Saturday, March 7, 2009

In the Realm of Oshima

In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima, a retrospective of one of Japan's most creative filmakers opened this week in Washington, DC. From March 6 - April 26, 2009 you can view all of his famous films free at three locations throughout the Washington area. These films of social disintegration and political protest seem as timely today as when they were made. So much of what Oshima critiqued remains.

Promotional materials note: "
The filmmaker who ushered in the Japanese New Wave in the late 1950s, Nagisa Oshima (b. 1932, Kyoto), rejected the genteel tenor of Japanese filmmaking and chose as his m├ętier the turmoil of contemporary politics and culture. Imperfect characters from society's fringes were his vehicles for complex and often controversial ideas, while his formal brilliance won accolades around the world. This series, organized by James Quandt, Cinematheque Ontario, and The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, is presented in Washington at the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and AFI Silver Theatre." The website for the films includes movies synopses as well as times and locations. Harvard University also has an excellent selection of movie synopses.

On Saturday, The Washington Post presented a glowing review of works: A Panoramic View of Japanese Director's Dark Genius By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post Staff Writer (March 7, 2009; Page C01).

Most Americans, if aware of Oshima are either familiar with his artistic pornography such as In the Realm of the Senses or, more likely, the 1983 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence that starred David Bowie and Beat Kitano about the brutality of a Japanese POW camp. It's award winning score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is haunting. As described on the Harvard website:

Oshima's unconventional adaptation of Laurence van der Post's celebrated memoir of imprisonment in a Japanese war camp [The Seed and the Sower] adds a lush and at times almost operatic dimension to the book, combining its moving tale of camaraderie and cultural difference with an unusual critique of masculine authority and the homoeroticism of the bushido code. Starring a mesmerizing David Bowie in one of his great film roles, Oshima's late masterpiece also features memorable performances by Ryuichi Sakamoto – who composed the film's incredible score – and Takeshi Kitano in his very first film screen appearance. Made at the height of Oshima's later international period, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence's exploration of the Japanese nation and image as seen by outsiders offers a fascinating counterpoint to the imperious and insightful scrutiny of the Japanese psyche that cuts across Oshima's work.
Others see the movie of as one of unrequited love and repressed heartbreak. In any interpretation, it is a movie about seeking shreds of humanity in calculated inhumanity. I am planning to take my son to see this film on April 25th. I will see what he thinks.

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