Nagisa Oshima

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Philip Strick

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[Boy] displays its credits against the blackened sun of the Japanese flag. The symbol, recurring throughout the film, is intended as an ironic reminder of militant nationalism, the dominant mood (as Oshima sees it) of the society within which his little band of criminals makes its gestures of revolt. In addition, the flag stands for the paternalistic structure of the Japanese way of life, a structure both constricting and emasculatory which has already received a thorough trouncing in two other recent Oshima works, Death by Hanging and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief. In both these predecessors, youthful offenders against the established order struggle to reconcile their social transgressions with what they are conscious to be their moral ones—only to reach the conclusion that the values of the older generation are neither valid nor relevant to their own problems….

[For the family of Boy], the flag is neither provider nor protector; rather, they are its victims—and in turn the boy is victim of his parents, whose exploitation of his body as a sacrificial offering to one car accident after another … is stoically accepted by him as their right….

[The ten-year-old in Boy] could have been given the full sentimental treatment. Like the arrogantly vulnerable miscreants of Shinjuku Thief, however, he is contemplated by Oshima with a gaze that is almost cold. All the heart-rending sequences are there that one would expect, but their emotive qualities are carefully muted….

Again like the preceding films, Boy spirals from the apparently rational to the fragmentation of crisis point—in this case the real accident unwittingly caused by the family—after which the central character can at last begin to think clearly, unaffected by the pressures which have previously confused him. (p. 162)

Since the basic narrative of Boy is of its own nature multifaceted, Oshima has confined his style to the most direct observation, with none of the extraordinary theatrical complications of his other works…. Yet the film has its undercurrents—the persistent links with rain and snow, the periodic return to the sea, the vital function of meal-times in the development of the family relationships, and of course the regular punctuating scene of a car halting abruptly as a small body bounces from it, an apocalyptic metaphor in which truth and deception are in disturbing contradiction.

Oshima has said that he made the film as a prayer for all human beings who find it necessary to live in this way, and that for him the group in Boy have come to represent a holy family. While the divinity of their journey may be open to question, their martyrdom, as befits a prayer, is celebrated with dignity, poetry, and a crystalline precision. (pp. 162-63)

Philip Strick, "Film Reviews: 'Boy'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1970 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 39, No. 3, Summer, 1970, pp. 162-63.

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