Movie Talk

Japanese cinematic outlaw Nagisa Oshima dead at 80

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Photo: Everett

Iconoclastic filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, best known internationally for his wildly controversial movie “In the Realms of the Senses” died today at the age of 80 in a hospital outside of Tokyo.

A former law student and radical activist, Oshima made his directorial debut in 1959 with “Town of Love and Hope.” The movie established him as a leader of the budding Japanese New Wave, which also included directors like Shohei Imamura and Masahiro Shinoda.

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'In the Realm of the Senses' (Photo: Everett Collection)

But it was his movie “A Cruel Story of Youth” – a searing tale about sex, violence and nihilistic teenagers – that made him a national sensation. He continued to make a string of movies throughout the ‘60s about such hot button issues as racism, capitalism and criminality including “Violence at Noon,” “Death by Hanging,” and “Ceremony.”

But it’s his 1976 movie “In Realms of the Senses,” based on a famous Bobbit-like murder during the run up to World War II, that Oshima is perhaps best remembered. Openly defying Japan’s weirdly prudish obscenity laws, Oshima made the movie with graphic depictions of actual sex. The movie ignited debates about public decency both in Japan and abroad. While some decried it as pornography, others proclaimed it a cinematic masterpiece. Though an uncensored version of the movie has yet to be released in Japan, “Senses” ran for several years straight in Parisian art houses.

In 1978, Oshima won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his next film “Empire of the Passion.”

Five years later, he directed the international hit “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” a war drama set in a Japanese P.O.W. camp that starred Takeshi Kitano, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and rock god David Bowie.

In 1996, Oshima suffered a massive stroke. In spite of that he directed what would prove to be his last movie “Gohatto,” a stylish tale about masculinity and homosexuality among samurai during the 19th century.

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