I have just added the following entry to my list of the 100 greatest films of all time:
In 1958, Japan renegotiated its 1952 treaty ending U.S. occupation, whose original terms had impressed Japanese youth with a sense of futility, radicalizing them. Many felt the new security terms, which strengthened Japan’s alliance with the U.S., betrayed its constitution, which had committed Japan to the course of peace. Its title referring to Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955), Nagisa Oshima’s fictional Nihon no yoru to kiri haunts, instead of a Nazi death camp, Nozawa’s wedding party, which is peopled by dimmed, compromised radicals. (As a student, Oshima had participated in the movement.) Withering, ghost-ridden, the film targets the nuclear-insane U.S., the insufficiency of Sovietism to provide a viable alternative, the collapse of Japanese radicalism and idealism. A wedding’s new beginning occasions a renewed sense of betrayal, militant poses pointing to an empty nostalgia, and a catalog of political post-mortems.
A seemingly black-and-white shot through a dark forest finds someone approaching the window through which we espy the groom and bride standing behind a table, flanked by others, and all so rigid we might swear we were looking at a photograph. Inside, all is in woody, earthen color; someone summarizes recent clashes between students and police. The camera moves back and forth, left and right, one camera movement ironically canceling the other; everyone stands perfectly still except for the one who is speaking, who is also standing. When he is finished, another man speaks.
In the same fluid shot, amidst constrained singing, the back-and-forth camera finds the man of the forest, the groom’s friend, entering. Soon after, members of the wedding enter the past: voices and tableaux of student protest enrobed in darkness, ideological discussions, strategy sessions. Elegiac singing echoes: Where are we? Past or present? Among the living or the dead?
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