A buoyant docu-portrait of famed Japanese photographer/provocateur Nobuyoshi Araki, “Arakimentari” offers a fast, efficient and richly satisfying look at an iconoclastic artist and his groundbreaking work. Directed by New York-based filmmaker Travis Klose, pic attains intimacy with Araki, showing him at work and at play, while incorporating perspectives of his peers, admirers and detractors. The movie is equally interested in Araki’s photographs and the broad territory they canvas, from bondage to Bjork, plaintive to pornographic. Pic’s high energy level combined with Araki’s art-world notoriety portend a healthy fest life and perhaps niche commercial engagements in upscale markets.
A wiry, fidgety presence in a tank top and red suspenders, with tufts of gray-black hair shooting out from the sides of his otherwise bald head, the 63-year-old Araki is himself a subject fit for pictures. The most published photographer in the world, he has, over the course of more than 350 books, pursued his favorite on-camera subject — the female body — depicting women of all ages, shapes and sizes, frequently in the nude and often in a variety of compromising positions. Some have even deemed those positions to be torturous and misogynistic, to the point where the female guards at an Austrian museum where Araki’s work was being presented went on strike in protest of the exhibition. Perhaps needless to add, Araki has also caused his share of stirs within certain segments of famously conservative Japanese society.
However, as “Arakimentari” unfolds, it becomes clear Araki (who says “the origin of visual art lies in the vagina”) has nothing but a profound love for women, and that all of his models — including a few very famous faces — give willingly of themselves to his vision.
Likewise, Araki is hardly a one-trick pony. While he may be best known for his more outrageous work, he began his career by taking more conventional portraits, some of which are seen here, that have a unique intensity, as though his subjects’ faces had been chiseled from blocks of granite.
For the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima, he created a breathtaking series of “heat developed” photos, processed under extreme temperatures until the emulsion risked separating from the paper. And in one of his most famous photo books, “Sentimental Journey,” he depicted the entirety of his marriage to his wife Yoko, from their honeymoon to her untimely death from cancer — photos that are, in turn, brought to cinematic life by Klose in an extraordinary montage sequence that is one of pic’s highlights.
While Klose is clearly an admirer of Araki’s work, his film never devolves into a one-note piece of fan worship. Instead, he strives for (and largely achieves) a well-rounded presentation, giving due time to dissenting voices and, ultimately, leaving it up to the audience to weigh in with the final verdict on Araki’s artistic merits.