess that mostly closely embodies the moral conflict of abandoning the camera to interact or to continue filming. “You just stand there and film while doing nothing,” one of the family members of the man cries, as she tries to restrain Okuzaki.
No matter how noble Okuzaki’s cause is, to make the horror of war known to prevent them from happening in the future, he ultimately compromises himself with his own actions. This is epitomized by some of his final words that “violence is justified if the end is good.” Okuzaki has become so entrenched in his own quest, that he has adopted some of the very methods that led to the system which he criticizes.
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, makes a number of contributions to both film and history and is an unforgettable work. The confessions recorded here, while painful to watch, are invaluable pieces of historical material. Moreover, the film renews the question of the role of the individual behind the camera and challenges the way in which documentary film is produced. Instead of offering any kind of definite conclusions, the viewer is left with a number of questions at the end of the film that might seem confusing and contradictory. What are we to make of the character Okuzaki or any of the narratives we are left with? How should we feel about the fact that the film only addresses the issues through the multiple lenses of a confused individual and the fragments of memory from personal soldiers who still wish to protect themselves? And most importantly, how will we react when the omnipresent guiding voice of the documentary fails us?