Nagisa Ôshima, the Japanese director who became known for defying political structures and the status quo, has passed away. He was eighty years old.
Throughout his career, Ôshima treated the medium of film as one designed to break taboos. An outspoken proponent of left-wing politics, Ôshima learned the art of filmmaking and began using it against a motion picture industry rooted in conservatism and tradition.
Ôshima began working for the Shochiku studio during his early career. He directed a number of successful, critically acclaimed and provocative films including CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH. The studio pulled his film NIGHT AND FOG IN JAPAN three days after release, following the assassination of a socialist politician. Ôshima left the studio soon after, declaring, “My film is the weapon of the people’s struggle, [and] the people are demanding that the future of the Japanese film be directly tied to their own future.”
Unbowed, Ôshima continued to change the language of Japanese cinema with a series of narrative films, as well as documentaries. In 1975, he created an uproar with the highly controversial film, IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES. The film detailed the intense affair between a man and one of his servants in 1930s Japan. It became notorious not only for its frank depiction of sex, but because the sex was not simulated but real. The film was censored everywhere it played and only recently have uncensored prints become available. The uncut version remains banned in Japan to this day.
Ôshima was forced to defend IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES on obscenity charges. He responded by saying that by expressing the acts and emotions within the film, it was not obsession. That true obscenity comes with repression. “The concept of ‘obscenity’ is tested when one dares to look at something that he has an unbearable desire to see but has forbidden himself to look at,” he said. “When one feels that everything that one had wanted to see has been revealed, ‘obscenity’ disappears, the taboo disappears as well, and there is a certain liberation.”
Ôshima continued to break the rules whenever he got behind the camera. He furthered the themes of IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES with EMPIRE OF PASSION, a less explicit but just as incendiary film.
In 1983, Ôshima gained acclaim from English-speaking audiences with the bilingual film, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE. The film dealt with the prisoners and overseers at a Japanese prison camp during World War II. The film starred David Bowie, Tom Conti, Takeshi Kitano and Ryûichi Sakamoto.
In the 2000s, Ôshima’s health worsened and he suffered a series of strokes. He passed away on January 15, due to complications from pneumonia.