Arakimentari

2004, Movie, NR, 75 mins

Review

ARAKIMENTARI
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Nobuyoshi Araki, variously described as the most important photographer in contemporary Japan and a smutty-minded voyeur with a camera, is profiled in American first-time filmmaker Travis Klose's evenhanded documentary. A cross between Robert Mapplethorpe and Russ Meyer, Araki has spent much of his career obliterating the line between artistic nudes and dirty pictures. A balding, potbellied, middle-aged leprechaun with glasses, a bristling mustache and a fondness for suspenders and T-shirts bearing a caricature of himself as a grinning cat, Araki is famous (some would say infamous) for his vast corpus of images — some shot in his studio, others captured on the fly in Tokyo bars, massage parlors and sex emporiums — depicting bare-naked ladies of every size, shape and age. Kinbaku shots — aesthetically staged pictures of women in bondage, sometimes suspended from an elaborate system of ropes — are a specialty, and Araki courts controversy. Magazines featuring his more graphic photos have been removed from Japanese shops; he's been charged with violating obscenity laws and as recently as 1993 a gallery owner was arrested for displaying his explicit nudes. But Araki also shoots animals, city streets, still lifes, flowers, landscapes and formal portraits. His long marriage to the late Yoko is chronicled in a vast series of photos that starts on their honeymoon and ends with touching photographs of Yoko on her hospital deathbed. A cheerful whirlwind, Araki comes across as an earthy charmer, and Klose is clearly a fan, despite the dutiful juxtaposition of interviews with detractors and enthusiasts. Admirers locate Araki's erotic work within the tradition of shunga ("springtime images") — sexually explicit prints by mainstream 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century artists like Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro — and emphasize the puckishness of his vision. His sheer delight in staging a shot involving a small brass crab and a woman, dressed in a formal kimono but nude from the waist down, is unexpectedly charming, and his models insist he's a perfect gentleman, even when they're trussed in elaborate knots and hanging naked from the ceiling. Detractors accuse Araki of ikonorrhea (prolific doesn't begin to describe the volume of images he churns out) and argue that aestheticizing pictures of tied-up beauties and gynecologically rendered genitals — artfully accented by flowers though they may be — is fundamentally disingenuous. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions, which inevitably will be colored by individual reactions to unabashed frontal nudity. (In English and Japanese, with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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