Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Open Your Legs and Say 'Cheese': "Arakimentari" (2005)



With over three hundred photography books to his credit, artist Nobuyoshi Araki might be mistaken for an extreme case of quantity over quality in regard to his output. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Araki was born in Tokyo in 1940, and still loves his country. He came into prominence in the 1970's, shooting conservative street scenes based on Italian realism. He also married, taking candid nude and sexual shots on his honeymoon and afterward. As he tells it, in the 1980's he rebelled against himself. He began shooting nude models, bondage, vaginal closeups, and actual penetration. Japanese censors would cover up the female genitalia with shapes, or blur out the offending image, so Araki one-upped them with a series he called "Spermanko." The photographer would censor himself by climaxing (metaphorically) on his photographs, covering everything deemed extreme with a white liquid.

This is the kind of work Araki is doing to this day, and film maker Travis Klose gets inside this demure man's world. Araki is not a brooding artist, he is constantly laughing and joking. He wears round glasses, his thinning hair looks like a bird's nest, and he is the center of activity in every room he enters. While some professional artists who photograph nudes are careful not to violate the model's space or make them feel uncomfortable, Araki thinks nothing of ogling and groping his subjects. He applies make-up where needed himself, and there are even a couple of shots of him styling pubic hair. He is the epitome of hands-on.

Like Robert Mapplethorpe, Araki is better known for his shocking nudes than his other work. He loves to shoot around his native Tokyo, and in order to deal with a traumatic death in his life, he would simply shoot cloud formations from his balcony. Flowers are another subject, it helps that some of them resemble the female anatomy.

Araki was derided by many feminist groups for his bondage series, but the artist has a deep and lasting respect for the female sex. He believes that since we all come from females, they are automatically better than males both physically and spiritually.

Some of the talking heads singing Araki's praises include Takeshi Kitano, Bjork, and Richard Kern, a controversial film maker and photographer in his own right. Klose gets some great behind-the-scenes shots of Araki at work. Araki doesn't seem to be playing for the camera, and we hear nothing but positive comments from his exhausted looking models.

The most interesting aspect of Araki's work was his heat development series that coincided with the anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. Araki took some images and used heated liquid during development, making passe pornographic shots look like something occurring in a nuclear holocaust.

Araki really opens up for Klose. The film is short, but extremely interesting. I found Araki to be quite the character. Many viewers will be put off by both his boorish working ways and subject matter, but the film makers should be congratulated for including this in the film. The documentary shows Araki in a positive light, but doesn't whitewash the man and his art.

Toss in a great electronic score from DJ Krush and mix it with an overwhelming amount of nude Japanese women, and "Arakimentari" is a fascinating and artistic look at a fascinating artist. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this film now!: Arakimentari