Oshima’s “Pleasures of the Flesh”

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I was able to suspend disbelief to follow Ôshima’s 1965 “Etsuraku”/“Pleasures of the Flesh” (based on a pulp novel by Yamada Fytari titled (in translation) Pleasures in the Coffin), which is a sort of  ghost-haunted noir. It seems that Atsushi (Nakamura Tasuo) has recurrent hallucinations of the embezzler, Hayami (Ozawa Shôichi) who stashed 30 million yen with him after observing Atushi throwing a blackmailer (who earlier had raped the young woman he loved) off a train.

Atushi holds onto the money for four of the five years of the embezzler’s sentence, then decided to spend all the money and then kill himself just before the prisoner’s release. (Hayami already had embezzled 98 million yen when he recruited his safekeeper for 30 million of his cache, and was still at it, but there is no indication in the movie of what happened to the other 68 or more million.)

The young man who was a trusted tutor, wand was entrusted by his tutee’s father with slaying the blackmailer, was in love with Shoko (Kaga Moriko), which is why he agrees to kill the blackmailer. At the start of the movie she, not knowing what he had done for her, is marrying a rich industrialist. It is despair about this that triggers the decision to spend the money he is holding. Some of it goes to paying a succession of women who bear some resemblance to Shoko a million yen a month to live with him. It’s not that he is unattractive and has to pay for sex or company. And until he starts spending the money, his id has been repressed and/or suppressed. He also hallucinates Shoko fairly often.

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In the last reel, the viewer sees how unworthy his ideal, Shoko, was/is and there are some satisfying plot twists (satisfying for the viewer, not for Atsushi!).

As usual for Ôshima movies (and, indeed, for Japanese one) , I think that “Pleasures of the Flesh”  runs on too long with the repetition of paid companions, but given some outlandish premises and the violence-tinged erotic possessiveness one expects from an Ôshima film, it makes sense (especially in comparison to “Three Resurrected Drunkards” and “Japanese Summer: Double Suicide”; it looks forward more to the ghost story of “Empire of Passion”). It also has some garish colors in sometimes fairly abstract compositions. “Pleasures of the Flesh” is my favorite Ôshima movie, intrigued as I am by his penultimate one, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.” It is less grim than most, though not a “laugh riot.”

 

˙©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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