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In the Realm of Oshima

Thursday, June 18, 2009
8:30 p.m. Cruel Story of Youth
Nagisa Oshima (Japan, 1960)

New Print

(Seishun zankoku monogatari). Cruel Story of Youth is the centerpiece of a trilogy—including A Town of Love and Hope and The Sun’s Burial—that conveys pent-up sexuality and disillusionment among Japan’s postwar generation, the castoffs of a failed democratic revolution. The film contrasts the attempt of two mod lovers to live outside the moral boundaries of their society with the stifled existence of the girl’s older sister and her doctor friend, both of whom had been radicals in their own youth in a movement that came to naught. Oshima creates a disparate surface of controlled chaos, consciously drawing on the commercial sex-and-violence films popular in Japan yet investing tabloid sensationalism with an absorbing psychological and political dimension. He subverts CinemaScope by cruelly relegating his two heroes to the far edges of the wide screen; close-ups tend to isolate, and no one finds a center or a mate. The film’s sexual surface harks back to the Japanese erotic woodcut, but here, the challenge and the joy lie in noting the passion amid a universe of glaring neon, garish colors, and gleaming motorcycles.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Oshima. Photographed by Takashi Kawamata. With Yusuke Kawazu, Miyuki Kuwano, Yoshiko Kuga, Fumio Watanabe. (96 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, ’Scope, 35mm, From Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, permission Janus/Criterion Collection)