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#1
Aug 7, 2014 4:37 AM
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Nagisa Oshima


Born in Kyoto, Oshima studied political history at Kyoto University, where he was a student leader involved in leftwing activities, prior to graduating in 1954. He then became a film critic and later editor-in-chief of the film magazine Eiga Hihyo, before learning his craft as an assistant director at the Shochiku Studios. Oshima started directing his first features at the time of the French New Wave and was particularly influenced by Jean-Luc Godard.

His first three films were fairly undistinguished seishun eiga (youth films), which included a few experimental sequences. For example, in Naked Youth (1960) there is a long single-shot sequence in which the young hero slowly munches an apple. The neorealist Night and Fog in Japan (1960) – the title deliberately designed to echo Alain Resnais's documentary on Auschwitz – was a despairing indictment of the disunity of the Japanese left, and what Oshima saw as the betrayal of revolutionary action by the Japanese Communist party. The film, which contains only 43 shots, was withdrawn by the studio three days after its release, which pushed him to working as an independent and to found his own production company, Sozosha, with the actor Akiko Koyama, whom he married in 1960.

The Catch (1961), Oshima's first independent movie, set the tone for much that was to follow in its concern about racism and brutality, whether institutionalised or personal. Filmed in long takes with minimum camera movement, it tells the savage story of an African-American PoW held hostage by a small village. While waiting for the military police to remove their "catch", the villagers make the man a scapegoat for all their own problems, eventually murdering him.

Oshima's next important film was Violence at Noon (1966), a deliberately obscure study of a sex criminal. It is very rarely seen because of a legal dispute over the film's distribution abroad. In contrast to The Catch, it was made in CinemaScope and was frenetically cut (it contains 2,000 shots). The unusual Tales of the Ninja (1967) also featured rapid cutting and was made up entirely of panels from a violent and erotic manga comic book.

Death by Hanging (1968), a startling, angry and blackly humorous film, told of an intelligent young Korean, who is being hanged for the rape and murder of two Japanese girls, but his body refuses to die. It begins like a documentary on the death penalty, becoming more and more unreal as the arguments are pursued in seven Brechtian chapters. The main subject that emerges is the shameful treatment by the Japanese of the Korean minority, a fact of crucial importance to the understanding of the film.

Coming hot on the heels of the student revolt of 1968 was Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, an explosive agit-prop movie equating sexual liberation with revolution, whose impact has cooled only marginally. Using black and white with colour inserts and mixing realistic and theatrical acting and cinéma vérité techniques, it involves a young student who is caught shoplifting in a bookshop by a girl masquerading as an assistant, with whom he goes on to have a sexually unfulfilled affair. After seeking sexual advice, they finally find ecstasy as a street riot breaks out.

Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968) literally restarts halfway through. This could cause some unknowing audience members to start to protest, thinking that the projectionist was accidentally replaying the opening reel. That dated oddity was followed by Boy (1969), one of Oshima's most accessible and "finished" films. Like most of his films, it was taken from a true story – in this case, that of a 10-year-old boy who is trained by his parents to be knocked down by cars so that they can demand money from the frightened drivers before moving on to the next town. It was told with remarkable social and psychological insight, and the performances, the colour and the CinemaScope screen are all handled in a masterly manner.

The Ceremony (1971) was Oshima's most ambitious film to that date: no less than the history of Japan from the end of the second world war to the present day, represented by a large and influential family. Each stage is marked by a specific ceremony such as an anniversary, a wedding or a funeral, exposing Oshima's deeply ambivalent attitude to Japanese society. "Ceremonies are a time when the special characteristics of the Japanese spirit are revealed. It is this spirit that concerns and worries me," Oshima explained.

Empire of Passion (1978), a less sexually explicit companion piece to In the Realm of the Senses, is a ghost story with an amour fou at its centre. In a village in 1895, an old rickshaw man is murdered by his wife and her young lover. Three years later, the old man's ghost appears, reawakening their guilt and leading to the exposure of their crime. Although the film won Oshima the best director award at Cannes, he seemed to have one keen eye on the audience's emotions and another on the box-office. The social conviction and complexity of his earlier films seemed to have evaporated.

Oshima's only English-language film was Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983), based on a novel by Laurens van der Post set in a Japanese PoW camp. It attempted to explain that despite the wartime atrocities there were many soldiers with noble and gentle qualities. The main interest lay in the homoerotic relationship between a prisoner (David Bowie) and the commander of the camp (Ryuichi Sakamoto), though the two actors – both pop stars – give stilted performances.

The shade of Luis Buñuel hangs over the French-made Max, Mon Amour (1986), about a British diplomat in Paris, who discovers that his bored wife (Charlotte Rampling) has rented an apartment where she can visit her lover Max, a chimpanzee. This reasonably witty black comedy had little success, and Oshima gave up directing to become a popular talkshow host on Japanese television. He tried for some years to set up Hollywood Zen, his script about Sessue Hayakawa, the Japanese actor who became a Hollywood star in the silent era. In 1999, he made a welcome return to form with Gohatto (Taboo), a highly stylised and oblique samurai film about homosexual passions aroused in the very restricted society for a beautiful young fencer. It was to be his last film, following which he suffered a series of strokes.

Nagisa Oshima, film director, born 31 March 1932; died 15 January 2013

Please discuss his films or your view of him here!

Filmography
1959 Tomorrow's Sun
1959 A Town of Love and Hope
1960 Cruel Story of Youth
1960 The Sun's Burial
1960 Night and Fog in Japan
1961 The Catch
1962 The Rebel
1965 The Pleasures of the Flesh
1965 Yunbogi's Diary
1966 Violence at Noon
1967 Tales of the Ninja
1967 Sing a Song of Sex
1967 Double Suicide: Japanese Summer
1968 Death by Hanging
1968 Three Resurrected Drunkards
1969 Diary of a Shinjuku Thief
1969 Boy
1970 Man Who Left His Will On Film
1971 The Ceremony
1972 Dear Summer Sister
1976 In the Realm of the Senses
1978 Empire of Passion
1983 Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
1986 Max, Mon Amour
1999 Taboo
Modified by 13579wp, Sep 1, 2014 7:46 AM
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
 
#2
Aug 7, 2014 7:23 AM

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I saw In the Realm of the Senses last year (after it was recommended by a friend of mine). Never expected her to like something like this but I guess people are always full of surprises. It was really really good.

Any other "must see" movies by him? I'm guessing most (if not all) of them are good but I'm thinking about movies that are special or define his works. Are sex and eros a part of his themes?

I've only heard of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence before but never got around to see it.
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#3
Aug 16, 2014 6:24 PM
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Joined: Oct 2012
Posts: 316
i've only seen merry christmas, Mr Lawrence and Taboo but both were brilliant i'll have to check out some more of his especially Realm of the Senses i've heard nothing but good things
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?
 
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