Depending on how you look at it Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is an artist with a great eye for composition of the human form or he's a dirty old man who takes photos of naked women in funky poses. No question he is a bit of both. But one thing that the documentary Arakimentari shows indubitably is that Araki is an energetic artist who takes hundreds of photos and is a dynamo with everyone he meets or works with.
Built like a fireplug he moves around cojoling, laughing, self promoting and making sex jokes. One woman asks him; "why do you always talk about sex?" To which he replies, "Because sex is life."
Indeed if we are to believe everything that filmmaker Travis Klose shows in this film Araki thinks of little but sex. And why not? He's a famous photographer who has an array of women - from young models to middleaged housewives - requesting his services.
The documentary was shot on a Sony VX2000 camera and has numerous interviews with artists, critics and friends of Araki as well as plenty of footage of Araki talking, laughing and doing his photos shoots. It also has 100's of shots of his photographs.
One question that people unfamilier with Araki may ask after watching the DVD is; Is Araki a great photographer? I think the question can only be answered by the people who admire him. Yes, he has some provocative work and yes, his photos can be beautiful - but at times he seems to be coasting on his fame. And, let's be honest, it's pretty difficult to take a bad photo of a naked young model especially when you have a $2000 camera and a lighting crew behind you.
To be fair, Araki has created some very good work. Most notably his bondage photos are as provocative as they come. And a whole series of photographs he took of his wife that is set up like a day-in-the-life in which she is shown doing her daily routine - only with Araki's camera in tow - is a beautiful piece of work that has many admirers. One of those admirers is Bjork - who is one of the half dozen interviewees who praise his work. He has also taken fine photos of Japanese faces, alot of photos of flowers and many photos that he has painted on or manipulated with color and scratches; some of which he has used to comment upon censorship in Japan.
If the documentary proves anything it is that Araki is prolific [he has over 300 books of his photos], influential and respected. So much so that - according to the commentary track - the Japanese authorities who have allowed him to continue to take bondage photos but forbidden other photographers to do so.
The documentary is good if not a bit long and one note. The filmmakers have a few long interviews with Araki that run throughout the film. The rest of the time they follow him through the streets - where he takes photos with a little digital camera of anything and everything. Then they go with him on a few shoots where models and housewifes disrobe for his camera.
In the first hour just about everything that needs to be said about Araki the artist is said. In the last half hour there is a little bit about his personal life. In this section we learn that his wife died in 1990. But the filmmakers never dig deep into who Araki is. And as a consequence Araki gets to be exactly who everyone thinks he is; a hyperreal fun loving artist who takes photos all the time. I think there is more there to the man and it would be good to see that. As it is Arakimentari is a must see for his fans and worth a look if you have never heard of him.
From a technical standpoint the film is top notch. There is a great soundtrack written for the film by DJ Krush. And too the film is assembled quite well. Not only the editing but the way in which all the elements are put together in an entertaining way.
Presented in full frame 1.33:1 the images are mostly clear and sharp. There is a slight difference between the footage the filmmakers shot and the footage that Araki's videographer shot. And there is super 8 footage and still photos blended in. The quality of the DVD image is very good.
Audio is presented in Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, DTS Surround Sound 5.1 and Dolby Stereo 2.0. Overall the audio is excellent - especially the DJ Krush soundtrack, which adds a lot to the film.
The best extra is a commentary track by director Travis Klose and producer Jason Fried. Travis does most of the talking and he remembers a lot about the making of the shoot. Jason mainly agrees a lot or makes additional comments. It's a good commentary track because it fills in a bit from what's missing in the documentary. For instance, they explain that Araki was hard to get to know on a personal level. They also add some historical information. There is 55 minutes of addition footage, which is actually just an extended interview with Araki. It's pretty much more of the same from the movie except it is unedited. In it we see Araki talk and then we hear an interpreter talking to the filmmakers. This language barrier no doubt had something to do with the inability to get Araki to open up personally. There is also a Photo Gallery that has 39 photos - few of which are as salacious or provocative as the stuff in the movie. The DVD also has a secret frame that lies somewhere in a montage of Araki bookcovers, which is located on the DVD between 22 and 23 minutes. The last extra is trailers of other Tartan releases.
Arakimentari [a combination of Araki and Documentary] is an entertaining documentary about photographer Nobuyoshi Araki who is one of the most famous photographers in Japan. The filmmakers follow around Araki while he takes his sexually provocative, disturbing and artistic photos. The DVD looks good, sounds great and has good extras. [Note: The film is unrated but would be NC-17 if it were.]