The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast

This study of the films of Oshima Nagisa is both an essential introduction to the work of a major postwar director of Japanese cinema and a theoretical exploration of strategies of filmic style. For almost forty years, Oshima has produced provocative films that have received wide distribution and international acclaim. Formally innovative as well as socially daring, they provide a running commentary, direct and indirect, on the cultural and political tensions of postwar Japan. Best known today for his controversial films In the Realm of the Senses and The Empire of Passion, Oshima engages issues of sexuality and power, domination and identity, which Maureen Turim explores in relation to psychoanalytic and postmodern theory. The films’ complex representation of women in Japanese society receives detailed and careful scrutiny, as does their political engagement with the Japanese student movement, postwar anti-American sentiments, and critiques of Stalinist tendencies of the Left. Turim also considers Oshima’s surprising comedies, his experimentation with Brechtian and avant-garde theatricality as well as reflexive textuality, and his essayist documentaries in this look at an artist’s gifted and vital attempt to put his will on film. (
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The Films of Oshima Nagisa Review by Oliver Jia

Field of Interest/Specialty: Work Projects
Posted On: 06/19/2019

Oliver Jia, NCTA Student Worker
Oshima Nagisa was one of Japan’s most famous iconoclast directors responsible for such controversial classics as In Realm of the Senses and more internationally palatable fare like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. While a well-regarded name among cinephiles and film scholars, Oshima is not as famous as Kurosawa or Ozu worldwide. Because of this, Maureen Turim’s book appears to be the only major English-language work about the director. Regardless of its quality, this is essentially all one has if they do not know Japanese. That is one limitation of the work, while the other is that because it was written in 1998, Oshima’s final film, Gohatto, released the following year is not covered. The book also suffers from typographical errors and possibly shaky scholarship which makes it in desperate need of an update. Its strongest point, however, is fairly compelling analysis that is hard to find even with Internet resources. Turim, while not a Japanese speaker or specialist, does a decent job of providing historical context as well.
Given the fact that Oshima’s films are typically aimed at a very mature audience and that this book has multiple setbacks, I don’t think that I can really recommend it for public school classroom use. A film studies course at the university level might find some excerpts useful, but reading the entire book is not necessary. One can only hope that more English scholarship dedicated to Oshima gets produced in the near future as the Criterion Collection has most of his major works preserved in modern formats.