Based upon a true incident in 1930s Japan, Nagisa Oshima’s controversial film effectively skirts the borderline between pornography and art — making Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris of four years earlier look like children’s programming in comparison. The story concerns servant and former prostitute Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) who becomes sexually obsessed with her employer Kizicho (Tatsuya Fuji), a businessman, after seeing him making love to his wife. After making love to Sada, Kizicho becomes obsessed with her as well. As their love-making becomes more and more intense, they find themselves unable to separate themselves from each other, until every waking hour is spent in more and more dangerous sexual acts with Sada becoming more and more of the aggressor. Finally, for the ultimate in eroticism, Kizicho agrees to be strangled during sexual ecstasy for the ultimate in orgasmic fulfillment. Continue reading Nagisa Oshima – Ai no corrida aka In the Realm of the Senses [+Extras] (1976)
Aesthetic and political rebel, Oshima is one of the most original directors now working in Japan. This is a metaphysical tale of a radical student filmmaker who succumbs to the illusion that he has committed suicide and left a film as his testament. Attempting to
“decipher” this film and the “dead man’s” life, he rapes his own girl (who plays along with the illusion to cure him) and retraces the “other man’s” life by means of the film, only to find himself in his own birthplace. The film testament proves incomprehensible. He therefore refilms it, intending to create a work superior to that of his illusory rival; but his girl, to save him, willfully interrupts and changes each scene. He finally realizes that he must kill the dead man — himself — in order to be free. Several key episodes, including sex scenes, are recreated by the protagonists in front of a screen showing the film testament so that they are projected onto their bodies. Throughout, the style is meticulously realistic, meticulously metaphysical.
– from Vogel’s Film as a Subversive Art Continue reading Nagisa Ôshima – Tôkyô sensô sengo hiwa AKA The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970)
In Oshima’s enigmatic tale, four sexually hungry high school students preparing for their university entrance exams meet up with an inebriated teacher singing bawdy drinking songs. This encounter sets them on a less than academic path. Oshima’s hypnotic, free-form depiction of generational political apathy features stunning color cinematography.
This gets our vote as the most overlooked of Oshima’s films, underrated perhaps because its English title makes it appear frivolous. It’s decidedly not. Despite flights of comedy, (unnerving) sexual fantasy, youthful yearning, karaoke and hootenannies, Sing a Song of Sex offers an intent, penetrating portrait of a generation confronting its new freedoms and its inability to act on them. Oshima obviously considered the film very important, one infers from the essays he wrote about it. Continue reading Nagisa Ôshima – Nihon shunka-kô AKA Sing A Song Of Sex (1967)
With an arresting mix of eroticism and horror, Oshima plunges the viewer into a nightmarish tale of guilt and retribution in Empire of Passion (Ai no borei). Set in a Japanese village at the end of the nineteenth century, the film details the emotional and physical downfall of a married woman and her younger lover following their decision to murder her husband and dump his body in a well. Empire of Passion was Oshima’s only true kaidan (Japanese ghost story), and the film, a savage, unrelenting experience, earned him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Continue reading Nagisa Oshima – Ai no borei AKA Empire of Passion [+Extras] (1978)
One of Oshima Nagisa’s most cinematically daring films, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief was the second production between the Art Theatre Guild and his company Sozosha. In this film, Oshima extracts some personality traits for his protagonist from Ri Chin’u (the Korean murderer largely inspired the earlier film Death by Hanging), who stole foreign literature from the library, and was especially fond of Dostoyevsky and Goethe.
The film is set mostly in a multi-storey bookstore, the Shinjuku Kinokunya, (which is one of the largest in Tokyo, and a centre for intellectuals, artists, and young children) and the larger Shinjuku area, featuring its bars, restaurants, and community. We’re initially introduced to an actual theatre troupe, Juro Karo Situation Players, who strike down any idea of realism in the film, but as the action unfolds the main character and Shinjuku thief, Birdy Hilltop, emerges. Sexuality, theatre, and politics clash. Continue reading Nagisa Oshima – Shinjuku dorobo nikki AKA Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968)
In Osaka’s slum, youth without futures engage in pilfering, assault and robbery, prostitution, and the buying and selling of identity cards and of blood. Alliances constantly shift. Tatsu and Takeshi, friends since boyhood, reluctantly join Shin’s gang. Shin’s an upstart and moves his gang often to avoid the local kingpin. Hanoko is a young woman with ambitions: first she’s in the blood business with her father, then she joins forces with Shin. She soon breaks off that partnership, even though she’s taken the sensitive Takeshi under her wing. Double crosses multiply. Those with the closest bonds become each others’ murderers… Continue reading Nagisa Oshima – Taiyo no Hakaba aka The Sun’s Burial – Restored Version (1960)
As far as I know, this short film is Nagisa Oshima’s directorial debut. It seems to be in the form of a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist. It parodies the mainstream Japanese film genres of the time and is a rare glimpse at Oshima’s more playful side. Continue reading Nagisa Oshima – Asu no taiyo AKA Tomorrow’s Sun (1959)