Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
sadly marked the passing of two pivotal luminaries of Japanese cinema. Nagisa
Oshima was a true maverick auteur, whose films’ frank sexual and political
content influenced generations of subsequent filmmakers. Donald Richie was a
film historian and critic, as well as an experimental filmmaker in his own
right, whose scholarship largely introduced the western world to Japanese
cinema. They are exactly the sort of
accomplished figures likely to be overlooked by the Oscar broadcast’s perennially
controversial in memorandum tribute, in favor of actors from teeny-bopper TV
shows with a handful of low budget horror flicks in their filmography. At least Film Forum shows better judgment and
memory with their week long engagement of Boy
here), which was championed by Richie as
“Oshima’s finest film,” starting this Friday.
year old Toshio Omura has a school uniform, but he never attends classes. Instead, he travels throughout Japan with his
grifter father Takeo and his short-sighted (in both senses) step-mother, Takeko
Taniguchi, scamming motorists with fake accidents. It is always him or Taniguchi taking the
flops and never the elder Omura. He just
shows up later to shakedown a financial settlement. Of course, throwing one’s body in the vicinity
of moving vehicles is bound to cause some bruising over time. However, the damage done to Omura’s innocence
is irreparable. At times, he rebels, but
he ultimately stays for the sake of his little brother, Peewee.
vividly captures just how sad and profoundly unfair it is when kids are not
allowed to be kids. Without question,
Master Omura is far more mature than his step-mother, with whom he has an
enormously complex relationship. Shot on
the streets, run-and-gun style, Oshima shows the audience Japanese society from
his young protagonist’s perspective and it is hardly pretty. Nobody wants to
get involved, which is why a parasite like his father stays in business so
the annals of child performances, Tetsuo Abe’s work as Omura should rank in the
upper most echelon. It is an exceptional
disciplined turn, packing a visceral emotional punch. As an added bonus, he displays uncommon
screen chemistry with pitch perfect one year old Tsuyoshi Kinoshita as Peewee.
They have scenes together that will rip your guts out. Likewise, as Taniguchi, Akiko Koyama (Oshima’s
off-screen wife and his frequent co-star in films like the classic Empire of Passion and the under-revived Ceremony) is agonizingly vulnerable and absolutely
maddening in equal measure.
contrast, Fumio Watanabe is largely lost in the shuffle as the pedestrian lout
of a father, but this is unquestionably the boy’s film, not his father’s. Frankly, it is rather remarkable Koyama and
little Kinoshita register so strongly.
Despite Oshima’s auteurish flourishes,
periodically shifting from vivid color to black-and-white or gold tinted stock,
the inspired-by-a-true-story Boy always
feels uncomfortably real. It is a
bracing film, yet it is also deeply humanistic.
Cinematographers Seizô Sengen and Yasuhiro Yoshioka frame some striking
images and their use of color is often dramatic, but they never overwhelm the
film’s vibe of lonely melancholy.
Justifiably hailed by the late Richie, Boy is a powerful masterwork, recommended for all serious film
lovers when it opens this Friday (1/17) in New York at Film Forum.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, Nagisa Oshima