It’s interesting that there are four credits for the screenplay (including one for himself) in Ôshima’s “Nihon shunka-kô” (literally, “A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs,” more commercially titled “Sing a Song of Sex” in English), since there was no screenplay when shooting started and the movie was mostly improvised. (None of the four credited screenwriters were in the cast; Tamura Tsutomu would be credited in seven later Ôshima films and Shinoda’s “Yasha-ga-ike,” “Macarthur’s Children,” and “Maihimi”; Sasaki Mamoru with Tamura in six)
The movie follows four male high school seniors applying to enter Tokyo University. There are also three female students from the same outlying high school (one of them, Kaneda, is Korean [Yoshida Hideko], which those depending on the subtitled might miss realizing) and a teacher (Itami Juzo, the then-future director of “Tampopo” and “Taxing Woman”). The teacher is not a chaperone. In addition to meeting up with his Tokyo mistress, he takes the students (with snow on the ground, I doubt the school year is over!) drinking and singing bawdy songs. One running through a sequence of sexual partners is repeated throughout the movie.
In a series of attempts (ploys), the boys fail to gain admission to the girls’ room. Also in sequence, they fantasize about raping the young woman who sat in seat #469 (Tajima Kazuko).
Having no political consciousness, the boys don’t even realize what is being protested in a march that they precede (though briefly they could be said to “lead” it, starting chants against the revival of celebrating Kenkokubi/ “Founders Day”).
They also visit without joining a night-time protest (of the Vietnam war) hootenanny that includes many young guitarists and group singing in English of “This Land Is Your Land,” “Michael Rowed the Boast Ashore(, Hallelujah),” and “We Shall Overcome.” Ôshima works in a lecture about the Korean origins of Japan/the Japanese royal family.
The failure of the young at political protests is an Ôshima leitmotif, as is championing oppressed Koreans in Japan, and a fascination with rape. When she learns of the boys’ fantasies of raping her at the front of the classroom where the exam was administered, #469 invites them to enact it for real (without the proctor they overpowered in their fantasies and the boy who tried to come to her aid). The fantasies were rather aim-inhibited (or they fantasized cumming very, very fast with her panties still on…), and Ôshima embellishes them with strangling #469, who struggles not at all. (So this likely is also fantasy.)
Although there was some interest in an accidental death with which Nakamura (pop singer Araki Ichirô) may have been complicit (or, at least, failed to prevent), the movie runs out of energy and interest at the hootenanny (the running time is 103 minutes, but with all the songs seems to drag on a longer time, with a diatribe after the second rape sequence). The color palette is heavily black and red. It was shot by Takada Akira, who was also the cinematographer of the 1964 tv movie “Because I Love You” and the feature films “Pleasures of the Flesh” and “Violence at Noon,” but of no later Ôshima films.
BTW, there is nothing resembling a treatise, though the teacher in addition to singing bawdy songs argues that they are hidden history, hidden voicing of protests by the oppressed. His thesis borders on Völksgeist sentimentalizing.
- “Sing a Song of Sex” is available in the Criterion Eclipse “Ôshima’s Outlaw Sixties” set.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray