Articles in English, Blog, Blog Cinema

Musings on “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” – truth, confession, healing, justice, and violence

In Recall Healing, one of the healing methods which hold emotional trauma as the root cause of illness, truth bears the possibility of healing. It claims that the more secrets we have, the sicker we are, where a secret is not so much something we know we hide, but something “we’ve forgotten that we hide.” This includes various traumatic events that happened in early life which we don’t consciously remember, generational trauma and unfinished business that were passed on to us without our knowing, or important information that our parents or relatives hide from us (for example, a child who doesn’t know he or she is adopted or that his biological father is not who he or she thinks he is.) When the patient uncovers the hidden cause and makes it conscious, they have the chance to heal. With small children, where the process of conscious recalling can be problematic, one way of aiding the healing is as follows: when the child sleeps, the parent (or a relative, or a therapist) will whisper in their ear the secrets which lie at the root of their imbalance or illness.

Okuzaki claims he wants the future generations to know the truth about war and the events that took place back then. In light of what I described above, his endeavour is one of healing: by knowing various important secrets about the collective past (the truth, to put it simply), future generations will be able to stop the cycle of collective and personal trauma and thus form a healthy society, one that is built upon truth and lucidity instead of actual and metaphorical skeletons in the closet.

There is another brilliant story in the Hindu lore that speaks about Acts of Truth which have the power to heal, which you can find in the footnotes (1.) Finally, the power of truth is also mentioned in the Bible: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31)

*

We are being told to speak the truth (rule no. 8 from Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” states: “Tell The Truth or At Least Don’t Lie”). While this is generally a healthy guiding principle, truth can also become a form of violence. Is Kenzō Okuzaki’s endeavour an attempt at healing and cultivating awareness or is it an act of violence? Could it be both?

*

Okuzaki is basically forcing those responsible to confess (2). I might be pushing the envelope of speculation too far here, but it seemed to me, at some point, that this could be a projection of his own desire to confess and to punish himself. Or he might think that if he helps in holding the guilty ones responsible, maybe his own guilt will become smaller in the eyes of some divine authority that he constantly makes reference to.

I will speculate even further and say that he is giving the perpetrators what he himself is desperately looking for: someone to listen to their confession, someone to tell them what their place in the world is, even if that is the place of the “bad guys” because a world without right or wrong, thus one of total freedom, is even more frightening. If Okuzaki went through all sorts of horrors during the war and even committed his fair share of abuses, and we have reason to believe it is so, then it is understandable that he ended up not knowing very well who and how he is anymore (3), hence a need for some divine authority to tell him who he is, what is right, what is wrong, and so forth. His fierceness and rigidity might hide a great deal of insecurity.

Right from the start Okuzaki uses almost every opportunity to confess, often in a very detailed manner: “I served 13 years and 9 months in solitary confinement. I have three convictions on counts of murder, assault, and obscenity (…) I shot four metal pellets at the Emperor with a sling, scattered pornographic flyers with images of the Emperor (…) I was indicted in both cases. There were two judges and eight prosecutors involved. I pissed and spat on them. Then I called them names (…) I said [to the judge]: ‘Dig a hole and bury yourself!”

Is this pride, guilt, courage, taking responsibility? Is it all of them? Does it have to be either/or? Can’t it be nuanced, multifaceted, contradictory, as is my own attitude towards both Okuzaki and the movie? (Am I making my own projections now?) Do I necessarily have to feel only perplexity, seriousness, sadness, anger, compassion, or can I also laugh my head off when I see Okuzaki beating people up because it’s simultaneously horrible, absurd, and funny?

Okuzaki is confessing, but no one asked him to. Sure, some people are afraid of him, of how he might disturb social order, or maybe of how he could expose their own abuses through his confession. But others simply don’t seem to need it or care about it that much. It’s a confession without a priest, a confession without God – and this is precisely Okuzaki’s drama. There is no divine authority who listens, thus no divine authority who can deliver him from his guilt (again, I’m speculating here.) And if he feels the need to be punished and eventually forgiven by some sort of divine authority, it’s because he cannot forgive himself.

If there is such a thing as divine punishment, like Okuzaki believes (4), then God is never wrong and justice is eventually made. Which also means that, even though God acts through humans, there should be no need for self-appointed deliverers of justice like him. Therefore, Okuzaki’s project might in fact, bear indirect testimony to his doubt in regards to God’s capabilities and intelligence and, eventually, to an atheism which is painful to face because it potentially renders the world, as well as suffering, meaningless.

The imperative to confess is precisely that: an imperative. This is to say that, in a certain sense, Okuzaki is the slave of his inability to resist this imperative. He protests against man-made laws and traditions (he wants to destroy nation and family because he sees them as barriers) but is driven by and fiercely defending what he perceives as divine laws (another reason for his desire to destroy nation and family is that he thinks they are against divine law.) It could be said that, in a way, Okuzaki isn’t free, since he is possessed by an imperative, that is by a force which is bigger than him and renders him impersonal – nonexistent, in a sense.

*

From an ethical standpoint, the situation is very clear: no amount of harm done to you by another justifies a similar response from you. It is also clear, as far as I’m concerned, that Okuzaki’s attitude is, in many ways, very immature (one couldn’t imagine Mandela, for instance, reacting like this.) I’ve wondered why violence and revenge are so often condemned when it comes to individual, personal situations, whereas collective situations (like protests against the government or a regime) don’t seem to face the same condemnation, at least not as often. One reason might be that, in theory, laws are supposed to protect the individual and so he or she should let the authorities deliver justice instead of taking the matter into his or her hands. But what do you do when the law isn’t being applied? Or when the law itself is abusive (5)? And no, these are not rhetorical questions.

My attitude towards Okuzaki is a reflection of my own inner conflict in regards to justice, revenge, violence. Thus I will say that even though on the one hand I condemn his actions and parts of his discourse, I rather tend to look at him with tons of admiration, for reasons I will expand upon very soon.

Alicia Haddick makes the point that “the film portrays Okuzaki in a sympathetic light not because we should be cheering on his violent acts or defending his darkest impulses, but because his acts are an inevitable endpoint of years of pain and suffering, with the blame being placed directly at the feet of the Emperor (6).” For me, though, this is not the main reason of my sympathy for him. While some of the people he confronts in the movie try to defend themselves by claiming they had no other choice but to do what they did (7), here we have a man who takes full responsibility for everything and isn’t afraid of anything. He has a project, he sees it through. And he is ready to face all the consequences of which he is very much aware (at some point in the movie he informs someone about his plan to murder Koshimizu and to spend another 10 years in prison.) When he goes to people’s houses trying to make them confess and he eventually beats them up, he’s the one who calls the police and tells them all he did. It is first and foremost this fierceness, this relentlessness, this fearlessness, as well as the way he takes full responsibility that I admire so much about him.

While others commit various abuses and then try to run away, to deny what they did, or to offer all sorts of justifications, Okuzaki courageously does the contrary. Such determination and transparence can certainly be dangerous in the wrong hands or for the wrong causes (8). In the right hands and for the right causes, though, they can make miracles. And regardless of the cause they serve, I doubt the world would look worse if people would show this kind of fearlessness and responsibility.

Okuzaki is confessing, but no one asked him to. Sure, some people are afraid of him, of how he might disturb social order, or maybe of how he could expose their own abuses through his confession. But others simply don’t seem to need it or care about it that much. It’s a confession without a priest, a confession without God – and this is precisely Okuzaki’s drama. There is no divine authority who listens, thus no divine authority who can deliver him from his guilt (again, I’m speculating here.) And if he feels the need to be punished and eventually forgiven by some sort of divine authority, it’s because he cannot forgive himself. If there is such a thing as divine punishment, like Okuzaki believes (4), then God is never wrong and justice is eventually made. Which also means that, even though God acts through humans, there should be no need for self-appointed deliverers of justice like him. Therefore, Okuzaki’s project might in fact, bear indirect testimony to his doubt in regards to God’s capabilities and intelligence and, eventually, to an atheism which is painful to face because it potentially renders the world, as well as suffering, meaningless. The imperative to confess is precisely that: an imperative. This is to say that, in a certain sense, Okuzaki is the slave of his inability to resist this imperative. He protests against man-made laws and traditions (he wants to destroy nation and family because he sees them as barriers) but is driven by and fiercely defending what he perceives as divine laws (another reason for his desire to destroy nation and family is that he thinks they are against divine law.) It could be said that, in a way, Okuzaki isn’t free, since he is possessed by an imperative, that is by a force which is bigger than him and renders him impersonal – nonexistent, in a sense.

*

From an ethical standpoint, the situation is very clear: no amount of harm done to you by another justifies a similar response from you. It is also clear, as far as I’m concerned, that Okuzaki’s attitude is, in many ways, very immature (one couldn’t imagine Mandela, for instance, reacting like this.) I’ve wondered why violence and revenge are so often condemned when it comes to individual, personal situations, whereas collective situations (like protests against the government or a regime) don’t seem to face the same condemnation, at least not as often. One reason might be that, in theory, laws are supposed to protect the individual and so he or she should let the authorities deliver justice instead of taking the matter into his or her hands. But what do you do when the law isn’t being applied? Or when the law itself is abusive (5)? And no, these are not rhetorical questions. My attitude towards Okuzaki is a reflection of my own inner conflict in regards to justice, revenge, violence. Thus I will say that even though on the one hand I condemn his actions and parts of his discourse, I rather tend to look at him with tons of admiration, for reasons I will expand upon very soon. Alicia Haddick makes the point that “the film portrays Okuzaki in a sympathetic light not because we should be cheering on his violent acts or defending his darkest impulses, but because his acts are an inevitable endpoint of years of pain and suffering, with the blame being placed directly at the feet of the Emperor (6).” For me, though, this is not the main reason of my sympathy for him. While some of the people he confronts in the movie try to defend themselves by claiming they had no other choice but to do what they did (7), here we have a man who takes full responsibility for everything and isn’t afraid of anything. He has a project, he sees it through. And he is ready to face all the consequences of which he is very much aware (at some point in the movie he informs someone about his plan to murder Koshimizu and to spend another 10 years in prison.) When he goes to people’s houses trying to make them confess and he eventually beats them up, he’s the one who calls the police and tells them all he did. It is first and foremost this fierceness, this relentlessness, this fearlessness, as well as the way he takes full responsibility that I admire so much about him. While other commit various abuses and then try to run away, to deny what they did, or to offer all sorts of justifications, Okuzaki courageously does the contrary. Such determination and transparence can certainly be dangerous in the wrong hands or for the wrong causes (8 ). In the right hands and for the right causes, though, they can make miracles. And regardless of the cause they serve, I doubt the world would look worse if people would show this kind of fearlessness and responsibility.

𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐭𝐧𝐨𝐭𝐞𝐬

(1) The youth Yannadatta had been bitten by a poisonous snake. His parents carried him to the feet of an ascetic, laid him down, and said,

“Reverend sir, monks know simples and charms; heal our son.”

‘I know no simples; I am not a physician.’

‘But you are a monk; therefore out of charity for this youth perform an Act of Truth.’ The ascetic replied, ‘Very well, I will perform an Act of Truth.’

He laid his hand on Yannadatta’s head and recited the following stanza: ‘For but a week I lived the holy life with tranquil heart in quest of merit. The life I’ve lived for fifty years since then, I’ve lived against my will. By this truth, health! Poison is struck down! Let Yannadatta live!’

Immediately the poison came out of Yannadatta’s breast and sank into the ground. The father then laid his hand on Yannadatta’s breast and recited the following stanza: ‘Never did I like to see a stranger come to stay. I never cared to give. But my dislike, the monks and Brahmans never knew, all learned as they were. By this truth, health! Poison is struck down! Let Yannadatta Jive!’

Immediately the poison came out of the small of Yannadatta’s back and sank into the ground. The father bade the mother perform an Act of Truth, but the mother replied, ‘I have a Truth, but I cannot recite it in your presence.’

The father answered, ‘Make my son whole anyhow!’

So the mother recited the following stanza: ‘No more, my son, do I now hate this snake malignant that out of a crevice came and bit you, than I do your father! By this truth, health! Poison is struck down! Let Yannadatta live!’

Immediately the rest of the poison sank into the ground, and Yannadatta got up and began to frisk about.”

This is a tale that could be taken as a text for psychoanalysis. The opening up of the repressed truth, deeply hidden beneath the years of lies and dead actions that have killed the son (i.e., have killed the future, the life, of this miserable, hypocritical, self-deceiving household), suffices, like magic, to dear the venom from the poor, paralyzed body, and then all of that deadness (asat), “non-existence,” is truly non-existent. Life breaks forth anew, in strength, and the living is spliced back to what was living. The night of nonentity between is gone. (From Heinrich Zimmer’s “Philosophies of India”)

(2) A friend of mine wrote an essay about truth as a political force, as a means of oppression, and I mention this because he starts his thesis from the sacrament of confession in Christian practice and how this was already a form of truth as oppression and control.

(3) In one of his classes Peterson mentions that a large part of war veterans end up with PTSD not necessarily as a result of the horrors they’ve seen around them, but mainly because they discovered what horrors they are capable of themselves.

(4) I don’t believe there is, but I do believe that everything has a consequence and things come back around. In fact, for several times this was the only thing that held me from doing harm to people who have done harm to me – it was not a matter of ethics, it was a matter of fear of consequences.

(5) Those who reveled in ferocious satisfaction when Đoković was banned from entering Australia and argued that no one should think he or she is above the law, probably didn’t take even two minutes of their time to consider whether or not the law which made the ban possible was abusive. It wouldn’t have been the first time. After all, the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime were often lawful, which is one of the aspects that often raised a lot of issues in the post-WWII trials.

(6) https://www.otaquest.com/kazuo-hara-japanese-film-insight/

(7) I always found the “I didn’t have any other choice” discourse very cowardly. The truth is you always have a choice. In extremis, even when someone points their gun at your head and tells you that if you don’t to X, they’ll shoot you, you still have a choice to not do what they tell you. It sounds cruel, but this is how it actually is. You always have a choice – it’s only that sometimes certain choices are very risky and bear very problematic or painful consequences. This is not a matter of judging someone for a choice they make, it’s only a matter of clarity (as well as having the necessary self-love to forgive yourself no matter what choice you made and to eventually make things right if needed.) If “I didn’t have a choice” is just a manner of speaking, where it actually means “This was the only decision I could take to survive/have something to eat/keep my job/save someone I love/*fill in the blanks,*” it’s all fine. But when “I didn’t have a choice” is meant literally, what it actually means is “I did have a choice, but I didn’t want to take responsibility for it.”

(8) I’m using the terms “wrong” and “right” while being aware of their limitations.

Featured image: still from “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On” by Kazuo Hara