Thursday, March 1, 2012

REVIEW: Goodbye CP

さよならCP (Sayonara CP)

Released: 1972

Kazuo Hara

Hiroshi Yokota
Yoshiko Yokota

Running time: 82 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

For his first feature-length documentary, Kazuo Hara ("Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974," "The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On") focused his camera on a challenging subject: the day-to-day existence of individuals afflicted with cerebral palsy in 1970s Japan. The approach he adopted was unflinching and confrontational, using energetic, handheld camerawork and out-of-synch sound to follow a handful of people with the condition and portray them openly talking about how they live their lives and view themselves in a society that does little to properly help or accommodate them. At the very least, the finished film, "Goodbye CP," does the job of opening people’s eyes to these marginalized beings as it opts to not just reveal and inform, but also actively get the viewers to question their personal thoughts and feelings on this issue.

The film’s main subjects belong to the Green Lawn Movement, an organization started and maintained solely by the disabled themselves. In an early scene, a group of them assemble on a busy sidewalk, call for donations and voice their views through a bullhorn. On the soundtrack, passersby are interviewed, some claiming to be genuinely moved by those less fortunate than themselves, some saying that they feel strongly about such social issues, one woman tellingly proclaiming her belief in institutionalization and confidently stating that her own child has remained in a facility for five years. Onscreen, we see children coaxed by their parents to drop coins into the donation box. Afterwards, one of the Green Lawn members explains that they maintain no saccharine illusions about the whole situation. “We’re the object of pity for them,” he says, adding that charity given out of mere pity is better than nothing at all. Hara goes several steps further in allowing these people to represent themselves as self-aware human beings in a lengthy passage in which many of them talk about their sexual experiences, most of which sought out in red light districts. As the stories bring forth awkward and even horrific details (one man confesses to having raped a girl during his time spent in a gang), one can barely help but wonder whether Hara is going a little too far in pushing his audience’s buttons. But then again, this is very possibly one of the only occasions in which the afflicted individuals have had an attentive ear to receive such personal confessions.

However, there are certain points when disagreements over the film and the consequences of its production arise – particularly in a sequence that occurs in the home of one of the main subjects, Hiroshi Yokota. His wife (also afflicted with cerebral palsy) doesn’t approve of his habit of moving around on his disfigured knees instead of in his wheelchair while being filmed, and threatens to leave him if he continues to do so. The other members of the Green Lawn Movement are present to insist that Hara continue making the film despite his hesitations. Yokota’s wife becomes so agitated by the camera’s presence that she confronts it and urges Hara to leave. Such moments make it clear that Hara is involved with far more than simply the completion of a film. Rather, he is delving into a certain group’s closely guarded notions of image and self-respect – things that are given fresh dimensions of depth through his methods, despite the friction they evidently created during filming.

There are many episodes in "Goodbye CP" that fully allow the subjects to speak out against those who would swiftly ignore or discriminate against them. One man persistently wields a camera and takes pictures of passing people, responding to their scrutinizing gazes with his snapshots. Towards the end of the film, Yokota attempts to hold a public poetry reading, drawing a chalk circle around his crippled form on the pavement and reciting a piece pointedly entitled “Legs” to the crowd gathered around him before the event is broken up by authorities who see it as nothing more than “a freak show.” A little later, Yokota is shown completely naked in the middle of an empty road, looking directly at the camera. All of these moments – not to mention the close attention devoted to the afflicted persons’ strained gestures and speech – stand out as stirring strategies that effectively draw attention to the gaping divide between those with cerebral palsy and those they refer to as “the healthy ones.”

With its subjects’ brutal honesty regarding their situations placed up front, "Goodbye CP" certainly makes no attempt to artificially shine a light at the end of their tunnel – which, given the disease’s unrelenting hold over its victims and the lack of any cure, would be a rather difficult feat to pull off. Yet, for this particular no-win scenario, Hara puts forth the best possible outcome: the afflicted fight to ensure their voice, carrying their views and wishes, is heard while they draw strength from each other and themselves to continue pushing onwards through life. Film can be an extraordinary tool for amplifying important causes; with this brave work, Hara does just that, allowing their howls of anger, frustration and sadness to be preserved, giving them at least a chance to make a positive impact.

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