" I guess you used up all the ugly in the family "

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Alias: Season Three

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Director Kazuo Hara’s heart is in the right place but I have to wonder about his head. In his 1972 documentary Goodbye CP, about Japanese afflicted with Cerebral Palsy, I don’t know which is more appalling, the physical condition of the subjects or Hara’s unblinking presentation of them.

In his labored speech Hiroshi describes being an outsider in a world of insiders
In his labored speech Hiroshi describes being an outsider in a world of insiders

Goodbye CP was Hara’s first documentary and, according to the Facet Cine-Notes™ included in this DVD, the film may have grown from his experience as a student working at a school for children with physical disabilities. Also playing a large part in this film was the 70’s fashion of championing the downtrodden and setting the world aright. Hara seems to be on a mission here and any holding back would compromise his principles. His intent is to face CP square on and have you do the same.

Hara collaborated with a group of Japanese with CP and in particular one man, Yokota Hiroshi. Hiroshi’s condition is so extreme that he can only “walk” with great difficulty by lurching along on his knees. A good part of GCP is spent with him flaying and flopping down city streets and crowed subway platforms to the consternation of the people around him. It’s only been 25 years since the war and these Japanese have the compassion of people who have experienced hard times first hand... nothing like having been down and out yourself to imagine someone else’s pain.

At the same time there’s a particularly Japanese desire to seamlessly fit in with the group. As the Japanese saying goes, “it’s the nail that sticks up that gets hammered.” Hiroshi and the other CP sufferers certainly stick out. The disease causes wild and uncontrolled body motion and contorted and often grotesque facial expressions. The conflict for the passing Japanese is that while they have compassion for his plight he is an affront to them that he’s there at all.

In his labored speech Hiroshi describes being an outsider in a world of insiders and that what he wants most is to just make his own way in the world. To this end he does his “knee walking” because it means that he’s not confined to a wheelchair. And if it’s not proper, well then the other Japanese can just get used to it. I assume this appealed to Hara’s 70’s revolutionary sensibilities.

In one part of Goodbye CP, the other men in the group (it seems they all are men) tell about how and when they first had sex and what a problem having CP has played in their lives. I didn’t think that these interviews were prurient or exploiting the men or making fun of them but rather were touching glimpses into their complicated lives.

Hara’s method of filming is the in-your-face unblinking stare and the more blunt the image the better. The problem is that he may not know when to stop pointing the camera. From Hara’s perspective one should never look away. In the same way that Hiroshi’s CP is a 24/7 ordeal, Hara does not back off beating his audience over the head. If Hiroshi has no escape either neither should the audience. In a way that’s the whole point of the exercise.

It’s a bold statement right up to the point that it offends you and then you think he’s gone too far. For instance in one scene Hiroshi is displayed nude in the middle of a street. In another scene Hiroshi’s wife, who also has CP, tells him he’s being used by Hara and if the filming isn’t stopped, she will leave him. When any other filmmaker would have turned off their camera, Hara films on. I suppose he would say that for the artist, no point is “too far”... another 70’s sensibility.

Goodbye CP is a strenuous work-out for the viewer and Hara has in the past been accused of sadism for his brutally straightforward staging of Hiroshi’s disability on crowded streets. But I think that he was always on Hiroshi’s side. It was his own inner angry young man that handicaps this film. It is a powerful if somewhat flawed effort. But as one of the CP men says in the film “A flawed child is just that much more adorable.”

Picture and Sound

The image quality is intense and grainy black and white. Stark images for a stark subject.

How to Use this DVD

Read the Facet Cine-Notes™ first, then watch the feature.