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“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” “Deep Red”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” Facets/Kino International, 1987]

“Kamikaze documentary” — that was the phrase used by more than one critic when Kazuo Hara’s bristling, intensely odd film “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” cut its slim but recalcitrant swath through the world’s theaters in 1987. It earns the label. Documentaries themselves are, in a way, the safest kind of movie — safely moral in concept, safely conventional in form, and usually unadventurous as a viewing experience. Unless you’re Werner Herzog (a veteran kamikaze), you’re most likely to make a non-fiction film about an injustice or social situation to which there are a limited amount of conceivable responses. As entertainment, docs can be safe to the point of tedium, never voyaging out into unknown waters or testing our role as viewers.

There are exceptions, of course, that tend to lodge in the memory because they exude the electrical charge of risk and danger. (I’m thinking Herzog, natch, but also “Winter Soldier,” Frederick Wiseman’s “Titicut Follies,” the Maysles’ “Grey Gardens,” the genuine war-in-the-streets frisson of Patricio Guzman’s “The Battle of Chile,” etc.) Life, as it happens, uncontrollable and chaotic, is the documentary’s secret, and too often unemployed, mega-weapon. So it is with Hara’s film, a rough-and-tumble chronicle of the present life of a sociopathic moralist as he dramatically confronts postwar Japanese society. Kenzo Okuzai is that rare animal — an authentic anti-authoritarian who, because he’s willing to lose everything, cannot be intimidated or daunted by social norms and laws. By the time filming begins, the “anti-emperorist” Okuzai already has a long record of domestic resistance (including publicly pelting Hirohito with marbles in 1969, a notorious episode in modern Japanese lore), and is now committed to uncovering an illegal killing during WWII while his platoon was stationed in New Guinea.

Investigating a murder that took place in the midst of the hellacious Pacific war of the ’40s has an ironic taste to it, but Okuzai is dead serious, and nothing stands in his way — demanding the truth be told, he routinely assaults and kicks his aging and sometimes ailing fellow veterans, who are naturally reticent to talk about 40-year-old crimes. He duplicitously presents his own family to the witnesses as survivors of the murdered soldier, and even pulls admissions of cannibalism from the old men. (They’re more relaxed about owning up to hunting the presumably more game-like natives for food; only when the Guineans proved too fleet and clever did the Emperor’s warriors resort to killing and eating each other.) Throughout, Okuzai carries himself with a bizarre mixture of polite Japanese stolidity and feverish anger; when the police deal with him (which is frequently), they are at a loss as to what to do — the man’s rampaging behavior, even if he’s responsible for very little damage to limb and property in the end, sets society’s fragile structures shaking. Of course, Hara colludes with his subject (the film crew gives Okuzai’s crusade a legitimate feel), and reportedly the megalomaniacal Okuzai attempted to take over the film at several points. It’s a film in seething flux from scene to scene — kinda like life.

Dario Argento’s is a more easily stomached style of frisson — the Italian horror-maven/style-geyser has been such a popular name brand among psychotronica fans that by now he may seem like yesterday’s news, or perhaps may be known only as Asia’s dad and as the director of the gorier episodes from Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. But go back to 1975’s “Deep Red (Profondo Rosso),” and you see what still fuels Argento’s reputation as Europe’s premier pulp wizard. A ridiculous giallo serial murder plot set in Rome, with slumming star David Hemmings (star of Antonioni’s “Blow-Up,” a fact hardly lost on Argento) as the wrong-man investigator-cum-target, is all you need to know about the film’s nods toward traditional “content.” The story turns out to be so baroque and hermetic that you end up just surrendering to Argento’s boggling visual density — the film is a moody, sadistic opera bouffe of swooping camera moves, infectious Old World atmosphere, compositional clues and nutsy set-pieces that don’t speak to the ostensible psychosis of the killer so much as to the obsessive imagination of the filmmaker.

“The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” (Facets) and “Deep Red” (Blue Underground) will be available on DVD on February 27.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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