Retrospect of Ôshima Nagasi films

 

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The Japanese movies I most revere were made by Ichikawa, Kinoshita, Kobayashi, Kurosawa — the generation between the masters who were already established before the Second World War (Mizoguchi, Naruse, Ozu) and the “New Wave” (Ôshima, Imamura, Shinoda, Teshigahara) that began making movies around 1960. I put off running through the Ôshima films I’ve seen (19 of his 26 feature files, none of his 21 documentaries, three tv movies and one 13-episode tv series) because there are few that I like — maybe only one (Pleasures of the Flesh), though I find “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (which is mostly in English) very intriguing and don’t think he went off the rail to an extent close to that of Jean-Luc Godard, the French New Wave director to whose work Ôshima’s was compared early and often.

Ôshima was dismayed by the failure of Japanese opposition politics (the student movement) in 1960 and became increasingly alienated from his countrymen in general and Japanese cinema in particular

I know that Ôshima is historically important, in some ways the first independent Japanese filmmaker (though he began and ended his career directing for Shochiku). He was particularly critical of the discrimination those of Korean descent (many born in Japan) faced.

I also think his fascination with erotic obsession and and the recurrence of rape (often multiple rapes)  in many of his movies unhealthy, and contributing to my impatience with many of his movies. From his third movie on, they tended to drag and were often dramatically incoherent. I have already quoted the acute analysis of Donald Richie: Ôshima “rarely sees any of these issues through to any logical conclusion, maintaining that it is precisely the illogicality of the issues themselves which ought command our interest; that his is the role of social critic, calling their absurdity to our attention. Perhaps for this reason he refuses to allow any of his films an autonomous life of their own. One is always aware of the director, manipulating his material, making certain that we understand that it is his statement rather than that of the actors playing his characters. Consequently there is no indirection, no implication — we are talked at and ordered to think; we are not requested to feel.”

As with Imamura, there were lengthy stretches in which Ôshima directed no feature-length fiction films. A chronological list with my ratings on a 10-point scale of the ones that are available here (on Criterion and/or Hulu) follows

 

A Town of Love and Hope (1959) 7

Cruel Story of Youth/Naked Youth (1960) 6

The Sun’s Burial (1960) 2

Night and Fog in Japan (1960) 1

Pleasures of the Flesh (1965) 7

Violence at Noon (1966) 1

Sing a Song of Sex (1967) 4

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967) 4

Death by Hanging (1968) 6

3 Resurrected Drunkards (1968) 5

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969) 1

Boy (1969) 4.5

The Man Who Put His Will on Film (1970) 2

The Ceremony (1971) 5

In the Realm of the Senses (1976) 2.5

Empire of Passion (1978) 3

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) 9

Max, Mon Amour (1986) 5.5

Gohatto/Taboo (1999) 5.5

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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