This paper focuses on two discrete bodies of work, Hani Susumu’s films of the late 1950s and Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Minamata documentaries of the early 1970s, to trace the emergence of the cinéma vérité mode of participant-observer, small-crew documentary in Japan and to suggest how it shapes the work of later social documentarists. It argues that Hani Susumu’s emphasis on duration and receptivity in the practice of filmmaking, along with his pragmatic understanding of the power of the cinematic image, establish a fundamentally different theoretical basis and set of questions for social documentary than the emphasis on mobility and access, and the attendant question of truth that tend to afflict the discourse of cinéma vérité in the U.S. and France. Tsuchimoto Noriaki critically adopts and develops Hani’s theoretical and methodological framework in his emphasis on long-running involvement with the subjects of his films and his practical conviction that the image is not single-authored, self-sufficient, or meaningful in and of itself, but emerges from collaboration and must be embedded in a responsive social practice in order to meaningfully reach an audience. Hani and Tsuchimoto both believe that it is possible for filmmakers and the film itself to be fundamentally processual and intersubjective: grounded in actual collaboration, but also underwritten by a belief that intersubjective processes are more basic to human being than “the individual,” let alone “the author.” This paper explores the implications for representation and ethics of this basic difference in vérité theory and practice in Japan.
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