“I spend all my life breaking taboos.” —Nagisa Oshima
From November 5–23, the Walker Art Center presents the touring retrospective
In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima
, highlighting the career of one of Japan’s master filmmakers—and arguably one of its most controversial. Oshima’s work is filled with convention-breaking, 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). He has won myriad awards throughout his career, beginning with the prestigious Japanese Blue Ribbon Award in 1961 as Best New Director, then winning 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 retrospective presents a rare opportunity to reflect upon films from this infamous and acclaimed Japanese auteur, most shown on new 35mm prints. Copresented with the Consortium for the Study of the Asias, University of Minnesota.
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 creates films that reflect Japan’s loss in World War II, often focusing on life under foreign occupation and the progression toward economic prowess. He made his early films when Japanese youth were adrift, rebellious, and eager to oppose the older generation’s values. Oshima, in turn, 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).
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).
Cinephile’s special: Receive 5 tickets for the price of 3 for $24 ($18).
IN THE REALM OF OSHIMA: THE FILMS OF JAPANESE MASTER NAGISA OSHIMA
Wednesday, November 5
Welcoming Remarks, 7 pm
Introducing the series and discussing his favorites is James Quandt, senior curator at Cinematheque Ontario, who has spent several years researching and arranging for the new 35mm prints in this touring Oshima retrospective.
Taboo (Gohatto), 7:30 pm
The series opens with Oshima’s most recent film, set within a Shogunate militia in Kyoto, 1865. The stylized drama follows samurai warriors, known for their ruthless violence, as an androgynously handsome youth joins the elite squad, setting off an internal battle for his affections. “In my opinion, one cannot understand the world of the samurai without showing the fundamental homosexual aspect,” Oshima once said. Takeshi “Beat” Kitano and Ryuhei Matsuda return to work on what might stand as Oshima’s final film. 1999, 35mm, 100 minutes.
Friday, November 7
Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari), 7:30 pm
Introduction and post-screening discussion led by Mark Anderson, Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota
This dispassionate tale finds a pair of middle-class Tokyo teenagers tangled up in a racket to extort money from older men who try to pick up young girls. Their aimlessness and narcissism prove an indictment of young people losing sight of collective activism, as Oshima uses old newsreel footage to compare the self-indulgences of the teens to the disillusion of slightly older student activists. This was Oshima’s first major box-office hit in Japan. 1960, new 35mm print, 96 minutes.
Saturday, November 8
Violence at Noon (Hakuchu no torima), 2 pm
Addressing the collapse of idealism in postwar Japan, Oshima constructs a crime film among the former residents of a commune. Based on a true story from the 1950s, the director’s brilliant cinematography and spirited editing capture a serial rapist and murderer haunted by his past while tormenting those in the present. 1966, new 35mm print, 99 minutes.
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (Muri shinju: Nihon no natsu), 7:30 pm
Two seemingly different characters share a deadly attraction in Oshima’s gloriously colorful Cinemascope crime thriller. The central character, Otoko, suffers a paranoid delusion that someone is out to kill him, but loses focus when he falls into a torrid relationship. The distractions of love-making, television, toys, and pop culture suck the life from the couple. 1967, new 35mm print, 98 minutes.
Wednesday, November 12
Boy (Shonen), 7:30 pm
Based on a true story from 1966, Boy was considered a shocking assault on the traditional set of Japanese family values by which parents dote on their children. Trained by his parents to throw himself in front of moving cars, a boy fakes injury while his parents press the driver for cash. Their scheme works and the boy considers this to be normal, not realizing his parents’ exploitive practices. 1969, new 35mm print, 105 minutes.
Friday, November 14
Night and Fog in Japan (Nihon no yoru to kiri), 7:30 pm
Using the wedding of two leftists as a metaphor, Oshima shows the idealism and betrayal of two generations of protesters. Reflecting the failed ambition of Oshima’s generation and the demonstrations of 1960, political squabbling taints the wedding celebration amid arguments over commitment to the movement and the sellout of many in the older generation. The studio pulled the film from distribution after only a few days in release, to the fury of the director, who then started his own production company. 1960, new 35mm print, 107 minutes.
Saturday, November 15
Pleasures of the Flesh (Etsuraku), 7:30 pm
Mixing the search for erotic pleasure with the violent world of the yakuza, Oshima creates a morality play on the downfall of a man. Entrusted to hide a fortune embezzled by an imprisoned official, a man blows the money on prostitutes and soon finds himself in hot water with the mob. 1965, new 35mm print, 104 minutes.
Sunday, November 16
Death by Hanging (Koshikei), 2 pm
Introduction and post-screening discussion led by Christopher Scott, Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures, Macalester College
Based on the real incident of a Korean youth found guilty of raping a Japanese schoolgirl, Oshima exposes prejudice against Koreans within the criminal justice system. The blatant racism shown in the investigation shows how due process is ill-served, especially when the defendant is facing death for his alleged crime. 1968, new 35mm print, 117 minutes.
Wednesday, November 19
The Catch (Shiiku), 7:30 pm
Introduction and post-screening discussion led by Michael Molasky, Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota
One of Oshima’s two film adaptations set during WWII, The Catch shows how perceived differences between the Japanese and others perpetuated conflict. In this case, an African American pilot who was shot down is kept in the basement of a storehouse by a group of cruel children who found him. His race becomes a major source of interest among villagers who have had little contact with Westerners. 1961, new 35mm print, 105 minutes.
Thursday, November 20
A Town of Love and Hope (Ai to kibo no machi), 7:30 pm, Free
Introduction and post-screening discussion led by Noboru Tomonari, Associate Professor, Japanese, Asian Languages and Literatures, Carleton College
One of Oshima’s earliest films examines the class struggle in Japan. A poor enterprising teen sells homing pigeons to unsuspecting customers as pets—only to have the birds return so he can sell them again—until his rich girlfriend gets wise to his scam. 1959, 35mm, 62 minutes.
Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (Yunbogi no nikki)
Told through a series of still photos shot by the director (similar in style to Chris Marker’s La Jetée), the film combines the writings of a Korean boy abandoned by his family in Japan to show the struggles of the ethnic minority in Japan. 1965, 16mm, 30 minutes.
Friday, November 21
In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), 7:30 pm
Still haunting film history after 30 years, this film remains on the forefront of cinematic portrayals of love, sex, pain, and death. Frequently referenced for breaking new ground, it is also the most notorious of Oshima’s works. Oshima shot the film in Japan but sent the footage to France for processing and editing to escape censorship. The audience is the voyeur to the narrative of on-screen sex and violence. 1976, new 35mm print, 105 minutes. Viewer discretion is advised.
Saturday, November 22
The Ceremony (Gishiki), 2 pm
Pre-screening tour, 1 pm
Oshima’s damning film on the traditions and sanctity of the Japanese family encompasses many generations over several decades. As the Kazuomi family gathers for various ceremonies—weddings, funerals, anniversaries—the emptiness of their claustrophobic gatherings and commitment to keeping up appearances is exposed. The strict patriarch of the family insists on order and obedience at all costs, causing subsequent generations to crack under the pressure. 1971, new 35mm print, 123 minutes.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Furyo), 7:30 pm
Set in a Japanese prison camp in 1942 and based on the novel The Sower and The Seed by Laurens Van der Post, the film investigates a confrontation of enemies when a British military officer (David Bowie) is transferred to the camp and clashes psychologically, culturally, and physically with the camp’s commander (Ryuichi Sakamoto), who becomes infatuated with him. The unforgettable sound track was composed by lead actor Sakamoto. 1983, new 35mm print, in English and Japanese with English subtitles, 124 minutes.
Sunday, November 23
Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Shinjuku dorobo nikki), 2 pm
One of Oshima’s most provocative films is set amidst the backdrop of the 1968 Zengakuren demonstrations against American bases in Japan, paralleling the May riots in Paris. Japanese radicals explore a somewhat distorted dream of liberation through the dynamics of politics, sexuality, and the newfound exuberance of youth culture. A woman posing as a bookstore assistant catches a thief in the act, then takes him on a bizarre, dizzying escapade. 1968, new 35mm print, 96 minutes.