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Review: Goodbye CP

Watched Goodbye CP, which is currently screening as part of Japan Society’s latest online retrospective—a showcase of the politically-charged collaborations between documentarian Kazuo Hara and his wife/longtime producer Sachiko Kobayashi.

Although I don’t really subscribe to the concept of “direct cinema”—the presence of a film crew of any size is, after all, inherently disruptive and transformative, rendering the ideal of “truthful” representation elusive at best and unattainable at worst—this raw, confrontational portrait of a group of activists with cerebral palsy campaigning to destigmatize their own existence (in Japan, those afflicted with the condition were often institutionalized in order to keep them out of the public eye) comes admirably close to capturing the intended essence of the genre. The handheld camerawork, for example—which is loose, rough, and occasionally even erratic—is immersive rather than strictly observational, allowing the audience to glimpse the world from the subjects’ perspective. The tight framing, in particular, draws our attention to the pedestrians at the far edges of the screen, all of whom are either outright staring at our “pitiful” protagonists... or struggling to avoid staring at them.

The intimacy of the movie’s visual style perfectly complements the candid tone of its various interviews, in which the participants frankly discuss such “taboo” topics as sexual experiences, suicide attempts, and self-medication. By thus exposing their most private, vulnerable moments, these “disabled” men emphasize the traits that they share in common with “normal” people: they’re equally capable of virtue and vice; their flaws run deeper than their obvious physical limitations; and, above all else, they deserve to be seen, acknowledged, and treated with basic dignity. While these themes are familiar enough nowadays to be considered clichés, they were absolutely radical in Hara’s native country during the time of Goodbye CP’s initial release (circa 1972)—and despite their current prevalence in both fiction and nonfiction, I believe that they remain relevant, resonant, and compelling, regardless of cultural context.

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