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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Wednesday, December 3, 2008
7:00 p.m. The Ceremony
Nagisa Oshima (Japan, 1971)

New Print


(Gishiki). The chronicle of the Sakurada family from 1946 to the film’s present, The Ceremony’s subject is nothing less than the history of the postwar Japanese state, which Oshima has chosen this fictional family to represent. From the family patriarch, a high-ranking government official before and during the war, to grandson Masuo, the central character of the film and a spiritual alter ego for Oshima, the entire family seems charged by incestuous proclivities and moral ambiguity resulting from the war. All the key action takes place during ceremonies—funerals, weddings, Buddhist services—when the strength of family tradition, and the spiritual authority of the state, are most obvious. Amid strikingly beautiful set pieces, the ceremonies grow more bizarre, and what starts out looking like one of those formal family sagas the Japanese love so well snowballs into the horror and violence of the ripest Jacobean dramas: a vertiginous indictment of the madness of contemporary Japan.

• Written by Tsutomu Tamura, Mamoru Sasaki, Oshima. Photographed by Toichiro Narushima. With Kenzo Kawarazaki, Atsuko Kaku, Kei Sato, Nobuko Otowa. (123 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, ’Scope, 35mm)