Muri shinjû: Nihon no natsu (1967)

23 08 2012

Many have written about this film’s critical connection with Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth, and it’s easy to draw a connection with this film to Godard’s Pierrot le fou considering that Breathless and Cruel Story of Youth are often linked as well. This is not really the case. If anything, this represents more of what would come from Godard later. It’s not to say that this film is as loudly political, it might be (I can’t really tell) but this film takes a much less “fun” turn. This is a bleak movie, as what one would come to expect from Oshima by this time. It definitely is not him at his most brooding (that would be The Man Who Left His Will on Film) but it definitely doesn’t capture the energy along with the politics and violence as say, Koji Wakamatsu.

The film starts with a nameless woman (revealed to be Nejiko towards the film’s conclusion) wandering around the streets looking for sex. It’s a pretty bizarre premise as it is, with men after men turning down an experience devoid of attachment. She becomes fascinated by one man in particular, Otoko, who may or may not have gone AWOL. The two bond, not so naturally, and they stumble upon what appears to be a gang transporting weapons. The film’s setting shifts to an abandoned compound, where we’re introduced to even more one-note characters. There’s a violence-hungry teenager, contrasted with an older man who speaks highly of his own violent past. All of these individuals are anxious for weapons, because of an ongoing gang war.

There’s plenty of clever tricks up Oshima’s sleeve here. To his credit, the film does look nice and it never really loses it’s momentum despite the promise of a dysfunctional romance on the run transforming into an almost theatrically framed piece of absurdness. On other occassions, he’s too clever for his own good. The film is built around men denying the advances of a woman because they’re more interested in guns. Get it? It’s almost like a introduction into phallic imagery because it is so blatantly obvious. Again, I get it, it’s maybe even a little funny, but when the film tries to pass itself off as nihilistic, it seems weird that the narrative is conceived around something a notch above the late night television writing room.

This leads perfectly into Oshima’s female characterization, which illustrates another set of problems. I get that he’s trying to produce binaries here: Otoko is stoic to a fault, where as Nejiko is constantly suggesting and requesting sex. They’re not meant to be real characters, but even in this absurdist landscape, it seems so one note and mean. Sure, she has a few funny sequences, but she is sole of women in this film and the men are constantly resisting her, in a way that suggests that they’ve conquered her. They’re evolved beyond the point of physical contact. This is countered by the fact that most of the male characters are stupid.

This is ultimately a movie about male frustration and anxiety so I understand what Nejiko is such a limited character but on the other hand, why have her there at all? There are shades of High and Low (the isolated location, the widescreen framing) if that were paired with content in Buñuel’s filmography. It’s a nice movie that looks really fantastic, but even as Oshima’s tricks are entertaining and thought-provoking, they fail to really haunt one past the initial viewing. It’s fun for someone who wants something a little slow and even a little mean, but it’s not really great. Oshima has done plenty worse, but he’s also done better.

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