Nagisa Oshima

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Nagisa Oshima 1932–

Japanese director and screenwriter.

Oshima's films deal with the post-war experience and subsequent disorientation of Japanese society. He questions Japan's moral code and believes human sexuality to be a release of tension within a repressive environment. Oshima also centers on the criminal act, the nature of such an action, and the actual event. By doing so, he provides an objective, unemotional analysis of sensational aspects of contemporary behavior, often focusing on the difficulties of youth in Japan.

In 1962, Oshima formed his own production company, Sozosha, but because of his earlier commercial failures, it took four years to attain financial backing for his first independent feature. The Sozosha films are critical treatments of Japan's bourgeois society. Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and Death by Hanging commence with actual incidents and deal with controversial topics, challenging the conception of truth. By interpreting events in different ways, Oshima accentuates the fallibility of moral assumption.

Death by Hanging, considered Oshima's first major personal statement, depicts a Korean who survives his execution but cannot recall the crime for which he was convicted. Its distancing effects owe much to Brecht and Kabuki theater. The same theatricality is evident in Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, a tale of student unrest. Once again, several viewpoints are presented simultaneously, and Oshima stresses the importance of a fantasy life as a means of attaining a new level of being. Older people are treated unfavorably because of their unwillingness to be imaginative.

Boy uses a more conventional approach. Despite the family's unusual occupation—staging accidents to claim insurance money—they are traditionally Japanese in their attitudes. Though Boy's subject matter is poignant, the film is not sentimental. The violent outcome of their existence is shown as an inherent result of Japanese lifestyles. When a real accident abruptly ends their career, the young boy is damaged irreparably. Significantly, an orphan played the boy and, after the film's completion, chose not to be adopted because of his disenchantment with the Japanese family system. Oshima says of the film, "The plight of the child is the plight of us all."

Oshima's most controversial film, In the Realm of the Senses, appeared briefly at the New York Film Festival before the U.S. Customs Service confiscated it because of its graphic sexual content. The tale of a consuming passion ending in murder, the film glorifies the sensuality of Old Japan. Like earlier films, it deals with an actual event and its consequences. More importantly, however, In the Realm of the Senses raises questions about the nature of obscenity. Oshima felt the film could be defined as either erotic or pornographic, but added that he sees nothing wrong with pornography: sex is a fundamental activity in which human beings participate. Although not overtly political, some critics see the sexual obsession of the protagonists as an attempt to transcend their political milieu.

Oshima was awarded the prize as best director at the Cannes Film Festival for Empire of Passion. Nevertheless, the film met with a tepid reception among critics. Considered a companion piece to In the Realm of the Senses, it intertwines love and death to create a statement about societal dictates. Oshima says of these doomed heroes what is true for all his characters: "In their reluctance to rebel there dwells a curious strength."

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