Arakimentari (2004)

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three star

A short, brisk documentary about Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki, Arakimentari tiptoes the same line as its subject: the division between fine art & shameless erotica. Araki, a photographer, is an excitable pervert even in his old age, rapidly firing off lofty platitudes about the visual appeal of vaginas & what it means to be an artist. The movie itself begins with the questions “What is a photographer? What is photography?” before diving head first into Araki’s unique world of daily self-documentation & bondage model photo shoots. As a total weirdo and a sexual deviant, Araki comes across here as the (much cheerier) Robert Crumb of photography.

Araki reached his peak cultural popularity in the 1990s & Arakimentari is smart to mimic a 90s aesthetic in the telling of his work. There’s a truly hip 90s NYC vibe in the movie’s long stretches where aggressive electronic music (provided by DJ Krush) plays over blindingly fast slide shows of Araki’s photography. The movie works best in these montages, allowing the art to speak for itself. Portraits, flowers, everyday objects, and muted landscapes mix with Araki’s obscene erotica in surreal bursts. Several photographers are interviewed to help provide context for Araki’s significance, but musician Björk is also included as a kind of Ambassador of 90s Cool. She explains that she found his work when she lived in London during that decade, describing what a powerful discovery it was at the time. Björk also points to the significance of Araki’s book about his deceased wife in a moment that gets a deservedly calmer, tenderer type of slideshow than the rest of his work does here.

Arakimentari is not a prying, tell-all type of documentary. It offers its subject’s life & work for review in the best light possible. It tells the story of an energetic degenerate with a photographic eye & a constant smile, without asking him to reveal too much about either himself or his detractors. Its best moments occur when the art is offered for viewing free of context, but Araki himself is an amusing character & deft storyteller that makes the rest of the run time worthwhile as well.

-Brandon Ledet

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