Still More Recommendations (But Let’s Stick With Green)

4 July 2009

Calling all Time Warner subscribers: I hope you’re more diligent than I am about checking in to see what’s available on the cable service’s Free Movies on Demand channel.

Yesterday I found two films on the channel’s Sundance menu that I”d recently seen via Netflix: Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days and Army of Shadows.

I also scanned the TCM menu on the channel and found (and watched) Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankolu monogatari), Nagisa Oshima’s second film. Made in 1960, it wasn’t released in the US until the ’80s.

A little background on the filmmaker (best known in this country for In the Realm of the Senses):

Born into a family with samurai ancestry and socialist leanings, Mr. Oshima studied law at Kyoto University, where he became active in the left-wing student movement. His youthful ideals extended into his film career, and his interest in cinema as a revolutionary tool — along with his gift for acid polemics and his pop touch with political material — earned him repeated comparisons to another ’60s titan, Jean-Luc Godard  (Tired of being called Japan’s answer to Mr. Godard, Mr. Oshima suggested that Mr. Godard be considered the Oshima of France.)

Like all iconoclasts, Mr. Oshima has a patricidal aspect to his career. “My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it,” he declared. When he made a television documentary on Japanese cinema in 1995, he included only one clip each from older masters like Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi.  (Four of his own films made it in.) Where others saw refinement, Mr. Oshima saw meek politesse and ossified ideals of beauty. This is a filmmaker who once wrote an essay titled “Banish Green” and excised the color from his movies because he thought it too soothing.

It was not just Japanese aesthetics but a whole system of Japanese thought that Mr. Oshima sought to probe and overthrow….

Mr. Oshima threw in his lot with the underclass. His protagonists tend to be rebels, outcasts and criminals. Many of his plots pivot on scams, executed with either casual or desperate cruelty and typically doomed to backfire. (From “Safeguarding a Japanese Master’s Place in Film” by Dennis Lim, The New York Times, 9/25/08)


Set against the backdrop of the student protests of the US-Japan Security Treaty*, the self-involvement and scams of Cruel Story of Youth‘s two young lovers are contrasted with the disillusionment of the girl’s older sister and her former boyfriend, two lovers who thought they would be the ones to create a new Japan.

The film “was a surprise box office hit… and went on to become an icon of the taiyozoku, or ‘Sun Tribe,’ films, the popular cycle of overripe youth exploitation pictures that were an important staple of Japanese cinema during the early 1960s.” (Harvard Film Archive)

*In the film, a clip from a newsreel of South Korean students protesting was a revelation–these were uprisings that came years before the student sit-ins and marches that I associate with the ’60s.


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