Review – “Sayonara CP” (1972)

Sayonara CP [さよならCP] (Japan, 1972)

dir. Kazuo Hara.  Documentary film.  B&W.

True fly-on-the-wall style documentary that follows a group of Japanese men and women with Cerebral Palsy (CP), juxtaposing dialogue from interviews with them over images of their daily lives, almost like the “documentaries” of British Free Cinema. Some moments are unbelievably touching (a married couple with CP talks about their newborn non-CP daughter growing up to be “just a normal girl with long hair and a miniskirt.” A man with CP finds therapy through photography.), some are funny (several men with CP laugh about when they lost their virginity in red-light districts), some are shocking (one man with CP talks about how he goes without drinking water so he doesn’t have to use the bathroom and inconvenience others), while others are utterly heartbreaking (one man is unable to walk except on his knees: stumbling through the train station he tries to recite poems he has written. When someone finally draws everyone’s attention to the recital, a cop shows up and says “you’re disturbing people, stop it. This is a freakshow.”)

I don’t like documentaries all that much, especially the touchy-feely “inspiring” kind or the “shockumentary” expose (ala Michael Moore), but this film is nearly devoid of the pretenses of the modern popular documentary, presenting the people in their own words, the touch of the filmmaker virtually invisible. This writer, someone who rarely (if ever) cries during movies, was moved to tears several times during this one.

Sayonara CP is a shocking expose of the Japanese abandonment of those outside the group who are not “normal.” I’m sure the situation has alleviated itself somewhat in recent years, but this kind of discrimination against the handicapped still exists today in some form in nearly every country. This film is an important document of discrimination, much like the groundbreaking Titicut Follies (though less depressing and shocking) and a tendency to leave behind those who burden the rest of the group (“they must have their own group to take care of them.” “if we ignore an unpleasant problem, it effectively goes away for us and isn’t a problem anymore”) that unfortunately manifests itself in a lot of Japanese society in particular, though this type of apathy can be found in a lot of advanced societies.

Wonderful use of the film medium for emotional and social impact.

Rating: 8/10

-Recca 4/30/08

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