Master filmmaker and modernist provocateur, 77-year-old Nagisa Oshima will always be one of cinema’s most youthful directors, and that’s not just because the 14-film retro reprised at BAM Cinematheque (April 1 through 14), after showing last fall at the Walter Reade, has been additionally rejuvenated by new prints. The Oshimania begins with the 1960 New Wave (or maybe “No Wave”) masterpiece The Sun’s Burial—a fantastic spectacle shot in Osaka’s largest slum, with teenage pimps in Hawaiian shirts and stingy-brimmed hats battling for Cinemascope screen space against tough chicks with ponytails and pointy brassieres. It was a tremendous hit, but Oshima was not one to repeat himself. His follow-up Night and Fog in Japan (1961) was a fiercely stylized, ferociously left-wing attack on student activists of his own generation.
Night and Fog anticipates the New Left films that established Oshima’s international reputation as a radical filmmaker alongside Jean-Luc Godard and Duan Makavejev: Death by Hanging (1968), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968), and The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970) all enjoyed U.S. distribution. Less well-known but far crazier in their formal antics and sexual politics are The Pleasures of the Flesh (1965), Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967), Sing a Song of Sex (1967), and Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968)—an anti-militarist tract, part Hellzapoppin’, part Celine and Julie Go Boating. The BAM series skips the filmmaker’s post-countercultural period to conclude with Taboo (2000), a samurai flick but pure eau d’ Oshima in its evocation of unleashed libido bursting the dam of a repressive social order. Anyone with any interest in radical film praxis, sexpol mishigas, or hardcore Japant-garde—and that should cover just about everybody—may want to visit BAM once a day for the next two weeks. Take this column as a doctor’s note for your boss, teacher, or parents.
Also: Some of Japan’s most dynamic recent films are showing or referenced as part of the exhibit “KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games” (Japan Society, through June 14). Although primarily devoted to comics, cartoons, and toys, “KRAZY!” screens a number of key anime features daily in their entirety. These include Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s apocalyptic Akira (1988), which had the same impact on anime as Blade Runner did on sci-fi; Satoshi Kon’s superb mindbender Paprika (2006); and Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993), by Mamoru Oshii, who—in his relentless anxiety regarding the nature of the real (in this case, something like the televised Operation Desert Storm)—is arguably the nation’s leading filmmaker, post-Oshima.