In the Realm of Oshima

The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima

"If there were an award for the international film retrospective of the year,
the choice by acclamation would have to be
'In the Realm of Oshima.'"
LIAM LACEY, GLOBE AND MAIL ·  November 4, 2008 

‘In the Realm of Oshima’ may be the major event of the year in film.” 
GREENCINE DAILY · September 22, 2008 

“If Oshima was French, he’d be as well known as Godard — 
and probably more influential ... This retrospective is an essential 
reassertion of his talent and importance.” 

JAN 16-FEB 16
| A MAJOR EVENT! One of the most important artists of cinema’s second half-century, Nagisa Oshima (born 1932 in Kyoto) was the leading figure (with Shohei Imamura) of the Japanese New Wave of the 1960s — a movement whose very existence Oshima abjured. Oshima has often been called “the Japanese Godard” (or “the Godard of the East”); Oshima himself would suggest that Godard was “the French Oshima.” Indeed, the dazzling formal invention and radical political analysis for which the French master’s vintage 1960s period is celebrated were not only paralleled but often prefigured in Oshima’s work. An iconoclast and provocateur whose independent, anti-establishment spirit and daring work forced him to break away, early in his filmmaking career, from the constrains of the Japanese studio system, Oshima is known for his treatment of the socio-political dimensions of crime, criminality and nonconformity; for his exploration of sex, death and politics, and the link between sexual liberation and  political liberation; and for a radical artistic sensibility that stands as an intense and extreme rejection of conventional Japanese refinement. His most notorious work is In the Realm of the Senses (1976), a taboo-breaking landmark in the use of explicit sex in mainstream art cinema. His most widely known work is probably Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), which cast pop stars David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto in an unorthodox tale of homoeroticism in a Japanese-run prisoner of war camp in World War II. Neither of those major Oshima touchstones is entirely representative — perhaps no single Oshima film can be — of the audacity, ambition and achievement of Oshima’s remarkably prolific creative peak of the 1960s, a period distinguished, from film to film, by a breathtaking formal and stylistic diversity. “I always try to deny the style I used in a previous work,” Oshima has said. “I never make films in the same style.”   

This touring exhibition, the result of years of painstaking curatorial effort by James Quandt of the Cinematheque Ontario, offers the first major retrospective of Oshima’s work mounted in North America in two decades — and the first ever in Vancouver. Featuring new 35mm prints of most of the director’s key works — a number of which have rarely, if ever, screened in North America before, and very few of which are available on DVD — the exhibition is being hailed in some quarters as “the international film retrospective of the year” (Liam Lacey, Globe and Mail).    

Curatorial Note: The vagaries of copyright, territorial public performance clearances and print availability can be, behind the scenes, complicating factors, and sometimes obstacles, in the mechanics of film curating. Although most of Oshima’s major films will be screened in our retrospective, at least two works of significance, Death by Hanging (1968) and The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970), could not be presented in Vancouver because of Canadian rights issues (despite our best efforts and those of exhibition curator James Quandt), but are available to U.S.-based venues presenting the tour. 

Acknowledgments: The Nagisa Oshima retrospective and its North American tour were organized by James Quandt for the Cinematheque Ontario, Toronto. Thank you also to the following organizations for making this retrospective and its Vancouver presentation possible: The Japan Foundation, Tokyo and Toronto; Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Tokyo; and Janus Films, New York.


Click for film notes + showtimes

Recent Showings

Oshima’s shocking second feature was the breakthrough film of the Japanese New Wave.
A powerful portrait of an exploited child and of rot and repression at the core of Japanese family values.
A landmark of Japanese New Wave cinema, Oshima’s first truly radical work prefigures the later methods of Godard.
“Brilliant and haunting . . . a truly modern film, but with classical echoes . . . it is not to be missed.”
Oshima made a masterful return to taboo-breaking territory with this dreamlike drama about gay samurai.
One of Oshima's greatest films, based on the case of a notorious serial killer who terrorized Japan in the 1950s.
“The story unfolds like a scroll painting of hell, with the director saying: Rip away the façade of peaceful, modern Japan ...”
A stinging critique of Japan’s “economic miracle” crossed with the erotic aesthetics of Japan’s soft-core, so-called “pink films.”
An intent, penetrating portrait of a generation confronting its new freedoms and its inability to act on them.
Is it porn or is it art? One of the most controversial films in the history of cinema!
The tale of a girlish boy, a boyish girl and the search for erotic fulfilment, the film is set against the youth-culture upheavals of the 1960s.
This hour-long documentary is followed by Oshima's revealing portrait, Kyoto, My Mother's Place.
Oshima described this as an examination of the “death drive” in Japanese culture, set in a world of “television, toys and demons.”
Oshima’s first independent film is based Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe's short story “Shiiku”.
Oshima’s most widely known work stars David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tom Conti and “Beat” Takeshi.
A cocktail of dumb cops, desperate Koreans, and Japanese students who don’t know what’s hit them — great fun!
A stylish, sumptuous ghost tale that is the sequel and companion piece to the scandalous In the Realm of the Senses.