March 31st, 1932 to January 15th, 2013
March 31st, 1932 to January 15th, 2013
"Nagisa Oshima Dead: Japanese Film Director Dies At 80"
January 15th, 2012
The Huffington Post
Nagisa Oshima, a Japanese director internationally acclaimed for his films "Empire of Passion" and "In the Realm of the Senses," has died of pneumonia. He was 80.
His office, Oshima Productions, said Oshima died Tuesday afternoon at a hospital near Tokyo after being in and out of hospital since he was struck by a stroke more than a decade ago.
A former student radical from Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, Oshima debuted in 1959 with "A Town of Love and Hope," quickly earning a reputation of a "new wave" director with social and political themes during the 1960, often depicting youths raging against the society. He tackled controversial social issues throughout his career, ranging from capital punishment and racism to homosexuality.
But he is probably best remembered for his 1976 film "In the Realm of the Senses," a story based on a psychotic murder case set in pre-World War II Japan, which stirred public indecency debate in Japan and elsewhere because of explicit sex scenes. Two years later, Oshima won best director award at the Cannes International Film Festival with "Empire of Passion."
In 1961, Oshima directed "The Catch," based on Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe's novel about an African-American soldier who was captured in a wartime Japanese village. His 1968 film "Death By Hanging" was his criticism against capital punishment and racism.
His 1983 film "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," a drama of war prisoners' camp starring David Bowie, comedian-director Takeshi Kitano and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, was also a major international hit.
Despite suffering a stroke in 1996, Oshima briefly returned to filmmaking in 1999 with "Taboo," a story of gay samurais set at the end of the Edo period, which became his last work.
Oshima also was a popular guest on television quiz and talk shows, often triggering fiery debate. Soichiro Tahara, a journalist and talk show host who often argued with Oshima, tweeted his message of condolence.
"I was scared of him but he was also like a very supportive brother. He taught me many things, scolded me and yelled at me. But his words were always affectionate," Tahara wrote. "Mr. Oshima did not care about taboo or compliance, not even a bit. He said what he wanted to say, what he had to say. It's hard to find a person like him anymore. "
"Nagisa Oshima dies at 80; iconoclastic Japanese filmmaker"
Oshima, considered one of Japan's greatest filmmakers, is best known in the West for directing the sexually explicit films 'In the Realm of the Senses' and 'Empire of Passion.'
January 16th, 2013
Los Angeles Times
Nagisa Oshima, an iconoclastic Japanese director and screenwriter best known in the West for the sexually explicit films "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Empire of Passion," died Tuesday at a hospital near Tokyo, his production company announced. He was 80.
Widely considered one of his country's greatest filmmakers, Oshima died of pneumonia at a hospital near Fujisawa, south of Tokyo, according to the announcement from Oshima Productions. He had been in and out of hospitals since suffering a stroke more than a decade ago.
Oshima's first film, "A Town of Love and Hope," a searing depiction of the connections between poverty and crime, debuted in 1959. A onetime student radical in postwar Japan, he became known as one of a loosely tied group of filmmakers, the Japanese New Wave, who focused on such formerly taboo subjects as racism, sexual violence, the difficult position of immigrants in Japanese society and the devastating aftermath of World War II.
The uproar surrounding Oshima's 1960 film "Night and Fog in Japan," an indictment of the fractured state of the Japanese political left that was withdrawn three days after its release, pushed him out of studio work and into his most furiously prolific period.
He made 17 films in the next dozen years, including "The Catch," based on Kenzaburo Oe's novel about an American soldier captured in a wartime Japanese village; "Death by Hanging," about capital punishment and Japanese xenophobia, and "Boy," the story of a child whose parents force him to fake traffic injuries to extort payments from unsuspecting drivers.
Oshima's tightly wrought, passionately political films brought early comparisons to French director Jean-Luc Godard. (Weary of the notion, Oshima suggested that Godard be considered the Oshima of France.)
But it was the erotic, violent 1976 film "In the Realm of the Senses" that brought him global acclaim and controversy. Centering on one of Japan's most notorious sex crimes, the film was drawn from the 1936 case of a maid who embarked on an intense affair with her employer, killing him at the height of their mutual passion. Oshima edited the film in France to evade Japanese censors but was still put on trial for obscenity when he returned. He was eventually acquitted.
In 1978, he won the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival for "Empire of Passion," the erotic story of an adulterous love affair haunted by the ghost of the murdered husband.
Among his other films were 1983's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," which starred David Bowie and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto in a prisoner of war drama, and his final movie, "Taboo," in 1999, about the declared and repressed passions at a samurai training school at the end of the Edo period.
Oshima was born March 31, 1932, in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto to a family with samurai ancestry on his father's side. He studied law and politics at Kyoto University, graduating in 1954. He went to work as an assistant director at Shochiku Ofuna Studios, then as a film critic and editor before making his first film.
He was married to actress Akiko Koyama, whom he directed in numerous films.
Throughout his career, Oshima sought to upend Japanese tradition and notions of morality, choosing rebels, outcasts and criminals as his protagonists. Ever the radical, he also engaged in a lifelong critique of Japanese society and film.
"My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it," he once declared. Shunning the leafy beauty of many classic Japanese films, he also famously excised the color green from his movies because he found it too soothing.
"Nagisa Oshima, Iconoclastic Filmmaker, Dies at 80"
January 15th, 2013
The New York Times
Nagisa Oshima, the iconoclastic filmmaker who challenged and subverted the pieties of Japanese society and the conventions of Japanese cinema and who gained international notoriety in 1976 for the sexually explicit “In the Realm of the Senses,” died on Tuesday at a hospital near Tokyo. He was 80.
His office said that the cause was pneumonia, the Japanese news media reported. He had been ill since having a stroke in 1996.
Mr. Oshima belonged to a generation of filmmakers for whom artistic and political rebellion were one and the same. At the height of his career he worked at a furious pace, most productively in the 1960s, reinventing himself as a matter of course. Radical but never dogmatic, his films rejected ideology even as they insisted implicitly that cinema was a political tool.
He remains best known for “In the Realm of the Senses.” Based on a true story that scandalized Japan in the 1930s, it tells of a maid who falls into a sadomasochistic affair with her employer. It features unsimulated sex and culminates in a graphically depicted castration.
The film became a sensation and the subject of censorship battles in several countries. In the United States, the Customs Service barred it from being shown publicly at the New York Film Festival in 1976, calling it obscene; the decision was overturned about a month later by a federal judge.
Even before this defining scandal, Mr. Oshima relished the role of enfant terrible. He was a founding figure of the Japanese New Wave but claimed to detest the idea of such a grouping and told an interviewer, “My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it.” His documentary “100 Years of Japanese Cinema” (1994) concludes with the hope that Japanese cinema rid itself of its “Japaneseness.”
But in film after film Japan was Mr. Oshima’s great subject, specifically the Japanese psyche and the damage it had endured from centuries of feudalism and later from World War II. He once said that the goal of his films was “to force the Japanese to look in the mirror.”
Mr. Oshima was born on March 31, 1932, to an affluent family in Kyoto with samurai ancestry. He studied law at Kyoto University and became active in student politics.
After graduating he worked as an assistant director at the Shochiku studio and was soon promoted. Even in his first two films, “A Town of Love and Hope” (1959), a tough-minded adolescent melodrama, and “Cruel Story of Youth” (1960), a feverish tale of troubled teenagers, Mr. Oshima’s sympathy for the young and dispossessed is evident.
“To make films is a criminal act in this world,” Mr. Oshima wrote in a 1966 essay. Most of his protagonists were outlaws, and his films often showed criminal behavior as a product of society or as a reaction against it.
The event that ignited the Japanese student protest movement — the 1960 renewal of Japan’s mutual security treaty with the United States — also galvanized Mr. Oshima’s filmmaking.
“Night and Fog in Japan” (1960), his first explicitly political film, details the infighting among a group of student radicals. Days into its run, in the wake of a political assassination, Shochiku pulled the movie from theaters. In response Mr. Oshima quit the studio and set up his own company.
Like “In the Realm of the Senses,” many of Mr. Oshima’s films were inspired by real-life events. “Violence at Noon” (1966), about a triangle that forms among a serial rapist and two women who protect him, was based on an actual case, as was “Boy” (1969), about a family whose son is forced to fake traffic injuries in an extortion scheme.
“Death by Hanging” (1968), about a Korean man sentenced to death for rape and murder, addresses the prejudicial treatment of the Korean minority in Japan.
A restless innovator, Mr. Oshima switched genres at will and sometimes created his own. “Death by Hanging” goes from a documentarylike tract against capital punishment to absurdist farce. “Three Resurrected Drunkards,” a 1968 slapstick comedy, stops midway through and replays the first half, with crucial variations.
Mr. Oshima never developed a stylistic signature and in fact veered between extremes of style. The 100-minute “Violence at Noon” includes some 2,000 edits, while “Night and Fog in Japan,” filmed in long takes, is composed of fewer than 50 shots.
After directing 18 features (and many television documentaries) in 14 years, Mr. Oshima slowed down in the 1970s. In middle age he also became a fixture on Japanese television talk shows.
Mr. Oshima recalled that “In the Realm of the Senses” had originated in a meeting with the producer Anatole Dauman, who had worked with many French New Wave directors and who proposed a collaboration, saying to Mr. Oshima, “Let’s make a porno flick!” Mr. Oshima asked his colleague Koji Wakamatsu, a prolific director of politically minded soft-core erotica, to serve as a producer as well; together they had the film processed and edited in France to circumvent Japanese pornography laws.
Mr. Dauman also produced “Empire of Passion,” the more subdued 1978 follow-up to “In the Realm of the Senses.” Another period piece about adulterous lovers, “Empire” won Mr. Oshima the directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Among other later films, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), a prisoner-of-war drama starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto, was shot mainly in New Zealand. Mr. Oshima, collaborating with Luis Buñuel’s frequent screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, also put a twist on the French sex farce with “Max Mon Amour” (1986), which paired Charlotte Rampling and a chimpanzee.
His final film, the 19th-century samurai drama “Taboo” (1999), which he directed after suffering his first stroke, continued his late-career theme of forbidden love, bringing to the surface the homoerotic currents of “Mr. Lawrence.”
Mr. Oshima’s survivors include his wife, Akiko Koyama, an actress who appeared in some of his films, and their sons Takeshi and Shin. In 2011 Ms. Koyama published a memoir, “As a Woman, as an Actor,” about her life with Mr. Oshima.
Mr. Oshima saw his reputation somewhat eclipsed as his productivity dwindled, although that had changed in recent years with traveling retrospectives and the increasing availability of his work on DVD.
Testifying in a Japanese court about “In the Realm of the Senses,” Mr. Oshima formulated a defense that could apply to almost all his work: “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.”
"Remembering Nagisa Oshima, Director and Provocateur"
January 16th, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, who died Tuesday at age 80 of pneumonia, drew controversy for his sexually provocative — and sometimes shocking — films.
Among Mr. Oshima’s most memorable were “Cruel Story of Youth,” his early breakout film from 1960; the erotic drama “In the Realm of the Senses” (1976); “Empire of Passion,” for which he won best director at Cannes in 1978; and 1999’s “Taboo,” about homosexuality among samurai swordsmen. Other films included “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” starring British singer David Bowie (1983), and “Max Mon Amour” (1986), with Charlotte Rampling as a woman who has an affair with chimpanzee.
he 1960s were an important period for the auteur. Critic David Mermelstein, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2010, said that several of his films during the decade “provide insights into Mr. Oshima’s cinematic concerns and turn a lens on Japanese society at a crucial point in its postwar development. Film lovers can debate the use of the term New Wave to describe Mr. Oshima’s work during this period, but there’s no disputing his irreverent tone, nor his break with the grand tradition of Japanese cinema epitomized by masters like Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse.”
Here’s a roundup of comments from critics following news of Mr. Oshima’s death:
–Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, and who has written extensively on film:
Mr. Oshima was one of the world’s “greatest filmmakers … who made cinema worth watching, and remembering,” Mr. Garcia told the Journal. “I met him in Hong Kong in the early 1980s. I spent an evening with him in [the night-life district] Lan Kwai Fong. … I was surprised that this was the maverick who made ‘Diary of a Shinjuku Thief,’ ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ and ‘Death By Hanging’ — still some of the greatest movies ever made. He was an elegant gentleman with a mischievous glint, and kept his cool, even after copious amounts of alcohol.
My last encounter with him was in Cannes [in 2000]. He was screening ‘Gohatto’ (‘Taboo’). It was his final feature and maybe his last mischievous act. He had suffered a stroke and had directed the fast-paced sword play action from his wheelchair in a kind of defiance of his actual physical condition.
–Peter Bradshaw, film critic for the Guardian in London:
Oshima deserves to be known for more than ‘In the Realm of the Senses,’ but this magnificently uncompromising film itself deserves to be known for more than sexual controversy. Based on a real-life scandal from 1930s Japan, it is about passion, submission: a renunciation of the self that co-exists with a vocation for sensuality and self-immolating pleasure. … [He] was a brilliant satirist, provocateur and poet of the senses whose movies were elegant, angular weapons against stifling hypocrisy.
–Samuel Wigley, writing for the British Film Institute:
Along with contemporaries such as Shohei Imamura and Hiroshi Teshigahara, Oshima envisioned his work in violent opposition to what he saw as the moral and stylistic conservatism of classical Japanese filmmaking. … Oshima’s international notoriety was ensured with ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ in 1976, an intense, interior study of the sadomasochistic relationship between two lovers in 1930s Japan. Containing scenes of unsimulated sexual activity, the film had to be registered as a French production to bypass Japanese censorship laws and the footage was sent to France for post-production.
Nagisa Oshima [Wikipedia]
The Boy [Wikipedia]
American audiences preferred his sensual films...
Empire of Passion [Wikipedia]
The late Nagisa Oshima’s erotic, transgressive In the Realm of the Senses isn’t about sex. It is sex.
January 18th, 2013
The great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, who died earlier this week at 80, was a key figure in the Japanese new-wave cinema of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Over the course of a four-decade career (his last film, Taboo, came out in 1999), Oshima never stopped experimenting, whether formally or in terms of subject matter. And even as an older, established filmmaker (and a fixture on Japanese talk shows) Oshima remained reliably perverse, ever ready to test the boundaries of both the censors and his audience. Max Mon Amour (1986) tells the story of a French diplomat’s wife (Charlotte Rampling) who falls passionately in love with a male chimpanzee, while the WWII internment-camp drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), starring David Bowie and Takeshi Kitano, gained a cult following for its homoeroticism, which was shockingly explicit for the time.
But Oshima will be best remembered—both in the popular imagination and in my own—as the director of In the Realm of the Senses, a sexually graphic retelling of a real-life tabloid scandal turned popular folk legend. The film was the object of an international obscenity scandal upon its release in 1976. It took 20 years for the uncut film to be projected in the United States; after nearly 40, an uncensored version has yet to be shown in Japan.
In the Realm of the Senses (the title is sometimes translated as Empire of the Senses, and in Japanese means something more like Bullfight of Love) depicts the passionate, destructive amour fou between a prostitute-turned-chambermaid, Sada (Eiko Matsuda), and Kichi (Tatsuya Fuji), the married man who owns the inn where she’s employed. After beginning an obsessive affair, Sada and Kichi drop out of society, drinking and fucking their way from one geisha house to the next in a downward spiral of dissolution—or is it an upward spiral toward erotic transcendence? It all ends (as did the real-life story, with which every Japanese viewer of the time would have been familiar) in a Wagnerian Liebestod, complete with strangulation, castration, and a love message scrawled in blood across sheets and skin.
It is, I suppose, a shame that a filmmaker as multifaceted (and as fiercely political) as Oshima will be remembered primarily for his raunchy succès de scandale. But you’ll have to look elsewhere for a critic to champion the director’s obscure cuts, because In the Realm of the Senses happens to be one of my cinematic Ur-texts, a movie that would easily find its way onto my personal list of top 10 films of all time. When I heard the news that Oshima had died, it was my vivid sense memory of this film—which I’ve seen probably half a dozen times in my life, the last of them more than 15 years ago—that sent me to my editor asking if I could write something on Oshima: neither an obituary nor a review, but a history of my now decades-old love for his most famous film. And then my editor said yes, and I almost wished I hadn’t asked.
The idea of re-entering the Realm of Senses was scary on multiple levels. First there was the intensity of the movie itself, which is as unrelenting an aesthetic experience as a Greek tragedy or the abovementioned Wagner opera—basically, we’re talking an hour and a half straight of graphic, unsimulated sex scenes that steadily escalate into a literal orgy of violence and mutilation. Second, there was the even more daunting project of revisiting my 20-year-old self, who had made this movie such a pillar of her aesthetic canon ever since seeing it at a repertory house in Paris. Forget how the movie would hold up—how would I hold up if I no longer loved the film as I once had? Would the now me discover that my younger self was impossibly self-dramatizing and pretentious?
I’ll get to the encounter between those present and past selves in a minute. But about the encounter between myself and the movie, I needn’t have worried. Even the seventh time through, under maximally banal viewing conditions—streamed from Amazon to my laptop, not rapt in the dark on the Rive Gauche—In the Realm of the Senses is a film like no other, a magical fusion of art and pornography that somehow renders debates about the distinction between those two categories boringly beside the point. Asking if this film is porn is like asking if prehistoric cave paintings showing men with erections are porn. They’re porn, they’re art, they’re elemental and beautiful; it doesn’t matter.
In the Realm of the Senses isn’t about sex, it is sex: Sex is the medium it moves in and the language it speaks. The story seems to unfold in a parallel universe where virtually every social gesture is also a sexual one: Before the lovers even meet for the first time, we’ve already witnessed an attempted girl-on-girl seduction, an act of shared voyeurism, and a homeless old man being mocked by children who throw snowballs at his exposed genitals. And once Sada and Kichi’s affair gets rolling, forget about it. These two use sex acts of steadily increasing kinkiness (including some questionably consensual encounters with servant girls and an elderly geisha) to express every interpersonal affect from jealousy to hostility to ruinous passion. They’re bonobos in kimonos.
Of course, sex (especially filmed sex) is always about more than just itself, and In the Realm of the Senses is simultaneously, and subtly, a film of social protest against the repressive government and socially conservative culture of postwar Japan. There’s a powerful, dialogue-free late scene in which Kichi, reduced to a wraith by Sada’s insatiable demands, briefly leaves what can only be described as their sex den for a walk through the village. He passes a military parade cheered on by a crowd waving Japanese flags. (The film is set in 1936, when the empire was undergoing an intense period of military mobilization.) The image of Kichi shuffling blearily up the street in the opposite direction from the line of marching soldiers drives home Oshima’s point with exquisite simplicity: His lovers may be too wrapped up in each other’s body to be conscious protesters, but their very deviance from societal norms—their pursuit of carnal pleasure at the cost of all else—makes them, in some way, radical.
If In the Realm of the Senses is sex, then in my 20s I became something of a nymphomaniac. I don’t know that the film had any direct impact on my sexual behavior—I didn’t start carousing with geishas or strangling men with obi belts—but it certainly had an impact on my moviegoing behavior, the way I thought about what movies could and should do. I fell hard for In the Realm of the Senses during a time in my life—in many people’s lives, I think—when intensity and passion were highly valued qualities, in the movie theater and out. This was one of the films I would drag new boyfriends to see, in an act of seduction that was also the throwing down of a cinephilic gauntlet: Could they go the distance? (Once, memorably, I took a guy I didn’t know very well to it on a first date, never to hear from him again. Just as well.)
Now, in my mid-40s, I experience In the Realm of the Senses a little differently: I identify far less with the self-and-other destructive passion of the unstoppable Sada, and sometimes found myself wanting to scold her in the words of the respectable old sugar daddy who unknowingly supports her and Kichi’s lifestyle: “Sada, think of your future!” Additionally, two and a half decades on in my own sexual life, I now know that I will never do most of the things pictured in this movie (especially those involving hard-boiled eggs) and feel nothing but relief at that fact.
But everything that made me fall for In the Realm of the Senses in the first place is still there, and as marvelously seductive as ever: the film’s lavish pictorial beauty (virtually every frame could be the subject of a Japanese erotic woodblock print); its haunting love theme; and the incredibly vibrant and naturalistic and often funny connection between the two lovers, played by Mitsuda and Fuji with such delicacy and finesse it’s almost impossible to not believe that the love, like the sex, was unsimulated. Watching In the Realm of the Senses again and discovering I still loved it freed me to view that younger, Sada-identified, peak-experience-seeking me with amusement and affection. I probably was self-dramatizing and pretentious—forgive me, dudes I dated—but when it comes to this movie, I was right.