Nagisa Oshima Stephen Heath - Essay

Stephen Heath

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Dear Summer Sister] seems far from distanciation, seems to rely on identification, seems to aspire to a straightforward continuity (conventional—'academic'—editing), seems to have a simple narrative thread, and so on. Yet the film is also, and this is part of its interest, against these things insofar as it takes them as the point of the demonstration politically of the contradictions of a particular social reality. (p. 43)

Dear Summer Sister itself turns on history lessons—the reality of Japan in its development as 'world power'—and a history lesson, that of Sunaoko, the little sister who arrives in Okinawa to find her brother and who ends on the beach ('Miss Prosecutor') by demanding ('for my education, tell me') to know the truth. Lesson and truth, however, are not simple at every step there are contradictions and the film 'blocks together' in a multiple heterogeneity…. The political comment—on Japanese war crimes and the continuing power of those responsible, on Japanese imperialism, on the exploitation of Okinawa—is clear and then at the same time difficult; the summer holiday—the strange language, the songs, the visit to the monument (with a shaky hand-held 'holiday movie' passage), the drive through the streets (Sunaoko questioning her father, the Judge, about the brothels)—and the summer visitors are constantly reinscribed politically but that political reinscription is then again constantly re-reinscribed, thought back into the family, into individual relations. The question of the film is 'what is it to be Japanese today?', and that question is historical, and that history includes the inscription of the subject, includes desire, sexuality, but politically. (pp. 43-4)

Stephen Heath, "From Brecht to Film: Theses, Problems," in Screen (© The Society for Education in Film and Television 1976), Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter, 1975–76, pp. 34-45.∗