The only DVD release that mattered in May was the Eclipse 5-disc "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties," but, to be more accurate, it was also the only release I could actually muster any hot air about. Also released in May was a smattering of exciting Blu-rays—four from Chaplin (City Lights, The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator and Modern Times), Rock 'n' Roll High School, The Magnificent Seven Collection and Criterion's By Brakhage—and a number of what-the-hell-took-so-long new release DVDs—Tetro, Tokyo Sonata, 9 Songs, Treeless Mountain and Institute Benjamenta. But all those films pale in comparison to the five Oshima films contained in the Eclipse set. Although Oshima's films recently toured the continent in a full retrospective (that included the Twin Cities stop at the Walker in the fall of 2008), savoring every scene of those films in a one time screening was nearly torture, especially with the brain-bending Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, which, up until two months ago, was unavailable anywhere with English subtitles. Five of the hardest films to find are included in "Oshima's Outlaw Sixties" and it starts to fill the huge availability gap in the US for Oshima. Shortly after this release, Criterion announced it would be releasing Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence in September. Great news, but I am still waiting for the announced release of the Oshima masterpiece Boy. Until then, there will be lots to enjoy.
Being late is the name of my game. Consider this my pick for May, as I start working on June, which is bountiful in fantastic releases.
Eclipse 21: Oshima's Outlaw Sixties
Supplementing Criterion’s editions of In the Realm of the Senses and Empire of Passion, Eclipse unveils five more films from Japanese iconoclast Nagisa Oshima. “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” includes five of the most elusive films in Oshima’s oeuvre: Pleasures of the Flesh (1965), Violence at Noon (1966), Sing a Song of Sex (1967), Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967) and Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968). All exemplifies Oshima’s singular vision and uncompromising style, despite comparisons to Godard that dogged him at the time. A filmmaking outlaw throughout his entire career, Oshima pushed social, political and artistic boundaries to their quasi-commercial limits, and even that is an understatement. This was especially true for his films in the late 60s when Oshima broke away from the studio system and set out to independently make films—an anomaly in 1960s Japanese film. Establishing his own production company, his ‘Outlaw Sixties’ are symbolic to his own artistic freedom as a filmmaker irreverently tying his camera to his hand—as a samurai to his sword—and going for broke. Starting with Pleasures of the Flesh, a film masquerading as a soft-core drama, Oshima attacks social ills with fearless stylistic zeal. Pleasures is a critique of the desire for excess and the ultimate fatalism of a soulless society adopted from Western influences. Oshima often viewed his endeavors as a filmmaker as an obvious extension of rebellion and activism: an artist pushed to his limits. As a result, he found sympathy with the criminal element as an act of rebellion, propelled by a social failure rather than a lack of moral values. Deviants were ripe symbols and were the unrepentant heroes of Violence at Noon, a searing and stylish portrait of a serial rapist, and Double Suicide, a surreal noir as abstract social comedy. Both films portray the cast of social outcasts in a heroic everyman light. Rarely, screened and never released, Japanese Summer is the crown jewel of “Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties” and shows Oshima at his most audacious. The remaining two films in the set, Sing a Song of Sex and Three Resurrected Drunkards, are allegorical romps that Oshima used to voice his concerns about the treatment of the Korean minority living in Japan and were comedic preambles to his more well-known Brechtian Death by Hanging. Eclipse, in exchange for its “simple, affordable editions,” has no supplements other than the short original essays inside each case. All five films are crazed masterpieces of the moment that beg for contextualization that you will have to find elsewhere. (Easy recommendation would be Maureen Turim’s The Films of Nagisa Oshima and Oshima’s own Cinema, Cersorship and the State.) With the passing of actor Sato Kei, featured in four of these films, Eclipse’s ‘Outlaw Sixties’ is a reminder that we need to refer to Oshima as a living legend while we can.