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In the Realm of Oshima

Thursday, June 18, 2009
6:30 p.m. Shiro Amakusa, the Christian Rebel
Nagisa Oshima (Japan, 1962)

(Amakusa Shiro Tokisada, a.k.a. The Revolutionary). Oshima’s take on the samurai film was a for-hire work for Toei and its teen hearthrob Hashizo Okawa, but it is also one of the director’s most accessible, visually stunning films, complete with brilliant chiaroscuro widescreen photography, sweeping long takes, and a rousing call to arms against oppression and injustice. A dazzling pre-credits sequence, over five minutes long and seemingly lit by candle and bonfire, serenely glides from long-distance group shot through frenetic action to a final close-up of a Christian icon, and sets the stage for the bloody 1637 Shimabura Rebellion of oppressed peasants (mainly Christians) against their brutal overlords. Massive group action scenes are juxtaposed with haunting visual miniatures—a woman’s body in a koi pond, whip marks on flesh—to reveal both the macro and micro aspects of revolution. Shrouded in darkness and with a moody cello score and somber, gliding camera work, filled with political commentary attuned more to 1962 than to 1637, it’s as far from the cliches of its genre as a samurai film can be.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Oshima. Photographed by Shintaro Kawasaki. With Hashizo Okawa, Ryutaro Otomo, Satomi Oka, Rentaro Mikuni. (100 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, permission Toei)