Tsuchimoto's Documentaries on Afghanistan

In the last of my "reports" on the trailers I made for the Documentaries of Noriaki Tsuchimoto series (one for Minamata, the other for On the Road), i wanted to mention the ones that I put together for his two films on Afghanistan before the Taliban, Another Afghanistan: Kabul Diary 1985 and Traces: The Kabul Museum 1988

Tsuchimoto was of course famous for his penetrating documentaries on Minamata disease, but he worked on many other subjects, ranging from student radicals in the 1960s (e.g, Prehistory of the Partisans) to a biography of the poet Nakano Shigeharu. Some films were extensions of the issues raised in the Minamata series, looking for instance at other forms of pollution like nuclear radiation, or at the oceans. He was always concerned with the oppressed and the marginal and read profusely, compiling dozens and dozens of scrapbooks (which his wife Motoko, with whom I experienced the earthquake, showed me once). 

One topic of interest was Afghanistan and he ended up making three films on that country, based on the footage he was able to take during several trips as one of the few foreigners allowed to film in the nation in the 1980s, before the Taliban took power. I think part of his interest stemmed simply from his leftist sympathies, as he genuinely hoped that the socialist regime in those days would do a better job than some other socialist experiments. Another Afghanistan and Traces could be said to lack the critical eye that his Minamata works show, but they are by no means propaganda: just as Tsuchimoto genuinely cares for the Minamata victims through his camera, he goes beyond politics to express an affection for the everyday lives and culture of Afghanis. The resulting films are not as powerful as the Minamata films - Traces is closer to a documentary on art history (though one every art history department should have!) - but they serve both as irreplaceable documents of Afghan life and history (much of which is now gone or profoundly transformed) and as testimony to Tsuchimoto's unending efforts to understand others through film.

The tragedy with Another Afghanistan and Traces is that their original sound was lost by the production company. Tsuchimoto thus had to rework them in 2003 by adding music and voice-over narration. The sense of being on the side of his subjects, which Tsuchimoto usually conveys, is harder to get here. The films then also seem more conventional.

The narration then made it hard to piece together these trailers. Unlike the previous two, where I could take music and then edit together some good shots, I could not recombine sound and image in significant ways. The result is a bit stilted. But the films are better than the trailers!

Another Afghanistan: Kabul Diary 1985
Traces: The Kabul Museum 1988

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