A TREATISE ON JAPANESE BAWDY SONGS (Nagisa Oshima, 1967)

Songs: their singing both expresses and partially numbs bad feelings. This paradox of humanity correlates to the appearance of Nagisa Oshima’s brilliant, largely improvised Nihon shunka-kô, sometimes translated as Sing a Song of Sex, where color often translates into black and white, in particular, a palette of soft, melancholy grays. Uttered on a college campus by an older student, here is the signature verbal encapsulation of a film which falls short of being a masterpiece perhaps only for want of formal rigor: “I feel sorry for [young people]. No politics, no panties, no oppression.” The one hope is a reigning misery in the world: the Vietnam War. Ironically, its horror provides an opportunity for youth, by their protest, to score a shot for the angels and to redeem themselves from Japanese complacency and, earlier, fascist criminality. However else it may seem, this film is all about hope.
     Clearly, Oshima’s film, like the way we process life, proceeds by paradox and irony. We require the worst of human experience to ensure the best of human experience. War may be necessary for the idea of peace to exist; without the idea, whatever peace exists may be illusory.
     Four men—postwar individuals who might also be considered a combinate protagonist, hence, a reflection of prewar and wartime Japan—are the main male characters. They are headed to their own past, which the present turns into. Here, they are walking towards the camera in a field; with a cut, they are walking away from the camera in the same field. Everyone should have the experience I had: I lost the cut in the blink of an eye. The result was magical and haunting.
     Future writer-director (and future suicide) Juzo Itami plays one of the men.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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