I am sad to say that one of my favorite directors passed away, radical Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima. Oshima’s career took flight and flourished during the 1960’s, helping to push the Japanese New Wave while also seemingly tearing it all down piece by piece. He was referred to often as the “Japanese Jean-Luc Godard” and I agree with that assessment in the sense that he was just as radical with the film medium, using it to challenge the minds of the viewer and force us to think differently.
He started out as a law student who was heavily interested in left-leaning politics. He took a job as an assistant director at a Japanese movie studio even though he didn’t particularly care for movies and especially didn’t care for traditional Japanese cinema. Oshima only took the job because it was the only place that would hire him. Eventually, he worked his way up and began making films at a feverish pace.
Perhaps his most famous film is In the Realm of the Senses (1976), a film that focuses on a sexual obsessed couple and features real, unsimulated sex. As you can imagine, this was controversial at the time and was initially banned in the US and Japan. But that film is only the tip of the iceberg to a vast body of work.
I could go on to recommend all films from Nagisa Oshima but I think my favorite would have to be Sing a Song of Sex. It is a twisted, dark comedy centered on a rowdy, horny group of teenaged boys who lust after one of their teachers. Oshima probes the inside of these boys’ daydreams and couples this with amazingly photographed shots. It has an eerie atmosphere that is always somehow erotically charged in some subtle (and sometimes, not-so-subtle) ways.
I also highly recommend Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (starring David Bowie no less). It focuses on British prisoners in a Japanese camp during World War II and one Japanese soldier’s odd infatuation with David Bowie‘s character. What makes it great is contrasting the cultures of these two nations and showing how sometimes, mercy can be turned on and off depending on the mood of oppressors.
Nagisa Oshima has left behind a hugely influential body of work that will continue to excite future generations of filmmakers and film watchers.
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