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featuring: Nobuyoshi Akari, Tsugumi Nanase, Takeshi Kitano, Yoshiko Kamikura, and Richard Kern

director: Travis Klose

75 minutes (18) 2005
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
This is a bit of a rough dive into the life of Nobuyoshi Araki, the noted photographer, whose primary fame lies in images of bondage and insisting on pubic hair in an otherwise airbrushed Japanese womankind. I was familiar with the prevalent nature of his work; the artistic images of attractive young women suspended awkward and uncomfortable in ropes, or trussed to the extent that out happy snapper has no need ever to call 'Freeze!' This is a shabby documentary, but revelatory, at least we know there is no tall, cool man of enormous pretension gliding in and out of studios and locations author to this photographic art. No, he's a naff, little old fellow, prone to laughing at nothing, not helped by the willingness of others to laugh with him. He is as déclassé as Benny Hill. A lot sleazier, in fact, as he has no qualms about using his notoriety to fondle any female desperate for a career willing to disrobe for his lens. We catch him sitting half-cut, apparently rubbing himself under the table, while informing us of a girl that "When I first saw her I immediately fell in love." What he fails to add is how he can't wait to have her spreading her 'pink' for him. Should this need explanation, his girl subjects are Japanese, but one part is pink... dear reader, don't look at me like that, I picked that one up from this documentary; this is how Araki, the so sweet uncle, endearingly puts it. The perverted little devil cannot help himself and, unlike our own Lord Lichfield, he finds time also to shoot 'reader's wives' sets. This provides yet more opportunities for Araki to spittle wet a nipple or fluff up a pubic frizz, and, like the nether barber he is, he don't half insist on finding that parting first.

Araki is incredibly skilled as a photographer and there are countless examples of his great work, not all of it erotic in theme. Endlessly experimental, he overexposes in tribute to the dead of Hiroshima. He sees exciting images everywhere, in the red hose snaking across a grid and the details of plants. He wants to photograph every Japanese face, which he admits might take some time. The documentary tries for sentimentality in the latter stages, turning to the tragedy of his wife's passing, which he documented in images in a volume titled Winter Journey. He had begun his career with a similarly intimate book of photographs from their honeymoon. We are told, though it misses on being truly touching, that he spent the year following her death filming nothing but the clouds from his balcony. I take this with a pinch of salt, sounds good, probably not true. If it is, then it was on the director to convey it so. At the end of Winter Journey he takes his cue from the leaping cat to go on living his life to the hilt. That uncomfortably puts him on the dirty go shortly after her death and contradicts his year among the cumuli. Others do not question his love for Yoko, but the onus is on the documentary filmmakers to prove this and the signs are counter with the emphasis on his tedious gonzo wandering and cheeky chap a-clicking escapades, never as amusing as he and his circle think they are.

If the documentary filmmakers wanted to do their subject justice then his compositional style, precision and details should have been reflected in their cine camerawork. Instead, we are subjected to the to lazy lighting, an ugly Japan and lots of clumsy cam. If it was Egypt or Australia I might at best have assumed the cameraman had been bravely continuing to film his subject while being savaged by a crocodile. Get a fucking tripod. The commissioned soundtrack by DJ Krush is an insistent drum and bass harangue on the senses, an urgency wrongly contrasting the, often beautiful, still images. Of course, it comes a little nearer to reflecting the man.

At one point, the crass filmmakers are heard to utter how something is 'Cool!' There isn't much brain in there. Models, photographers, critics, a Buto troop (sic) leader join the melee contributing their penny's worth. That cultural icon Takeshi Kitano bores us with his humble rating of Araki as someone more talented than he himself. (Okay, Beat, thanks for that, you can somnambulate off to your next film now.) Arch transgressor Richard Kern (Fingered, Submit To Me) is handy in Manhattan for the New York-based filmmakers. Seiji Fujii is identified as a "non-fiction writer." A what? Oh, right, shuts me up.

The only really talented contributors on the technical side are the editors, employed locally, a team of five supervised by Masako Tsuumura. I pity them the music they were forced to match.

The closing credits claim the film written and directed by Travis Klose, but I will be darned if I can account for any written contribution. Did he write out a shopping list or do the butty run? The interviews and the translation are largely conducted by Masa Sakamaki, with the employment of a further four translators, and the story is told in the dialogue of the contributing interview subjects. No script, so don't lay claim to one. The most he could have done was order and section the sequences.

As a result of this film one can come to conclude that the secret to Akari's success is that he shoots and he shoots and he shoots, constantly and everything, even taking photographs of his own photographs with an onanistic glee, until it is impossible not to have some decent images. Or rather images of indecent beauty as is more often the objective. The volume of his work is almost frightening. Take away the runt's ten cameras (per shoot) and this documentary might instead be a Tourette's-come-OCD case study.

Book after book are issued. We don't believe him when he tells the camera that it is not about the money. But sometimes we come round to him even in the throws of the worst of his Eastern trash misadventures. Attention is awarded a collection of images, another themed book, that brings together some of the most embarrassingly awful outtake shots from the appalling 1980s. The fashion, the make-up, badly framed compositions, hilariously pulled faces, cross-eyed beauties. It is a tacky simpleton's idea of surrealism. He knows what he has done, sees the humour in it and revels in it. We like him for that at least. The filmmakers could have shown him in a more favourable light. However, perhaps without thinking, without any true consideration to what they were doing, they inadvertently got one thing right and gave us the man.

I could, of course, be missing the point, that the fellow may be playing up to the camera. A 51-minute interview is among the extras if only to prove that the director had some involvement in the film, unedited, the only breaks with the turning off of the camera. It is another example of Travis Klose's laziness. There is a photo gallery of 50 images (mostly familiar), an original trailer for Arakimentari, and four for other Tartan releases. It may turn up on television with some doctoring as even Channel Four is guarded about getting as close entre las piernas as this documentary occasionally does.

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