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In the Realm of Oshima

Saturday, June 6, 2009
8:50 p.m. Death by Hanging
Nagisa Oshima (Japan, 1968)

(Koshikei). In Death by Hanging, Oshima achieves a modern dialectic, uniting Brechtian techniques with metaphysical introspection to create a profound and surreal dissertation on guilt and redemption, crime and punishment. Based on a 1958 news story about a Korean boy accused of rape and murder, the film is both a powerful statement against capital punishment and a clear political indictment of Japanese racism against Koreans. Opening with a bold challenge to the audience, “Are you for or against the death penalty?” it goes on to tell of R., the young Korean, who, though hanged, refuses to accept his guilt, and thus to die. Police officers, feeling compelled to convince him of his culpability, reenact his supposed crime, in their pantomime conjuring up a victim—a young Korean woman—and assaulting her with vigor. R. gradually learns the depths of his innocence, the police the depths of their guilt.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Tsutomu Tamura, Mamoru Sasaki, Michinori Fukao, Oshima. Photographed by Yasuhiro Yoshioka. With Yun-Do Yun, Kei Sato, Fumio Watanabe, Toshiro Ishido. (117 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From New Yorker Films)