Pacific Film Archive in
Berkeley is having a Nagisa Oshima
retrospective, I strongly recommend anyone in the Bay Area who is interested in
Japanese cinema to go take a look. Actually the first part of the program is
almost over, but the second part will continue until mid July.
For those who have no idea, Nagisa Oshima is one of the most
influential and controversial Japanese directors from the 60s to 80s. He is
known for his radical view and outspoken criticism of his own country. Some of
his most well known films include "The Ceremony", "In the Realm
of the Senses", "Night and Fog in Japan", "Merry Christmas,
Mr. Lawrence"... He last made Gohatto in 2000, before he suffered from a
stroke that prevented him from working on any new project.
I have seen quite some Oshima's films before the
retrospective. The most unforgettable one is probably "Death by
Hanging", which I saw in my Japanese cinema class at
Cal. It was really an eye opening experience
and I still remember I was so startled by his sharp criticism of the system as
well as his concern for the plight of Korean residents in
Another important film is probably "Night and Fog in
The title is derived from Alain Resnais's "Night and Fog". Despite
the highly political content, the technique itself already makes it a must see.
The film is composed of 45~47 sequence/tracking shots and the narrative
structure consists of series of flashback and contemporary moments. Anyone who
wants to learn about storytelling, this is certainly a good reference.
"In the Realm of the Senses", his most
controversial film, is actually my least favorite. In terms of visual, it is
perhaps the most stunning one, with real sex scenes of the lead female
performing fellatio and also being put an egg into her vagina, but somehow I
just feel it is more an attitude that shows how far an artist can go, than
something concrete and meaningful.
Since I have seen quite some of his films before, and also
because I have been busy with some other projects, I didn't spend too much time
at PFA this time, but then I certainly didn't miss "The Ceremony"
last week, a film that is said to be the summation of his early career, and
also one that represents his philosophy and style the best. While many of his
films are already on DVD, "The Ceremony" is one that is hard to find,
and since PFA is also showing a new print, it just gave me no excuse to skip
"The Ceremony" is an epic scale family drama that
chronicles the life of a big family from 1946 to the 70s when the film was
made. Through the story of this family, which consists of series of ceremonies,
Oshima harshly criticizes his country, from the patriarchal family structure to
the government, and from tradition to the postwar mindset of the people. One of
the most remarkable scenes is probably the wedding ceremony without the bride. Due
to saving the face for the family and also to preserve the tradition, the
protagonist is forced to carry on his wedding ceremony even though his bride has
already run away. It reflects the absurdity of traditional practice at times
and how it is so difficult for one to get away from social and traditional
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