Nagisa Oshima is one of Japan’s master filmmakers—and arguably one of its most controversial. His work is filled with conventionbreaking, from his aesthetic (he adheres to a palette excluding the color green) to the subjects he tackles (the overt sexuality of his celebrated In the Realm of the Senses and male affection in the world of the samurai in Taboo).
While Oshima mines universal themes of youth, passion, sexuality, and death, his characters generally inhabit worlds that defy authority—petty criminals, anti-occupation protestors, empire resistors. His innovative cinematic approach to such subjects has governed his long career. Born in 1932 and beginning work as a director in 1959, he made his early films when Japanese youth were adrift, rebellious, and eager to oppose the older generation’s values. His films reflect Japan’s loss in World War II, often focusing on life under foreign occupation and the progression toward economic prowess. In turn, he rejected classical Japanese cinema’s embrace of aestheticism, emblematic of the acknowledged masters Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, and Ozu.
Innovative also in his rejection of the notion of genre, Oshima never settled on a definitive style but remained contemporary throughout his career, using history as a framework for understanding the present. “By turns agitprop and lyrically beautiful, [Oshima’s work] restores our sense of film history . . . he pioneered modernism in Japanese cinema” (New York Times).
Oshima has received myriad awards throughout his career, beginning with the prestigious Japanese Blue Ribbon Award in 1961 as Best New Director, then another Blue Ribbon in 2000 as Best Director for Taboo. He’s been nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or five times, winning once. This touring retrospective presents a rare opportunity to reflect upon films from this infamous and acclaimed Japanese auteur, most shown on new 35mm prints.
All films are directed by Nagisa Oshima and presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Unless otherwise noted, films are screened in the Cinema and tickets are $8 ($6 Walker members and U of M students).