Featured: Nagisa Oshima – A Taboo Life
Directors are meant to break walls and tackle social norms, especially in a country like Japan where certain areas are no-go to the public. Death, nudity, Japan’s conduct in the war is all avoided to keep attached the pride of Japan, a country still full of nationalism and tradition that melts with the country’s rapid industrialization and modernity after 1945. Not to Oshima, who saw it fit to go right at the problem. In a country that is mainly conservative and votes that way, Oshima was a leftist who was influenced by the French New Wave. Unafraid of freedom of expression, Oshima sought to shock the audience and critique everything he felt was wrong with the country, backward to some extent and not being able to accept certain things that went on in people’s private lives.
He released his two first films in 1960, but it was his second film that put him on the map. Night And Fog In Japan is about political memory between the Stalinist communists (which Oshima opposed) and the Zengakuren, a student-based group of anarchists and communists who are critical of the American presence in the area. It lasted for three days in the cinema when the leader of the Socialist Party was assassinated by a far-right protester and the film was pulled in fear of more violence forming. Oshima then made his own independent company to prevent any more studio interference. While sex is center, In The Realm Of The Senses is set the 1930s during Japan’s military buildup entering the Second World War. The government is cementing control on what people should believe and behave in private as the male lover is a businessman all about making money. And in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Oshima grades on the Japanese officers conduct while running a POW camp.
Society As A Failure
Death by Hanging was a shot across the lake on the country’s use of capital punishment. A man is at the gallows for murder, but when the noose drops, he does not die and has no memory of his crime. The officials don’t want to do the hanging again unless he confesses for his actions, which proves to be a lot harder. Oshima utilizes the theatre of the absurd from the German author Bertolt Brecht to study guilt and consciousness, as well as Japan’s past history of violence against the Koreans durian the war. Before the action begins, a narration provides how the process goes for the condemned before the hanging until the person, simply known as R, comes out of it alive.
In 1969’s Boy, it is a true story about a family who resorts to crime by forcing the son to intentionally throw himself in front of a car and make the drivers pay the family. While they are criminals engaging in fraud and child abuse, something similar in Shoplifters, Oshima gives a humanist touch, feeling bad for the family who are that desperate rather than condemning them. His followup, The Ceremony, critiques those who desire to keep on what they have left in tradition in the face of a rapidly changing world. To keep the family pure of such outside material, they go to shocking lengths.
Nudity is something not meant to be seen, which is why In The Realm Of The Senses is his most direct explicit challenge of Japan’s social conservative norms with explicit sex. Yup, what you find on PornHub (above is the actual trailer from the Sydney Film Festival) can also be seen in Oshima’s portrayal of a true story infamous crime involving a prostitute, her lover, and a shocking climax that stunned the country in 1936. Their passion even rubs off on their other women and are unafraid to bare all on camera, something only Oshima could have the confidence in. Homosexuality is portrayed in both Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Oshima’s final film, Taboo. The first film is his most mainstream movie, shot in Japanese and English with David Bowie as a British POW who has an unlikely friendship. Taboo takes place in the mid-19th century with a young and handsome newcomer to the country’s special police force whose talent is matched by others’ attraction to him in the all-male group.
Oshima died in 2013, aged 80. His work lives on because of the notoriety he put on the screen and people were impressed by his messaging. In the Realm of the Senses was his biggest commercial hit, but found himself in legal trouble for obscenity, which he got away from. “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden,” Oshima told the court. He had, what The Guardian wrote as, “a deeply ambivalent attitude to Japanese society,” as well as to commercialism which the country embraced. It was this political and cultural critique Oshima spoke of in his 40-year career which defines him today.
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