Markus Nornes at The Current:
The notoriety of The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) always precedes it, yet the film never fails to evoke shock and wonder at its stunning improbability. The subject of this documentary is one of cinema’s greatest bullies. Both relentless and charismatic, Kenzo Okazaki was a veteran of the terrifying battles on Papua New Guinea at the end of World War II, and was clearly damaged by the experience. At the time of shooting, the radicality of the war’s violence was being erased from history by Japan’s right wing, and Okazaki was on a mission to push his audiences’ noses into the messiness. He tyrannically usurps the filmmakers, positioning them as mere witnesses to his project: visiting his old army buddies one by one to literally beat the truth out of them. Having witnessed or participated in crimes perpetrated against Japanese soldiers by their own officers, these men have a secret, and its revelation and memorialization on film is Okazaki’s mission.
This is one of those films that people always remember where, when, and how they watched. It made the career of its director, Kazuo Hara. To this day, anyone introducing him inevitably invokes Emperor’s Naked Army, even though his entire filmography makes for compelling viewing.