Nagisa Oshima is one of Japan's most well-known directors and one of the harbingers of the Japanese New Wave film movement. His films tend to deal with issues like politics, identity, gender, and sex, thus, he has been a great favorite of critics and academics. In The Films Of Oshima Nagisa: Images Of A Japanese Iconoclast (1998) Maureen Turim mines the films of Oshima to study the different levels of meaning found throughout his body of work often with the aid of theorists like Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucalt, and other postmodernist favorites, as a result, the book is sometimes overly academic and turgid in places. However, I do think that there is a lot going on in the films of Oshima, however, some of them are difficult to watch because of his avant garde approach or the fact that the films are fully loaded with messages.
In "Cultural Iconoclasm and Contexts of Innovation" Turim discuses auteur theory, authorship, and meanings that can exist outside the author's intent. She identifies Oshima as an iconoclast seeking new icons to replace old ones. Turim discusses Oshima's claim to hate all Japanese cinema. In the second chapter, "Cruel Stories of Youth and Politics" looks at Oshima's first films which focus on "sun tribe" stories and are overtly political. These include the following: A Town of Love and Hope (1959), Burial of the Sun (1959), Cruel Story of Youth (1960), and Night and Fog in Japan (1960). I found this section overwhelming with theoretical applications of post modern theorist. However, I think it is important to note that Oshima employs characters whose politics diverge from his own. This is followed by "Rituals, Desire, Death." In this section Turim looks at Death By Hanging (1968), which she sees as his most Brechtian film, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969), which shows avant garde fragmentation, Boy (1969), his most humanist film, The Battle of Tokyo, or the Story of the Young Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970), one of Oshima's most challenging films, and The Ceremony (1971). The next section, "Signs of Sexuality In Oshima's Tales of Passion" looks at two of his most infamous and well known films. Realm of the Senses (1976) which explores the history of the seduction of a serving girl by her boss and had to filmed outside of Japan due to the graphic sex portrayed in the film. The companion piece to this is Empire of Passion (1978), which is a ghost story also about sexuality. "Warring Subjects" presents a contrast between two films form different periods of the director's body of work for contrast, The Catch (1961), an adaptation of a Kenzuburo Oe short story, and Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence (1983), an adaptation of a novel by South African Lauren van der Post. These films are critical of the Japanese sense of victimization by their war leaders during WWII which absolves them of individual complicity.The next section, "Popular Song, Fantasies, and Comedies of Iconoclasm" examines these themes in the following films: A Treaty on Japanese Bawdy Songs (1967), Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968), Dear Summer Sister (1972), and Max Mon Amour (1987). I found the section on Oshima's documentaries, "Documents of Guilt and Empire," especially fascinating. This includes three films with a Korean focus. Forgotten Soldiers (1963) about the protests for compensation of Korean nationals recruited to fight for Japan in WWII. A Monument to Youth (1964) about a Korean woman, Park Oh He, who lost a limb in the opposition protest against Syngman Rhee, and tries to move from prostitution to working in an orphanage. Also, Diary of Yunbogi (1965) which is about street kids in Seoul. Turim then discusses four films related to war. The Pacific War (1968) is made up of clips from propaganda films made during the war. In The Battle of Tsushima (1975) Oshima interviews survivors of the Russo-Japanese War. The Dead Remain Young (1977) is a memorial of civilian victims or a torpedo attack in WWII that was mostly Okinawian children. The final film was Human Drama: 28 Years of Hiding in the Jungle (1977) that looks at Yokoi Shoichi was lived in isolation in Guam. Oshima was an early critic of China's cultural revolution which can be seen in his film Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1969). The other two films discussed, Joi Bengla! (1972) and The Golden Land of Bengal (1976), celebrate and examine a new Asian nation, Bangladesh. In the concluding section, Turim mentions two documentaries that he had made, Kyoto, My Mother (1991) and The Century of Cinema for the British Film Institute and that Taboo (1999), his final film, was in pre-production.
To date I have seen Shadows and Fog in Japan, the Criterion box set Oshima's Outlaw 60s: Pleasures of the Flesh, Violence at Noon,Sing a Song of Sex, Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, Three Resurrected Drunkards, Realm of Senses, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and Taboo. I am inspired to see any of the documentaries I can find, perhaps Criterion could bring out a box set? Turim sees Empire of Passion as a companion piece to Realm of Senses and a work of high merit, which inspires me to see it. This book is a comprehensive look at one of the most challenging Japanese directors.