“A Dedicated Life” is both a tribute to the work of the controversial Japanese writer Mitsuharu Inoue and a study of his death from cancer. Despite its length, Kazuo Hara’s intimate study of a likable and courageous man is riveting viewing, and, in the end, extremely moving. It should have no trouble finding slots at fests and specialized TV nets.
Hara, who last made the impressive “The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On,” set out originally to film Inoue’s life over a 10-year period. The writer, a charming, raffish character, was a leader of the Japanese Communist Party but was expelled when he wrote critically about communism. He grew up in poverty (working as a coal miner as a boy) and was self-taught.
Soon after shooting began in 1989, Inoue’s doctor diagnosed liver cancer, and in the finished film Hara intercuts between his subject’s life (re-created in a few staged black-and- white scenes) and his prospective death.
Inoue’s charisma is testified to by a number of women who admit they were in love with him; he seems to have had many relationships, despite a long-established marriage.
He is seen passionately lecturing at universities around the country, quietly writing at his desk and chatting animatedly with friends and colleagues (at one point, he loses his temper with one friend and orders him from the room). He also regularly visits the hospital for tests, X-rays, chemotherapy and, in a grueling, explicit sequence, surgery in which most of his liver is removed.
He recovers, but the cancer recurs, and Inoue is seen getting gradually weaker and thinner, while his loyal wife is always there by his side. He died in May 1992.
Other recent docus have delved into this same area (Frank Perry’s “On the Bridge” and Tom Joslin and Peter Friedman’s “Silverlake Life”), but Hara’s unflinching study of a dying man brings fresh insight into the human condition. It’s a demanding, but most impressive, film portrait.