Dazzlingly directed by Nagisa Oshima, Tokyo senso sengo hiwa—called in the States The Man Who Left His Will on Film—revolves around Motoki, a member of a cell of young activists who document by filming public protests and official abuse. In its fated, circular narrative domain, the film opens on a day of demonstrations with Motoki armed with the group’s camera, which is apparently taken from him by someone else after a considerable tussle, only to be used for the purpose of filming “landscapes” irrelevant to any political events just prior to the confiscator’s leaping from a rooftop to his death. Motoki has been observing this opponent; when he tries reappropriating the miraculously undamaged camera, however, the police intervene, appropriating it as “evidence,” and (offscreen) beating him up. The condition of the presumed “suicide” seems to be in doubt, with Motoki sometimes believing he is in pursuit of this nemesis, catching quick glimpses of him, throughout Tokyo streets. (Other times, Motoki insists, the man doesn’t exist.) Yasuko, the other’s former girlfriend, is now Motoki’s girlfriend. At the last, we learn that Motoki and the suicide are indeed one and the same soul—a heart-piercing moment. Their quarrel, then, was always within Motoki and pertained, at least partly, to the best uses of film, the best way to contribute to Japan’s postwar development.
Oshima moves his camera through a dynamic variety of perspectives; its mode shifts between objective and subjective. In the latter category is cinema’s most powerful depiction of rape, in the back seat of a moving car, with Motoki closely observing as Yasuko, the victim, is “numbing out” on the “landscapes” whipping past the car window. Yasuko also imagines the highway transport upside down. Yasuko contemplates suicide; partly, Motoki’s suicide is responsive.
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