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In the Realm of Oshima

Saturday, June 13, 2009
8:30 p.m. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Nagisa Oshima (U.K./Japan, 1983)

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(Senjo no meri Kurisumasu). After retreating from cinema during the 1970s (when he fashioned a new career as a talk-show host), Oshima returned in 1983 in typically idiosyncratic fashion, with an international coproduction starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, both plopped into a Jean Genet–like narrative of male lust and punishment in a World War II Japanese POW camp. Commander Yonai (Sakamoto) runs his camp with well-heeled precision, keeping his hands soft by letting the brutish Hara (Takeshi Kitano, in his film debut) knock everyone into shape. The arrival of the regal Celliers (Bowie), whose blond locks and chiseled cheekbones shine even when he’s in chains, gives Yonai a simmering new challenge, not only to his rule but to his sense of superiority, his national pride, and possibly something more. “A thinking man’s Bridge on the River Kwai” (Cinematheque Ontario), this erotic tropical opera finds Oshima mellowed, but still questioning nationalism and contemplating the subversive power of sexuality.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Oshima, Paul Mayersberg, based on the novel The Seed and the Sower by Laurens Van der Post. Photographed by Toichiro Narushima. With David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tom Conti, Takeshi Kitano. (122 mins, In English and Japanese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Janus/Criterion Collection)