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Nagisa Oshima Movies: In the Realm of the Senses + Empire of Passion

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

“No other director of Oshima’s generation has made more vital, inventive and challenging films, or taken more risks. He is a giant in contemporary cinema.” – Tony Rayns

“Plainly the greatest living Japanese filmmaker.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

“Japan’s greatest living filmmaker.” – J. Hoberman

Those in the Los Angeles area can judge for themselves as Nagisa Oshima is the subject of an eight-film series from April 23-26 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The Oshima series is being presented in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which will have its own Oshima series in May) and is co-sponsored by the Japan Foundation.

“I am not interested in making films that can be understood in 15 minutes,” Oshima has said. Indeed, be ready to be intellectually and emotionally challenged. I’ve only seen one of the Oshima films in the series, In the Realm of the Senses – and that was a trip. Reviled in some quarters as misogynistic, obscene, indecent, immoral, sick, vile, disgusting, and all that good stuff, this sexually explicit psychological drama caused a furor when it was released in 1976. It was banned by governments that prized morality (usually right- and left-wing dictatorships), while winning global praise from film critics who prized daring artistic endeavors. Its deliberate pace notwithstanding, In the Realm of the Senses is a must. (No one under 18 will be admitted.)

The Oshima mini bio and schedule below are from the American Cinematheque’s press release:

Trailblazing Nagisa Oshima was one of the fathers of the Japanese Nouvelle Vague in the early 1960s, and his work still has the capacity to shock, provoke thoughtful reflection and entertain. Oshima’s works exhibit such wit, beauty and furious invention, never mind profound feeling, that their conceptual gambits take on sensual and emotional force. They are less the product of a postmodernist sensibility, as some critics have characterized Oshima’s strategies, than of a desperate intelligence.

Oshima made films as if they were a matter of life and death. Though born into privilege, the son of a government worker in Kyoto (reportedly of samurai ancestry), Oshima was a nascent socialist whose ideals were formed in his youth by the general strike of 1947; the Pacific War, Emperor Hirohito’s capitulation after the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent American occupation of Japan; the mass student struggle against the Korean War and, most markedly, against AMPO, Japan’s security pact with Cold War America.

Steeped in Marxist and Freudian thought from his father’s prodigious library, Oshima opposed using ideological systems to probe his nation’s psyche: “I am not a Marxist,” he insisted. “In fact, I find Marxism and Christianity to be the same thing and both of them are bad.”

We’ll be screening various startlingly provocative films directed by Oshima including IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, EMPIRE OF PASSION, CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, VIOLENCE AT NOON, PLEASURES OF THE FLESH, DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF and more. His movies are for mature audiences, and films like IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES will be restricted with no one under 18 admitted. Many of the films will be screened in new 35mm prints! All films in Japanese with English subtitles. This retrospective continues at LACMA’s Bing Theater in May with a different selection of Oshima masterworks.

In the Realm of the Senses by Nagisa Oshima

Nagisa Oshima Series Schedule:

Thursday, April 23 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES (AI NO CORRIDA), 1976, Janus Films, 105 min. “Perhaps Oshima’s greatest” – Donald Richie. Banned, butchered, debated and denounced when it was released – it caused riots at Cannes, was forbidden in Ontario, and severely censored in its home country – Nagisa Oshima’s ferocious tale of sexual obsession now takes its place as a classic of world cinema. “Is it pornography or is it politics?” – Godard’s question about his own film NUMERO DEUX – applies just as well to IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. An exquisite spectacle that links various kinds of bondage and subjugation – between man and woman, master and servant, individual and state (note the historical backdrop of war preparations) – SENSESis based on an incident that took place in 1936, in which Abe Sada, a hotel maid, murdered and castrated her employer after several days of sequestered love-making with him. The film portrays an erotic abandon so absolute that it creates its own world. One can practically smell the room in which the lovers isolate themselves, its mats soaked with sake, sweat, semen, urine, and, in the final shocking sequence, a sluice of blood. Hardcore sex, hardcore politics, thrilling cinema. With Tatsuya Fuji (STRAY CAT ROCK-SEX HUNTER; BRIGHT FUTURE), Eiko Matsuda. “One of his most profound films, one as complex and rich an exploration of the Japanese consciousness as any of his earlier works. . . . A revolutionary moment in the cinema of Japan.” – Joan Mellen.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

New 35mm Print! EMPIRE OF PASSION (a.k.a. IN THE REALM OF PASSION a.k.a. AI NO BOREI), 1978, 104 min. Positioned as sister and sequel to IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, EMPIRE similarly deals with the conflict between sexual desire and social strictures, but does so in a more decorous – and, for many critics, more profound – fashion. Visually sumptuous, it won Nagisa Oshima the Best Director award at Cannes. Set in a rural village during the last days of the 19th century, PASSION centers on the affair between an indolent young soldier recently discharged from the army and an older woman who is married to the boozing, yam-eating local rickshaw man. In the tradition of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and its ilk, the lovers’ crime of passion is punished, mostly by guilt (the old man’s ghost returns three years after the murder), and then by society. With Tatsuya Fuji, Takahiro Tamura, Kazuko Yoshiyuki. As Tony Rayns has pointed out, Oshima’s “hatred of the ‘authority’ figure here reaches heights unseen since DEATH BY HANGING.” “Beauty of this magnitude is ravishingly universal.” – Jay Scott, The Globe & Mail. “A finer work than IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES.” – Richard Roud. In Japanese with English subtitles. No one under 18 will be admitted to this screening.

Friday, April 24 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! PLEASURES OF THE FLESH (ETSURAKU), 1965, Janus Films, 104 min. None other than Martin Scorsese put this on his list of essential Nagisa Oshima films. Oshima’s second “debut” – his return to filmmaking after a long period making television documentaries and writing criticism – proved so popular, it turned his career around. The bizarrely funny PLEASURES OF THE FLESH satirizes Japan’s “economic miracle” with its crazed tale about a young college graduate, alienated in his white-collar job and pining for a woman for whom he has committed murder, though she isn’t aware of it. In a complicated twist, the naive young murderer ends up entrusted with a vast sum of money by a corrupt government official and squanders it on a series of prostitutes, planning to commit suicide when the cash runs out. His pursuit of sensual abandonment in a hyper-modern “love hotel” yields many funny, caustic insights into Japanese society. Oshima’s themes are writ in extremis – sex and death, desire and capitalism, the body personal and the body politic are bound together in this symbolic setting, which looks forward to IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. (Oshima’s original title, PLEASURES IN THE COFFIN, better captures the film’s sense of dead-end dissolution.) With Katsuo Nakamura (KWAIDAN), Mariko Kaga (PALE FLOWER). “One of Oshima’s 10 best films. . . . A brilliant stylistic exercise on a sensual subject.” – Max Tessier.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide by Nagisa Oshima

New 35mm Print! JAPANESE SUMMER: DOUBLE SUICIDE (MURI SHINJU – NIHON NO NATSU), 1967, Janus Films, 98 min. “One of Oshima’s 10 best films. . . a landmark. Profoundly tragic and examines most of Oshima’s obsessions.” – Max Tessier. Never before shown in Los Angeles, this extremely rare Oshima film puts his twist on a traditional Japanese tale – that of the double suicide, basis of, most famously, the classic film of that title by Masahiro Shinoda. Set in the criminal underworld in a setting even more stylized than that of THE SUN’S BURIAL, the film “centers on the ‘death-impulse’ in Japanese society.” – Tony Rayns. The theme is prismed through a trio of the director’s most neurotic outsiders: an androgynous man; a paranoid gangster known as the “gun-toting devil,” who hopes to find someone to kill him; and a woman looking for someone to make love to her. Their elaborate game of hide-and-seek in a world of what the director calls “television, toys and demons” pushes so far into the fantastic and anarchic that the film feels like it could slip the bonds of its sprockets altogether. (Oshima took pride in Mishima’s saying he did not understand the film.) With Kei Sato, Keiko Sakurai. In Japanese with English subtitles.

Saturday, April 25 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH (SEISHUN ZANKOKU MONOGATARI), 1960, Janus Films, 96 min. A controversial film subgenre exploded in Japan in the mid-1950s called taiyozoku, or “sun tribe,” referring to dissolute, spoiled delinquents running wild in the streets. A number of excellent films were made, including Kon Ichikawa’s PUNISHMENT ROOM, Ko Nakahira’s CRAZED FRUIT, Seijun Suzuki’s EVERYTHING GOES WRONG and Koreyoshi Kurahara’s THE WARPED ONES. But CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH was the first in color and proved the seminal work, the BREATHLESS, of the Japanese New Wave. “One of Oshima’s best films,” pronounced the formidable Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, who said this epoch-making work – its shocking ending was widely decried – made Oshima “the darling of the age.” Never more beautiful (or crueler!) than in this recently struck print, which emphasizes its sublime riot of retro – hot neon; red, blue and turquoise telephones; rockabilly-teased, shellacked hair; a V-neck terry towel T-shirt to die for – the filmfocuses on a couple of teenage lovers who declare: “We have no dreams, so we won’t see them destroyed.” Emblems of the alienated youth culture that had emerged in Japan, the two rebels lounge in sleazy bars, make love in brackish industrial backwaters and roar through Tokyo on a motorcycle, attempting to achieve total freedom but finding only its opposite. Full of virtuoso sequences which feature Oshima’s innovative use of hand-held camera and decentered compositions within the widescreen frame, CRUEL STORY makes for a vertiginous visual experience that reflects the disoriented, precarious quality of his characters’ lives. With Yusuke Kawazu, Miyuki Kuwano (THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI). The No. 1 Essential Oshima, according to Chuck Stephens in Film Comment: “Oshima’s second feature is as lurid and full-fistedly tabloid as anything by Sam Fuller.” In Japanese with English subtitles.

SHIRO FROM AMAKUSA (AMAKUSA SHIRO TOKISADA a.k.a. THE REBEL), 1962, Toei, 100 min. Hired to make a vehicle for hot young star Hashizo Okawa (CRUELTY OF THE SHOGUNATE’S DOWNFALL), Nagisa Oshima settled on a true story, familiar to every Japanese student: that of a 1637 rebellion in which starving Christian peasants, oppressed by landowners and samurai alike, rose up, led by a teenage boy called Shiro, against the Shogunate. No surprise that Oshima fashioned this historical pageant – a genre seemingly at odds with his sensibility – into a lightly-veiled comment on the contemporary rebellion of Japanese youth against the country’s repressive rulers. (The persecution of the Christians is shockingly depicted, so determined is Oshima on emphasizing their martyrdom.) Oshima aims at making a popular historical epic, but his rebellious ways turn SHIRO FROM AMAKUSA into a fascinating succession of subversions. “No classes, no tyranny, our ideal,” the Christian rebels proclaim, giving voice to Oshima’s own beliefs. This would be Oshima’s last samurai film before GOHATTO, and he makes the most of it with long takes in CinemaScope, some astonishing tracking shots, scenes daringly lit only by fire, an insistent music score (that sometimes sounds like Schnittke!) and a young actor who storms the screen, even when kept in the background of several compositions. Oshima’s trailblazing period film also made it easier for other veteran iconoclast Toei Studios filmmakers Tai Kato, Tadashi Imai and Eiichi Kudo to make their own gritty, brutal and fiercely rebellious samurai pictures. Veteran Rentaro Mikuni stars as a treacherous artist. “Blatantly subversive.” – J. Hoberman, The Village Voice In Japanese with English subtitles.

Sunday, April 26 – 7:30 PM
Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! VIOLENCE AT NOON (HAKUCHU NO TORIMA) 1966, Janus Films, 99 min. “One of Oshima’s greatest films.” – No?l Burch. A chilling, brilliant crime film, based on a true story about a serial killer who terrorized Japan in the 1950s, VIOLENCE AT NOON was once considered the most highly edited work in the history of Japanese cinema; dozens of cuts are often used for one short sequence, and there are over 2,000 shots in all. Seemingly influenced by Godard and Resnais, Nagisa Oshima transcends mere formal virtuosity, employing the rapid editing, as well as a swirling, swooping camera and a blurring of past and present, to penetrate the psychology of a criminal and the two women who love him: one his schoolteacher wife, the other the first victim of his crimes. After a youth commune collapses, its members driven to despair or suicide, a psychotic drifter encounters a co-worker from the collective who is now working as a maid. She falls under his spell, becoming his witness, abettor and protector as he repeatedly rapes and murders, with the police close on his trail. Always concerned with the connections between individual and societal pathology, Oshima here goes to new extremes to explore the failure of idealism in Japan and its aftermath. With Kei Sato, Akiko Koyama, Saeda Kawaguchi. “A masterpiece . . . portrayed with a poignancy that is both ominous and compelling.” – Tadao Sato; “One of three top essential Oshimas.” – Chuck Stephens, Film Comment. In Japanese with English subtitles.

New 35mm Print! DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF (SHINJUKU DOROBO NIKKI), 1968, Oshima Productions, 94 min. A new print of a film that always elicited superlatives: “One of Oshima’s most important films.” – David Desser; “Probably the most extraordinary agit-prop movie ever made.” – Tony Rayns. DIARY… tells the story of, in the words of Oshima, “a boy and girl in search of their rightful moment of sexual ecstasy.” The title refers to Genet’s A Thief’s Journal, and Oshima begins his brilliant study of sexual frustration and political subversion with an accusation of thievery: A young man is chased by a crowd in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s center of youth culture and strips to a loincloth to show that he is hiding nothing, only a big rose tattoo over his navel. He inspires an onlooker, called Birdey Hilltop, to his own larceny in a local bookstore (watch for the Genet book), and soon Birdey and his girlfriend Umeko, a counterfeit clerk at the store – another instance of imposture in Oshima – are led into “the labyrinth of the world of sex.” Theft, sex and spectacle ensue as the two attempt to find their place in the world. Shocking in its day for its copious nudity and sexual depictions, DIARY… in hindsight takes pride of place alongside Godard’s films of the same period, which says a great deal. Tender, funny, moving, it’s unspeakably wonderful. With Tadanori Yoko, Rie Yokoyama, Juro Kara (VIOLATED ANGELS), Kei Sato, Fumio Watanabe. In Japanese with English subtitles.

Egyptian Theatre: 6712 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90028 – 323.466.FILM – tickets:

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