Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Upcoming Nagisa Oshima Film Retrospective at PFA

Last fall, PFA had a fantastic series called Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita.

It was one of the best film retrospectives I've attended. Two films that stood out were The Ceremony and Boy. Both were directed by Nagisa Oshima.

PFA has recently announced their schedule for an upcoming series called In the Realm of Oshima which screens 25 films by the director from May 29 to July 18. I am truly excited by the scope of the program. Oshima has 54 director credits on IMDB so the retrospective cover nearly half of filmography.

“I do not like to be called a samurai, but I admit that I have an image of myself as a fighter,” wrote one of cinema’s most essential filmmakers, Nagisa Oshima. “I would like to fight against all authorities and powers.” Debuting in 1959 with A Town of Love and Hope, Oshima helped create the Japanese New Wave, infusing traditional film genres with a politicized energy and social fury. Early on, Oshima could still “pass” at the Shochiku studio, making films in the so-called “sun tribe” genre that glorified delinquent youth culture. But his bent was clearly subversive, his focus not on the romanticism of disillusionment but on the politics of despair in postwar Japan, in the context—at first unstated—of the failed protests against the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States. In the 1960s and seventies Oshima’s name was on par with Godard’s as cinema’s most inspired visionary, setting a bar for invigoratingly challenging filmmaking that, even now, has yet to be raised. A restless innovator, Oshima constantly reinvented his aesthetic approach; his Violence at Noon has over 2,000 edits, Night and Fog in Japan fewer than fifty. In the past three decades his work has only grown more surprising, whether connecting sexual and political liberation in In the Realm of the Senses or placing a gay romance within samurai culture in Gohatto. His focus, though, has remained on certain essentials: sex and death, power and control, conformity and transgression, and above all on Japan, its nationalism, politics, conformity, and flaws, especially its treatment of Koreans. No two of Oshima’s films are the same, but all are undeniably Oshima.

With few of his films available on DVD or video, much of Oshima’s work has existed more as legend than presence; this series, organized by James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario, is the first North American retrospective in over twenty years. More than a series, In the Realm of Oshima is a landmark, once-in-a-generation event.

In this December post, I mention an Oshima series at PFA in March 2009. Maybe I misheard her if she said May. Regardless, I'm looking forward to The Summer of Oshima.

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