Night and Fog in Japan (1960) - Nagisa Oshima
Considered Oshima's most personal film this enegmatic cinema essay is a scathing critique of the Japanese left told episodically and framed around a marriage. The formal introduction is a technique used quite frequently in Japanese cinema, and a wedding served as the introduction to Kurosawa's Bad Sleep Well. Here a slew of guests invited and crashers tell tales of the newlyweds past. Everything becomes an accusation and Oshima is determined not to let anyone off the hook.
What's perhaps most amazing about the film is that it was made by a major studio. Oshima's film was promptly pulled from theaters several days after it was released. It led Oshima to form his own production company where he would find his greatest critical success over the next few decades. The film from the outside can still fit into the youth craze that more explicitly chracterized Oshima's other two features from 1960 (The Son's Burial and Cruel Story of Youth), but this one takes the intellectual side of things, and instead of glorifying violence or sex here it is talk, and lots of it. Even the violence of some of the demonstrations is drastically toned down so we see the injuries, but not how they occured. The focus of the film is on the ideology and its inherent flaws. Several members complain about the lack of action, and Oshima's film is commenting on itself in that regard.
This film is not an easy watch, as most of Oshima's radical experiments aren't, but it is rewarding. The opening shot sets up everything that we'll come to expect in the picture. For over six minutes the camera moves all over this party, we see the bride and groom, their friends, and even the courtyard outside. All told the film comprises 43 set ups, and there is next to no in scene editing. Instead the camera simply takes on a life of its own, arbitrarily moving from one group to the next. One shot holds six actors who don't move, yet the one in the foreground remains out of focus, the camera is simply pausing to take a breath. The wedding scenes have a remarkably theatrical appeal to them, using stylized lighting cues to illuminate certain people and isolate everything else. They general preclude the next flashback, but not always. This film doesn't let us know where we're going, but there is something that seems years ahead of its time here. The failure of these student protests and lack of unity. Such criticism could readily be applied to the numerous protests here in the US that yielded few if any results.
*Night and Fog in Japan is available on import DVD.