On Open and Closed Societies

Filip Remunda’s documentary, The Okamura Brothers, which will be screened in its world premiere at One World, exceeds the genre of a traditional portrait. Both the family and architecture speak of politics. The main focus is on the unsettled family environment that should bring the brothers together but instead divides them, and looks at the individual differences between open and closed societies.

Director Filip Remunda conceived his The Okamura Brothers, one of films in the Czech Journal documentary series, as an unusual political family portrait of three brothers, two of whom – the two involved in politics – are not on speaking terms, one of them even refusing to talk with the filmmakers. Nevertheless, Osamu, Tomio, and Hayato Okamura all equally contribute to the jigsaw puzzle in which damaged family ties serve as a commentary to political relationships. The environment in which the protagonists are active also serves as an inconspicuous, yet very pertinent, social commentary.

The oldest, Hayato, a Catholic and a politician, comes across as a post-war Japanese official in both his looks and how he dresses. Nevertheless, because of his mixed blood, the fairly xenophobic Japanese would not accept him as one of their own. The middle brother, Tomio, who is a businessman and politician, will not let the filmmakers – or anyone else for that matter – get very close to him. Osamu, a gay architect, is the youngest and the most open. With his natural communicative personality, he would be the best suited for a political career.
Filip Remunda sets out for Tokyo with Hayato to visit the brothers’ ill father. The architect Samko, as Osamu is called by his family, lets himself be accompanied through Amsterdam where he is on a business trip. And Tomio is represented by old “images” from the time he was active in the tourism industry, shots from the television programme Třináctá komnata (The Thirteenth Chamber), and his current Facebook videos.

It seems as if – possibly also because of the differences between the protagonists – the film is a junction where the different trends of Czech social documentary converge. The engaged “situational aesthetics”, which have made Remunda and Vít Klusák famous and have already influenced one stream of Czech documentary film, shines through only at certain moments, mainly when Remundo is unsuccessfully trying to establish contact with Tomio, or when he is talking to the politician’s opponents or supporters. In the second case, the filmmaker’s ability to ask the right questions makes it apparent just how weak are the foundations on the basis of which many people support and vote for Tomio.

However, that which is inadvertent makes an even stronger impression, whether the camera is only watching what is happening, or even in the situations that have been partially pre-arranged. For example, when Hayato is explaining how Tokyo has been built and how, even with its population density, the city also provides space to ensure its residents live well. Or when Osamu approaches the locals in Amsterdam, ranging in age from young boys to senior citizens, and starts spontaneous conversations with them. Between the lines, one finds a discussion about the closed Czech society. As Osamu later notes, architecture is, in the broadest sense of the word, also politics.

Remundo’s film is more than a confrontational or admiring portrait of politicians. It is a network of familial, political, and architectural relationships. The entire Czech Journal series has been planned with the objective of introducing a broader perspective and original approaches to television and journalistic production, and of establishing a link between television and film festival audiences. Through the way in which it combines the personal and the political, and with its emphasis on the unsettled family environment that should bring the brothers together but instead divides them, The Okamura Brothers thematises the actual differences between open and closed societies – from the smallest societal units to an entire nation.

Tomáš Stejskal, Film Column Editor for Hospodářské noviny and Aktuálně.cz

Mikrosvět bratrů Okamurových jako by byl typickým příkladem rozdělení dnešní české společnosti.
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