Oshima's Outlaw Sixties: Criterion Collection (Eclipse Series 21)
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Often called the Godard of the East, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima was one of the most provocative film artists of the twentieth century, and his works challenged and shocked the cinematic world for decades. Following his rise to prominence at Shochiku, Oshima struck out to form his own production company, Sozosha, in 1961. That move ushered in the prolific period of his career that gave birth to the five films collected here. Unsurprisingly, this studio renegade was fascinated by stories of outsiders-serial killers, rabid hedonists, and stowaway misfits are just some of the social castoffs you'll meet in these audacious, cerebral entries in the New Wave surge that made Japan a hub of truly daredevil moviemaking.
Five-DVD Box Set Includes:
Pleasures of the Flesh (Etsuraku)
A corrupt businessman blackmails a lovelorn murderer, Atsushi, into watching over his suitcase full of embezzled cash while he serves a jail sentence. Rather than wait for the man to retrieve his money, however, Atsushi decides to spend it all in one libidinous rush-fully expecting to be tracked down and killed. Oshima's dip into the waters of the popular soft-core, or "pink film," genre is a compelling journey into excess.
Violence at Noon (Hakuchu no torima)
Oshima's disturbing tale concerns the odd circumstances surrounding a horrific murder and rape spree. In an unexpected twist, the film is as much about the two women who protect the violent man-his wife and a former victim-as it is about him. Containing more than two thousand cuts and a wealth of inventive widescreen compositions, this coolly fragmented character study is a mesmerizing investigation of criminality and social decay.
Sing a Song of Sex (Nihon shunka-ko)
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.
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (Muri shinju: Nihon no natsu)
A sex-obsessed young woman, a suicidal young man she meets on the street, a gun-crazy wannabe gangster-these are just three of the irrational, oddball anarchists trapped in an underground hideaway in Oshima's devilish, absurdist portrait of what he deemed the "death drive" in Japanese youth culture.
Three Resurrected Drunkards (Kaette kita yopparai)
A trio of bumbling young men frolic at the beach. While they swim, their clothes are stolen and replaced with new outfits. Having donned these, they are mistaken for undocumented Koreans and end up on the run from comically outraged authorities. A cutting commentary on Japan's treatment of its Korean immigrants, this is Oshima at both his most politically engaged and madcap.
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One of the founders of the Japanese New Wave, Oshima was known for taking on Japanese taboos and creating films against the status quo, the filmmaker has been doing his style of films since 1959 and working for the studio Shochiku in order to fulfill the studio's desire of creating edgier material for the youth market. Oshima would go on to create three films which were known as "The Youth Trilogy" ("Cruel Story of Youth", "The Sun's Burial", "Night and Fog in Japan").
After politics played a part in Oshima leaving Shochiku, the filmmaker would go on to create his own company known as Sozo-sha (Creation Company) and in celebration of his work from his new studio and many fans bombarding Criterion for more Nagisa Oshima, The Criterion Collection has chosen Nagisa Oshima's mid-to-late '60s films to be part of the latest Eclipse Series Collection known as "Eclipse Series 21: Oshima's Outlaw Sixties".
The latest DVD set "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" for Criterion Collection's Eclipse Series featuring filmmaker Nagisa Oshima's works from 1966-1968 is magnificent!
For any cineaste who is interested in the Japanese new wave but also wondering how Japan's most provocative auteur would eventually lead up to his highly controversial film "In the Realm of the Senses" can see how he progresses from film to film. Call him rebellious as he goes against the status quo, Nagisa Oshima shows us his daring side through these film films included in the Eclipse Series set.
Taking on sexual destruction, emotional conflict, nihilistic views towards Japanese youth, amorality and touching upon political situations that he saw in Japan (specifically the treatment of Koreans by Japanese) and using films as his platform. We get to Oshima engaged in situations that deal with the Japanese student movement, his feelings opposing the Vietnam War but also seeing that appreciation of Luis Bunuel, the master of surrealism influencing Oshima's style when he became liberated and avant-garde with his filmmaking.
Perhaps that is the connection of where some would call Oshima as the "Godard of the East" but as you watch each of these films, you start to see how his films showcases the cultural and political tension of postwar Japan. These films were the stepping stones in which Oshima would go all out in controversy for creating films such as "In the Realm of the Senses" and "The Empire of Passion".
Each film presented in the "Eclipse Series #21: Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" is indeed fascinating and unique.
"Pleasures of the Flesh" is a film that demonstrates Nagisa Oshima's strength in showcasing a character's self-destruction and pushing the boundaries of moral turpitude. For those familiar with Japanese films during the '60s, especially from Nikkatsu or from various filmmakers at the time, may it be pink films to yakuza gangster films, these films were quite popular for the youth market.
"Violence at Noon" is a film that demonstrates Oshima's artistic side by using high contrasts but unique in that the film utilized over 2,000 cuts but easily taking on topics such as rape, those protecting a serial killer and also suicide pacts. For three topics that can be seen as dismal and dark, Oshima manages to create a film that is literally artistic and defiant all at once.
In the case of "Sing a Song of Sex", Oshima's film which came a year after Tomomi Soeda's book which studies song as an expression of discontent among the Japanese and their escape into fantasy. Possibly the most surreal film I have seen from Oshima, this is Oshima reaching to Luis Bunuel heights as surrealism and dark comedy is used effectively. It may be too surreal for others but the film's bizarre form of storytelling to start off Oshima's Korean trilogy utilizing fantasy without being to upfront was quite fascinating.
1967 was definitely an intriguing year for Oshima fans as it was a year we see a liberation as a filmmaker and "Japanese Summer: Double Suicide" can be looked at Oshima's way of critiquing Japanese in general and I can see conservatives beginning to become more invidious towards the filmmaker while others outside of Japan perhaps saw a sense of style and a unique oeuvre. This is the filmmaker engaging all various types of Japanese through its bizarre characters and its senseless violence left a blank stare for many watching the film. But this was Oshima daring to take on the Vietnam War through film.
And last, unlike the previous four films, "Three Resurrected Drunkards" brings us those political views of Oshima but presenting it in a more comedic style. Unique in presentation for the filmmaker but yet the comedy is used as a way to engage the viewer towards the treatment of Koreans in Japan and his feelings towards the Vietnam War. A surprising comedy and also another film that one can see as experimental, farcical but within the context of Oshima's style of filmmaking, it works!
Each film in "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" showcasing elements of Oshima defying realism. But with Japanese culture, Oshima manages to take the political and make it art. This is Japanese new wave at its finest.
The Criterion Collection has managed to pick five magnificent films of Oshima, each unique and even 40-years-later, look absolutely great on DVD. Suffice to say, Oshima like Godard, like Resnais and like Bunuel, is not going to be for everyone. For those who enjoyed Oshima's "The Youth Trilogy" or his more controversial films may find these films to be too avant-garde if they are expecting something similar to the Nikkatsu '60s films. But I absolutely found this DVD set to be enjoyable, fascinating, thought provoking, artistic and just an all-out wonderful release.
Granted, it's missing one major key film in the Korean trilogy which is "Death by Hanging", which I can only hope that this film along with "The Youth Trilogy" will someday be released by Criterion.
But overall, "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" is absolutely fantastic and a worthy addition to any cinema fan's film collection. Highly recommended!
Like the directors of the French New Wave (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette) Oshima started making films in the late 50s (A Town of Love and Hope  is exactly contemporaneous with A bout de souffle) with the intent of shaking up the cinematic form in the belief that film really could change society. Unlike his French ‘comrades’ he was not a cineaste and initially had no real interest in film. He famously fell into film-making in the mid-50s by accepting the only job he was offered at the time after graduating from Kyoto University. This was a place on an assistant director training program offered by Shochiku. Oshima’s background was one of pure left-wing socialist politics. He grew up reading his father’s library of communist books and read law at university. There he became heavily involved in student radicalism, becoming one of the leaders who protested especially against lingering right wing power at a time of cold war politicking when the Americans were using Japan as an ally against the theoretical advance of communism from Russia. The signing of the US-Japan mutual security pact every ten years following the end of the American occupation in 1951 became a particularly sore bone of contention and in 1959/60 when the treaty was about to be renewed for the first time it felt like Japan was close to revolution. At that time the Japan Communist Party ‘sold out’ the most radical protesters by claiming they were “a responsible, civic-minded opposition party working against the security treaty and for the independence of Japan.” They repudiated the more radical elements of their number, the pact was signed and the protests died away. A larger number of radicals including Oshima felt they had been stabbed in the back and therein lies the bitterness that lies behind much of the 60s protest movement. This is reflected very well in Oshima’s films. He made Night and Fog in Japan (1960), a film which depicts this betrayal and Shochiku’s decision to shelve it following a political assassination led to Oshima splitting from the studio system and a further entrenchment in the cinema of anti-authoritarianism with its focus on ‘sex, crime, death, desire, the failure of the political left, the power of the unconscious, and the place, or displacement of the outlaw in society’(Michael Koresky). He set out to make films to change society, but ended up making film after film about embittered radical outsiders who are defeated by a system impervious to change.
To understand Oshima’s original intentions as a film-maker (and the bewildering range of different styles and modes of expression in these 5 films) it is helpful to look at what he wrote in 1958 before he had even directed his first film. Regarding the dilemma then facing modernist film-makers he wrote in an essay entitled ‘Is It a Breakthrough? (The Modernists of Japanese Film): “The modernists are at a crossroads. One road would lead to gradual degeneration of their innovations in form into mere entertainment, bringing about their surrender to the pre-modern elements that are subconsciously included in the content of their films. In that case, they would simply live out their lives as mediocre technical artists. Another road requires them to exert all of their critical spirit and powers of expression in a persistent struggle that strongly and effectively pits the content of their works against the pre-modern elements of Japanese society.” The first road clearly marks the continuation of the humanist tradition of Japanese film-making as enshrined in the work of Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi which Oshima clearly has no time for, linking it with the perpetuation of ‘pre-modern’ (re feudal, xenophobic, undemocratic) standards which equates with an upholding of the status quo as understood by the right wing and their American Imperialist backers. The second road is Oshima’s preferred route of ‘persistent struggle’ wherein modernist film-makers break down the status quo with new form and new technique which refuses to settle into any one set mode of expression. Film-makers accumulate new images way after the script (if there is a script) has been finalized. In a 1961 essay he went on: “This accumulation of new images (discovered during shooting) becomes a work and thereby gives the film-maker a new consciousness of reality. When he is preparing for the next work, it shapes his total dynamic vision of the inner person and outer circumstances. The film-maker goes on to discover new images as he works on each production, testing and negating his vision…Reality, however, is always changing. Thus, the film-maker who is unable to grasp it immediately ceases being a film-maker and degenerates into a mere crafter of images. Constant self-negation and transformation are necessary if one is to avoid that debilitation and continue to confront circumstances as a film-maker. Naturally, that means preparing a new methodology. Moreover, those transformations and that methodology must not themselves be made into goals of the ego, but, as weapons used to change reality, must always follow through with their objective of revolutionizing consciousness. With this in place, the law of self-negating movement is not merely a law of production or of the film-maker, but a law of human growth and the development of the human race – a law of the movement of all things. The film-maker must uphold that law.”
For Oshima then film is a weapon which has the power to both reflect and change life as both the film-maker and the viewer interact with the medium in a revolution of the consciousness. The constant change in methodology, the insistent inquiry after new means of expression becomes a theme in itself and means that no one Oshima film is the same as the next. There is no ‘Oshima style’, no distinct directorial voice. Instead there is a restless, very angry radical edge which provokes, baffles, enrages, occasionally bores, but often enthralls the attentive viewer whose first instinct is to try to pigeonhole the director into a set style or type. Such pigeon-holing cannot be affected on Oshima and has led to many accusing him of arrogance or pretension. The films in this box are very much films of their time and there is no doubt that time has damaged their ability to shock us. Pleasures of the Flesh, a pioneering ‘pink eiga’ may have seemed scandalous in 1965, but even as early as 1972 when Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was released its ‘obscenity’ seemed ridiculously tame even if its attack on consumerism remains cuttingly obvious. Violence at Noon deals with a rapist murderer and the collapse of the socialist ideals of love and equality. Sing a Song of Sex celebrates sexually explicit songs and vocal protest at a time when many young students have simply sunk into a conservative non-vocal acceptance of the status quo. Japanese Summer: Double Suicide confronts different forms of socio/political protest – sexual freedom, the death drive, the killing impulse in a surrealist pseudo-Brechtian style while Three Resurrected Drunkards tackles head on America’s (and therefore Japan’s) involvement in the Vietnam War as well as continuing Oshima’s concern (started in Sing a Song of Sex and concluded with Death By Hanging ) with disenfranchised Koreans in Japan. All of these films jabbed at the eye of contemporary authority in ‘radical’ ways which were extreme then, but seem mild now. We have to reach back and put ourselves in the 1960s to really get at Oshima’s point, that everything is transient and the only law that matters is the law of the movement of all things. Real cutting edge cinema has to reflect this even if ‘success’ remains forever out of reach in that as soon as a film is made it becomes ‘out of date’, just as it is for all the outsiders in his films living in permanent violation of the status quo, but ending up forced to bow to it.
These DVDs are exceptionally well produced. Criterion’s transfers are all pin sharp with no shadowing or loss in definition. Like the rest of the Eclipse Series, there are no extras on the discs, but printed on the reverse side of the inlay cards is an essay by Michael Koresky which can also be accessed on Criterion’s website. If you can find this box I strongly urge you snap it up before it disappears for good.
In what follows I will review each film individually. These are not Hollywood feel good movies with surprise plot turns or mystery of any kind. For that reason I see nothing to ‘spoil’ and range freely over the whole narratives.
PLEASURES OF THE FLESH (Etsuraku)****
(1965, Japan, 104 min, color, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 2.65:1, Audio: Mono)
VIOLENCE AT NOON (Hakuchū no tōrima)*****
(1966, Japan, 99 min, b/w, English Subtitles, Aspect Ratio: 2.65:1, Audio: Mono)
SING A SONG OF SEX (Nihon shunka-kō, aka A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs)***
(1967, Japan, 103 min, color, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 2.35:1, Audio: Mono)
JAPANESE SUMMER: DOUBLE SUICIDE (Muri shinjū: Nihon no natsu)****
(1967, Japan, 98 min, b/w, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 2.65:1, Audio: Mono)
THREE RESURRECTED DRUNKARDS (Kaette kita yopparai)*****
(1968, Japan, 80 min, color, English subtitles, Aspect ratio: 2.65:1, Audio: Mono)
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Rating = ***
Film = three (3) stars; restoration = five (5) stars; cinematography/lighting = two (2) stars. Director Nagisa Oshima's test bed for experimenting/playing with filmic techniques at the expense of a credible story line, a plot without potholes, and not reining in free-ranging actresses/actors. This is a tale filled with many twists and turns most of which are telegraphed ahead (and far from surprising) or simply unbelievably dumb. On the surface, the plot appears almost Hitchcockian, but immediately disintegrates with even the most rudimentary analysis. The Director tries valiantly to use a wide- screen cinematic format for close-ups, but only ends up with chopped-off faces/heads. He also often fails to take full advantage of the format by not fully filling the screen from side to side. Lab-processed effects are interesting when first used, but quickly become seen-that-before boring as they ramble on and on. Cinematography (wide screen, color) comes across as little better than a home movie, and scene lighting is simply terrible (the major plot point of a killing on a train is impossible for the viewer to see--as are all dark/night scenes in the film--although one character claims to have witnessed it [using night-vision goggles, perhaps?]). Acting appears to be mostly adlib, the score is fine and adds impact to scenes, and the subtitle are okay. Overall a fascinating experience if you park your brain on the coffee table and just enjoy the ride. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
HAKUCHU NO TORIMA (VIOLENCE AT NOON/VIOLENCE AT HIGH NOON/THE DAYLIGHT DEMON/MIDDAY'S DEMON/...). Frantic To Be Different; Boring Nonetheless!
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Rating = **
Film = two (2) stars; restoration = five (5) stars; cinematography/lighting = two (2) stars; subtitles = four (4) stars. Director Nagisa Oshima's what-ever-sticks-to-the-wall filmic experiment sans an exposure meter. A muddled scenario serves mainly as a vehicle for the Director to show off. Most of the photoplay consists of truncated (due to the Director's use of TV-style close-ups in a wide-screen format) heads incessantly talking about suicide, sex, suicide, and, oh yes, suicide. To break up the monotony, the Director has the camera drift from side to side across the faces of speakers as if they are adrift in a slowly-rocking boat. The lead actor's character comes across more as simple minded rather than as a menacing sex "demon" (or crazed rapist). Lead actresses valiantly try to rise above the banal script despite being saddled with lines consisting of endless variations on themes of suicide (and sex). (Arguably the best line in the script is when a character laments that she has already had two unsuccessful suicides and she is only 20 years old!) While at some level this is meant to be a sex movie, nonetheless the Director manages to leverage his repetitious direction into viewer disinterest followed by abject boredom-- despite throwing just about "everything" on the let's-shock-the-viewer menu into his mash-up (from hang-'em-high suicides to startling nudity to necrophilia, and on and on). Cinematography (wide screen, black and white) comes across as little better than a home movie with most scenes over or under exposed (the brightness of many exterior scenes may force some viewers to dawn sunglasses to avoid headaches!). Scene-to-scene lighting continuity is close to none existent. Subtitles can be a tad too long and have a tendency to flash by too quickly (the translator would appear to have only a limited familiarity with Kansai-ben [Western dialog]). The film score is okay, but nothing great. Sound is fine. Recommend skipping this sleep-inducing ego trip! WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
MURI SHINJU: NIHON NO NATSU (JAPANESE SUMMER: DOUBLE SUICIDE / NIGHT OF THE KILLER / JAPAN'S SUMMER: OVERDOING DOUBLE SUICIDE /...). Gives Sexploitation A Bad Name!
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Rating = **
Film = two (2) stars; restoration = five (5) stars. Director Nagisa Oshima delivers a trashy 90 minute strip tease. The star and sole attraction here is sex-bomb actress Keiko Sakurai who although a bit chunky is exceptionally well endowed. Her bouncy, semi nude, and simulated sex scenes are scatted throughout this ludicrous movie and meant to keep adolescent members of the audience in their seats. To see Sakurai-san in action, viewers in the theater were forced to sit through rambling, meaningless, and trite dialog spouted by what has to be some of the most unappealing actors filmed in a Japanese movie--their ugliness is amplified by exhibiting their out-of-shape bodies in mostly half naked fashion. (Fortunately, disc viewers have fast-forward buttons on their remotes to skip this stuff.) To say that scenes lack continuity is to put it mildly. Early shots provide some fine existential views--especially those showing empty freeways--together with provocative symbolism. But this gets quickly buried (and forgotten) in the abject silliness that follows. Cinematography (wide screen, black and white) is quite good with one of the longest tracking shots (if not the longest) in Japanese films to that date. The Director often uses home-movie style, back-and-forth panning between speaking actors instead of cuts (which allows him to show off and, at the same time, induce headaches in the viewer). Music is (mercifully) close to nonexistent. Subtitles are often too long and interfere with viewing Sakurai-san in action. (Since they fairly well translate the spoken nonsense, the viewer might want to turn them off together with the audio track so as to better see [and concentrate on] the actress' performance.) Best to locate the remote fast-forward button before playing. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
KAETTE KITA YOPPARAI (THREE RESURRECTED DRUNKARDS / SINNER IN PARADISE / NORTH (KOREAN) DRUNKARDS RETURN / ...). Pitifully Worthless!
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Rating = *
Film = barely one (1) star; restoration = five (5) stars. Director Nagisa Oshima's embarrassing exhibition of incompetence. The film's title is unrelated to the film, and likely picked out of a hat. If there were drunkards involved with this movie, they may have been the on-set Director and script writers (plus the head of production for the releasing studio)! Far from a comedy as claimed in studio press releases, this is a morose version of a what modern viewers would call a "ground-hog-day movie." The film keeps repeating itself, often scene by scene (you may think for a minute your disc player has restarted by itself!), to stretch out what is really a 12-minute short to reach an 80-minute release time. Acting is all over the map and nonsensical, but always hyper energetic with the supposed nationality of characters altering back and forth from scene to scene. (The Director seems to be making a ham-handed political statement that Japanese and North Koreans are interchangeable--wow!) Line readings by the principal characters indicate they realized they are trapped in a movie from which there is no escape (fortunately, disc viewers can always press the eject button on their remotes.) Cinematography (wide screen, color) is fine except for prolonged, static beach scenes where lighting seems to fluctuate with the passing of clouds. Score is okay, but the playback speed of the theme song has been altered to produce an irritating "chipmunk" sound (in an attempt to be "Japanese cute"?). Titles are often too long and could benefit from some serious grammatical scrubbing. Recommend you use your remote's eject button early on--things do not improve with further viewing. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.