The second best thing to celebrating a victory by Barack Obama? An Oshima retrospective of coarse! When I heard about the retrospective this summer, I was ecstatic. Nagisa Oshima is one of the unsung innovators of the Japanese New Wave, and gets tragically overlooked due to the lack of availability of his films. Some may remember a Japanese New Wave series at the Walker in 1999 that included two films by Oshima (Cruel Story of Youth, Diary of a Shinjuku Theif), and those who really had their nose to the ground will remember a trio of films shown at the MIA (Death by Hanging, The Man Who Left His His Will on Film, Diary of a Yunbogi Boy) also around ten years ago. But these screenings were fleeting at best, as I still try to find someone else who remembers those MIA screenings.
Oshima has long been on my list of directors for international DVD treasure hunting. I had to bite my fist in 2006 when Japanese box sets were released without English subtitles. Despite a handful of titles available in Hong Kong (Night and Fog in Japan, Sing a Song of Sex/Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs, A Street of Love and Hope/A Town of Love and Hope) and his most recent available domestically (Taboo, In the Realm of the Senses, In the Realm of Passion, Max Mon Amour), huge gaps exist in Oshima's filmography. As some of those gaps started to be filled with releases in the UK, news of the Oshima retrospective started to surface.
"In the Realm of Oshima," a retrospective organized by James Quandt of the Cinematheque Ontario, brings the best of both worlds to the Walker: a comprehensive, 16-film overview of Oshima's career and a boatload of new prints. Seeing these films theatrically, many of them restored to perfection, is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Check out a more thorough overview that I wrote for the Star Tribune here.
Here's the rundown of what is screening. None should be missed:
Wednesday, November 5
Welcoming Remarks, 7pm
Organizer James Quandt will offer an introduction to the series. Quandt also organized the Japanese New Wave series that came to the Walker in 1999.
Taboo (1999), 7:30pm
Oshima's most recent film, and due to his poor health, it is more than likely his last. It's a poetic and subtle swan song for Oshima. A samurai period piece that is low on action but high on emotional tensions between the handsome samurai. The movies cast can not be understated. Takashi Kitano is by far the biggest international actor, but Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinji Takeda and Tadanobu Asano are equally prominent in Japanese cinema.
Friday, November 7
Cruel Story of Youth (1960), 7:30pm
Often compared to Rebel Without a Cause, Oshima's version is far more dark and complex. This was Oshima's second film and his first success. The film will be introduced by Mark Anderson, University of Minnesota Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures, and will also lead a post-screening discussion.
Saturday, November 8
Violence at Noon (1966), 2pm
A visually stylized film that shows Oshima as a great experimenter. At the time, Violence at Noon was the most highly edited film in Japanese cinema. Scenes are wrought with tension and disorientation. Seeing this on the big screen will be unbelievable.
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967), 7:30pm
A crime thriller that I look forward to seeing. Oshima took pride in Mishima’s saying he did not understand the film. I like not understanding. (Not to be confused with Masahiro Shinoda's black and white stage-like Double Suicide that came two years later.)
Wednesday, November 12
Boy (1969), 7:30
I tracked down a fan-subbed copy of this film a few years back, and was completely blown away by the performance of the young boy. Based on a true story, the boy's grifters parents exploit him through fake accidents to fund their hollow middle-class life. Not to be missed.
Thursday, November 13
The Sun's Burial (1960), 7:30pm, free!
Yet another film that remains obscure. Osaka's underworld is exposed as a world where everything is for sale as gangs fight for control over the streets. From the Cinematheque Ontario catalogue: "Sweatily shot in Scope, keyed to carmine and orange, and breathlessly edited, The Sun’s Burial crams a lot of filthy, grasping humanity into its outrageous frames, and buries the sun, representing old Japan, in heaps of industrial refuse."
Friday, November 14
Night and Fog in Japan (1960), 7:30
One of three films that Oshima released in 1960, this one was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's political overtones was deemed dangerous to social stability due to the assassination of the Japanese Socialist Party. Shochiku pulled the film after only a few days, which caused Oshima to pack his bags and start his own production company. Night and Fog in Japan is full of beautifully composed long shots that melt into theatrical flashbacks, as two generations of protesters draw their lines in the sand.
Saturday, November 15
Pleasures of the Flesh (1965), 7:30pm
Pleasures of the Flesh marked Oshima's return to filmmaking after a period making television documentaries and writing criticism. It proved to be a success. From the Cinematheque Ontario catalogue: "The bizarrely funny Pleasures of the Flesh satirizes Japan’s “economic miracle” with its crazed tale about a young college graduate, alienated in his white-collar job and pining for a woman for whom he has committed murder though she isn’t aware of it."
Sunday, November 16
Death by Hanging (1968)
An absurdist comedy about a botched hanging. Oshima lashes out at society with tongue in cheek. Introduced by Christopher Scott, Macalester College Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures, who will also lead a post-screening discussion.
Wednesday, November 19
The Catch (1961), 7:30
The Catch is set during the final days of World War II. A black GI is captured in a remote Japanese farming village, and becomes a pawn in a power struggle between various factions. Introduced by Michael Molasky, University of Minnesota Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures, who will also lead a post-screening discussion.
Thursday, November 20
A Town of Love and Hope (1959), 7:30pm, free
Don't let the sunny title fool you, Oshima's first feature is a dark view of Japanese society. The themes of A Town of Love and Hope are ones that Oshima will revisit throughout his career. Screens with Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (1965), his impressionistic film he made after returning from South Korea. Introduced by Noboru Tomonari, Carleton College Associate Professor of Japanese, Asian Languages and Literature, who will also lead a post-screening discussion.
Friday, November 21
In the Realm of the Senses (1976), 7:30pm
Not for the faint of heart, In the Realm of the Senses is by far Oshima's most notorious film. Oshima's first partnering with French producer Anatole Dauman, In the Realm is Oshima's retreat from social revolution to a more individual and personal liberation. Oshima shot the film in Japan, but processed it in France fearing censorship. Watching this film is an unbelievable experience.
Saturday, November 22
The Ceremony (1971), 2pm
For those shell-shocked by In the Realm of the Senses, The Ceremony offers a more tempered film, but no less scathing. This family saga is formal in style, but radical in its attacks on Japanese tradition. Oshima fearlessly exposes the collective skeletons in the closet of a powerful yet morally conflicted family.
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983), 7:30pm
Set in a World War II POW camp in Java in 1942, David Bowie plays a recently transfers officer who clashes with the the fanatical camp commander. I saw this film long ago on VHS before I had any grounding in who Oshima was as a filmmaker. It stuck me as an odd film at the time, and it will be interesting to see it again.
Sunday, November 23
Diary of a Shinjuku Theif (1968), 2pm
Last in the series, but certainly not least, this film is equal parts comedy, drama and action. Diary of a Shinjuku Theif is a mesmerizing romp following the criminal and sexual excesses of a young couple against the backdrop of political protest. It's an extremely fun film that caps off the series beautifully.