Screened as part of NZIFF 2021

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On 1987

Yuki yukite shingun

Directed by Kazuo Hara

Documentary as a genre exploded over the four decades Bill Gosden programmed for the Festival – most dramatically in the early 2000s with hot-topic, issue-based docs suddenly capable of selling out The Civic (in Auckland).

This important, highly influential film from Japan prefigured the activist and social justice dynamics of the Fahrenheit 9/11 (NZIFF 2004) documentary era, and as astute viewers will also recognise, the complicated war crime confrontations of The Act of Killing (NZIFF 2013).

Observing in 1988, Bill wrote: “An increasing sophistication in an audience’s ability to recognise the techniques of fiction characterises several of this year’s best documentaries. Hara Kazuo’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is the most alarming”.

Japan In Japanese with English subtitles
122 minutes DCP

Director, Cinematography


Kenzo Okuzaki
Riichi Aikawa
Masaichi Hamaguchi


Sachiko Kobayashi


Jun Nabeshima


Berlin 1987; Rotterdam, Auckland, Wellington 1988


In this astonishing portrait of Okuzaki Kenzo, self-appointed scourge of Japanese war criminals and conscience of a nation, modern Japan has erased memory of the Pacific war.

A conformist society – where notions of personal responsibility are not exactly highly cultivated – is well placed to let the individual off the hook. Okuzaki’s insistence on proclaiming the truth is utterly non-conformist... He has been imprisoned for firing pachinko balls at the Emperor and remains convinced of Hirohito’s ultimate responsibility for war crimes. His dawn raids on retired officers exploit and outrage the decorum of Japanese hospitality, but these offences pale beside the physical beatings he administers to those who lie or evade his questions – or the lies he himself tells to cover the appalling brutality in the past.

When the war ended, Okuzaki was amongst a thousand soldiers in New Guinea who, rather than surrender to Australian troops, scattered into the jungle. Only 30 survived. Okuzaki wanted to make a film to show the world why...

For five stormy years, director Hara Kazuo and his formidable subject constantly disagreed over their next move. Accompanying Okuzaki and filming some of his most outrageous, duplicitous encounters, the filmmaker is clearly implicated in the action he films. It’s a jolting experience for the audience too, a series of violent confrontations with any number of vital Japanese taboos. We’re forced to confront questions about whether the hunger for justice justifies his radical means. What’s never in question is the sincerity of his quest to change the thinking of an entire nation. — Bill Gosden

Also screening as part of celebrating 50 years of the film festival in Wellington