Scen.: Shigeru Kuwano. Koichi Iijima (commento). F.: Kazuzo Kato. Su.: Zen’ichiro Sakurai. Mus.: Teizo Matsumura, Sei Ikeno, Taichiro Kosugi, Minoru Miki, Hajime Harada. Prod.: Iwanami. 35mm. Col.
From the opening sequence, combining underwater and aerial footage, this masterpiece about the construction of a steam-power plant in Kurihama (south of Tokyo) far surpasses the limitations of the promotional film genre, and emerges as one of the most staggering sensory experiences in Japanese documentary. A symphony of the elements – water, earth and air – and a study of the contrasting textures of rock, concrete, wood and glass, rust, soil and mud, the film is distinguished by a notably ambivalent attitude towards progress. The sea wall of the title does protect the coast from a typhoon; but the process of construction is also necessarily one of destruction. Bulldozers as luridly yellow as the taxis in Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life tear into timeless landscapes; blasts of dynamite level hills that might have featured in woodblock prints. Even maps and plans take on something of the appearance of abstract art, and the avant-garde score has a similar impact. The brief depiction of a traditional summer festival feels notably incongruous; this documentary in the mould of science fiction reminds us that the future is already here.
Kaiheki was apparently the first film to enter production in Japan in a widescreen format, though its lengthy shoot meant that it was not the first to be released. It was also perhaps the first film to suggest director Kazuo Kuroki’s avant-garde ambitions. Ironically, Kuroki himself recounted that he was assigned to the film practically by chance: “In those days,” he said, “we had to do four or five long-term projects all at once in order to make ends meet. And since this one took a full three years, it was a real pain to do. Iwanami was wondering who they could get who was willing to get stuck with filming a factory for three years. So, they decided to ask the young, contract guys, and their gaze stopped on me.” Yet despite this apparently casual genesis, the film superbly demonstrates the visual flair and imagination that would flower in such fiction masterpieces as Tobenai chinmoku (Silence Has No Wings, 1966).
Film scholar Takashi Kitakoji notes that the film departed from the norms of PR cinema in its day. “The narration isn’t a simple explanation,” he observes; “instead poet Koichi Iijima actually wrote a script. Within Kuroki’s attempts to create a new kind of documentary and PR film, a soundtrack with that kind of narration commands a lot of weight in the film.”
Alex Jacoby e Johan Nordström