Nagisa Oshima John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Boy is a film that tries to use Western avant-garde modes of obliquity in telling a rather humdrum tale of petty larceny in contemporary Japan. Unfortunately, the director, Nagisa Oshima, has nothing much to say about his characters. The film tells of a partly disabled war veteran who teaches his wife and young son how to pretend they have been hit by passing cars and collect hefty sums for not going to the police. Though there are vague attempts at examining how these activities affect the psyches involved, and their relation to one another, the film stays close to the surface, and the surface is far from interesting.

Nevertheless, one scene remains visually haunting: two small boys squatting in front of a snowman in an otherwise empty, flat, snowy landscape. The color film's way of rendering this essentially monochromatic subject matter, combined with the starkness of the wide-screen composition, makes for an impact comparable to that of certain modern paintings where the figure is pushed as far as it will go toward abstraction. But this is insufficient to redeem a hollow film. (p. 389)

John Simon, "The Festival and Awards Game: Unmagnificent Seventh" (originally published as "More Moans for the Festival," in The New Leader, Vol. LII, No. 20, October 27, 1969), in his Movies into Film: Film Criticism 1967–1970 (copyright © 1971 by John Simon; reprinted with permission of The Dial Press), Dial, 1971, pp. 382-98.∗